Barn Hunt for Beginners

A version of this article appeared in the Kuvasz Quarterly, Kuvasz Club of America
‘Smitty’ is introduced to a caged rat.

 

Barn Hunt is a relatively new sport in which dogs are expected to hunt for rats safely hidden inside protective tubes on a hay bale course. It was created by Robin Nuttall who had a Miniature Pinscher that she wanted to enter in Earthdog events, but that breed was not eligible to compete at that time.

Barn Hunt is a very welcoming sport for new competitors and is an excellent way to bond with your dog as you work together to clear the courses while completing all required elements.

That led her to create a new sport for dogs of various breeds and sizes to be able to compete and test their hunting ability; including speed, agility, hunt drive, scenting ability, surefootedness, and control and responsiveness to their handler. Mixed-breed dogs may also participate. Deaf or “tripod” dogs can compete too, and it is also a great sport for senior dogs.

Barn Hunt is a very welcoming sport for new competitors and is an excellent way to bond with your dog as you work together to clear the courses while completing all required elements.

Barn Hunt: ‘Smitty’ (UKC ALCH Taliszman Drinks Are On Me BN RN FDC TT CGCA CGCU TKN RATI) practices going through a simple tunnel.
‘Smitty’ (UKC ALCH Taliszman Drinks Are On Me BN RN FDC TT CGCA CGCU TKN RATI) practices going through a simple tunnel. Photo by Elizabeth Butler.

It’s easy and quick to get started in Barn Hunt. Most people get started by signing up for a workshop or a Meet the Rat event. These events introduce teams to the basics of Barn Hunt and familiarize the dog with the rat.

Initially, the rat will be presented to the dog in a wire cage, so it can easily be seen and smelled by the dog. Often, a rat is next presented in a clear tube so that the dog can still see and smell it. Finally, a rat is presented in an opaque competition tube. At that point, the dog can no longer see the rat and must depend on its senses of smell and sound.

Workshops are a great introduction to the sport, as they review the basic rules of the sport for the competitors as well. Before attending an event, it is recommended that competitors read the rules beforehand. No handler wants a non-qualifying score (NQ) for making an error that could have been avoided simply by being familiar with the rules.

Barn Hunt titles are earned through Barn Hunt Association (BHA), and Novice (RATN) titles and above may be submitted to AKC for recognition. Dogs are required to be registered with BHA in order to compete at an official BHA trial.

Barn Hunt: ‘Smitty’ is introduced to a caged rat.
‘Smitty’ is introduced to a caged rat. Photo by Elizabeth Butler.

Premiums for events are available on the BHA website. They are filled with information regarding the trial and the facility. Facilities vary widely across the country.

  • Some Barn Hunt events are held outdoors and may or may not be under cover
  • Some may be in a barn, large shed, or other type of similar structure
  • Some events are held indoors and may or may not be climate-controlled

Flooring is also something to look for when considering an unfamiliar facility. Dogs will be jumping off of hay bales and may land on dirt, carpet, concrete, or matting, for example. Some surfaces may be slick or pose a hazard for certain dogs. Most clubs offer ribbons and/or rosettes, but they are not required to. Facilities may or may not have food available on the grounds or nearby. Most facilities require teams to bring their own crates and chairs. All of this information and more is included in the premium. Study it carefully before entering.

Barn Hunt: ‘Smitty’ is introduced to a rat in a competition tube.
‘Smitty’ is introduced to a rat in a competition tube. Photo by Elizabeth Butler

The BHA website lists trials and Fun Tests across the United States. Fun Tests are required for new clubs as a “dry run” before they may hold regular trials. Any qualifying run earned at a Fun Test does not count towards titles. Training is allowed in the ring, so a Fun Test is a perfect opportunity to work on your team’s skills. They are usually less expensive than regular trials and are a great opportunity for new teams getting started. You are allowed to enter any class, even if you are brand new to the sport. Dogs are also not required to be registered with BHA to enter a Fun Test. If your dog is not yet registered with BHA, and you choose to enter a Fun Test, plan on mailing in a paper entry form, downloadable from the BHA website and included in the premium.

 

There are six regular classes:
  • Instinct
  • Novice
  • Open
  • Senior
  • Master
  • Champion

Novice, Open, and Senior all have A and B level classes. Titling in the A classes requires three qualifying scores (Q’s) under two different judges. The B classes are available after having earned an A level title and require 10 Q’s under two different judges for a title. B level classes are frequently entered to build a dog’s confidence and improve on their skills before moving to the next, more challenging class.

Competitors can also move backwards to B level classes, but may not enter A and B classes in the same trial. Master is considered an A level class, and Champion a B level class. Crazy 8s is a non-regular class that dogs at any level can enter.

Each class is divided into numbered groups called blinds. The blind is an area or enclosure where competitors are staged so that they cannot see the rats as they are being hidden. Each blind is made up of 4-5 dogs. When the blind is called by a steward, teams listed for that group frequently go into a tent-like structure that will be at least 10 ft. x 10 ft., with sides. Sometimes the blinds may be separate rooms.

Barn Hunt: ‘Magnolia’ CGC RATCH CZ8S getting ready in the start box.
‘Magnolia’ CGC RATCH CZ8S getting ready in the start box. Photo by Kimberly Norman.

The goal of the blind is to keep competitors from seeing where the tubes are hidden while the teams running before them hunt. For each grouping, the tubes are hidden in the same places. Between each blind, the tubes are moved to different places on the course. Once the last dog in a blind enters the ring, the next blind will load. Bitches in season (BIS) are allowed to participate, but will always run last in the last blind. BIS are required to wear panties while in the blind and in the ring, and are crated apart from other competitors.

The goal of the blind is to keep competitors from seeing where the tubes are hidden while the teams running before them hunt. For each grouping, the tubes are hidden in the same places.

Upon entering the ring, the team will wait in a marked-off area called the start box, usually near the gate. Leashes, collars, and/or harnesses are removed by the handler while waiting in the start box. Leashes that can be easily slipped over the head of the dog are strongly recommended for taking the dog to and from the ring. Dogs are required to run “naked” in the ring; no collars or harnesses are allowed to remain on the dog. The hunt is timed, beginning when the dog leaves the start box. To earn a qualifying time, all elements of the hunt must be completed within the allotted time; otherwise, the run will be an NQ. NQs can also occur for handler errors or for the dog eliminating inside the ring. Make sure to potty your dog before each blind!

Barn Hunt is known as the only sport where you may need “bale money” for your dog. Clubs usually charge a fee if a dog eliminates in the ring, since that bale must be discarded and replaced.

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  • Elizabeth Butler is an active member of both the Kuvasz Club of America and Dog Training Club of Tampa, Florida. She is an accomplished, avid Barn Hunt competitor.

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