This weekend, as mentioned in this week’s The Mort Report, we tried out Barn Hunt for the first time. This dog sport is comparatively new in the dog world, and has grown in popularity over the past couple years. This post will detail what I learned and experienced on our first attempt at Barn Hunt. I will also provide an introduction and overview of the Barn Hunt dog sport, and link to resources for more information.
So what is Barn Hunt?
Barn hunt is a timed event to test your dog’s vermin searching (hunting) and marking (finding) ability in a barn-like setting. Essentially, around bales of hay – not necessarily a barn. Climbing and tunneling skills are also tested, and all together your ability to work as a team with your dog. An essential skill is the ability to notice your dog marking the find, the signal, which could be as subtle as a flick of the head or as obvious as pawing and barking at the found rat.
Barn Hunt has many similarities to noseworks, detection, or search and rescue activities.
Barn Hunt: Safety First
The Barn Hunt Rule book is a long and detailed, outlining all of the measures in place to keep everyone safe and happy. This includes the rats, in which an experienced rat handler is required at all times to monitor the health and safety of their charges. The rats are safely enclosed in a structure during the timed event, and are cared for in regards to heat and other needs.
It also goes over what are acceptable collars and leashes (although the dogs run “naked” without any while actively hunting), and there are clear outlines about what and how the dogs (and their humans) must behave while attending the event.
Oh, and no swearing is allowed either.
An inclusive sport that does not discriminate
Barn Hunt is an organized sport, and has a set of rules for human and dog participants, judges, organizers, and more. There are specific rules about not discriminating based on breed or temperament. Bitches in season are also allowed to participate. As long as a dog is not overtly aggressive to other dogs or humans, he or she is allowed to participate. Nipping is not considered aggression. Hackles or a bit of vocalization, such as growls in play? That’s OK too. I loved how the rule book demonstrated a very logical and sensical approach to dog behavior, understanding what is truly a problem and what isn’t. It means that Barn Hunt is a very inclusive sport.
What types of dogs would like this activity? Mort does an Instinct test
Obviously prey and/or toy drive is key here. If your dog is interested in participating in any kind of activity, searching and sniffing around, they would probably take to Barn Hunt. You start off with what’s called an “Instinct Test” where your dog is introduced to three tubes: one has a rat, another a nest, and a third doesn’t have anything. You take your dog to the area with these three tubes and see what happens.
Mort found the rat, his eyes went huge, and he eventually started pawing around the tube. That’s a pass.
Learning the rules
There are quite a few rules, as you can see in the Barn Hunt Rule book. But a few key things to remember when starting the event are:
- Your dog runs naked. This means no collars or leashes (we handed them to a designated person).
- Don’t bring anything into the area. No cameras, treats, toys, etc. This is why I don’t have any pictures for this post. I’ll bring a helper to take some photos of the action next time!
- Don’t touch the hay. There are hay bales stacked up all around, you’re not supposed to touch it. You can indicate to your dog (point) to show him or her where to go, but don’t touch the hay.
- Don’t touch your dog. You can use some voice control, and body language or pointing, but you can’t touch your dog to maneuver him in any way.
- Have your dog jump on some hay.
- Have your dog tunnel through the hay (there is a hay tunnel built for this purpose).
- If you think your dog finds the rat, very clearly say RAT (or whatever the judge wants you to say) as a statement… not a question.
- Don’t swear. This is for fun!
There are a few more things, but this seemed to be what I needed to know for my first try.
Our first try at Novice
Lets allow Mort to describe our first try at Novice, as detailed in his Mort Report yesterday:
[su_quote cite=”Mort” url=”http://dogthusiast.com/2014/07/06/the-mort-report-skateboards-swimming-and-searching-the-haybales/”]So then we did it again later, and it was harder. Well, for the girl. So now I had to go under these big squares of hay, and over hay, and around hay. The girl pointed to places and I went to them. Then I found the rat! I dug my nose into the hay, and I sniffed at it. I even made a hole to the rat using my nose poking at the hay. I looked at her, but my girl didn’t say RAT! So I thought I’d just go look at other things, and then we stopped. A lady took us back to the rat and showed the girl, just like I did! The girl slapped her forehead and called herself a “handler error.” I don’t knows what that means. But she said I was such a good boy when we looked at the rat again, and everyone was so happy.[/su_quote]
That’s right, I missed his signal. I have no clue why I was, for whatever reason, thinking that there were decoy tubes like our Instinct test, and I should have him look around more. But it was a great practice at seeing how he will move around the hay bales and respond to where I take him and point. I was also quite anxious given it was our first attempt, and won’t be as anxious next time. I hope!
For more information about Barn Hunt
For more information, check out the Barn Hunt Association website. This is where you will find the rule book, events, and clubs.
Finding an event in your area
We attended an event hosted by Revolution Dog Sports in Hollister, which was part of an event that also hosted a Dock Diving competition. To find an event in your area, here are a few places to check out:
- Barn Hunt Association calendar
- Barn Hunt Association club map – includes links to local clubs, which have more information on events.
- AKC event search for earthdog trials, if you are interested in those. Note: Read this post to understand the difference between Earthdog and Barn Hunt.
Of course, do a search online for local groups that may be holding unofficial or “for fun” events.
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