Earthdog trials are geared for go to ground Terriers that have been bred to root out small prey from underground dens. Dogs in the Terrier Group are hardworking canines bred to hunt vermin, but breeds that don’t go to ground aren’t eligible for Earthdog trials. A challenging new dog sport called Barn Hunt works off the basic concept of Earthdog trials, with a twist, and is open to all canines.
Dogs have an innate desire to hunt, regardless of what they were bred to do. Even companion breeds from the Toy Group have a healthy prey drive, and some breeds are good ratters. Miniature Pinschers were originally bred to hunt rats and small prey, and the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a true hunting dog that has retained his Spaniel traits.
The Standard Schnauzer, German Pinscher and Brussels Griffon have a history of hunting vermin, but they don’t go to ground to flush out prey. Barn hunt is designed to give dogs that have traditionally been used to hunt vermin above ground a sport where they can show off their rat hunting skills.
Barn Hunt was created to allow any canine to participate in a fun dog sport that tests his hunting skills and has placements, titles and championships. Events are held inside or outside in a barn-like setting in a fenced in area. The maze course uses hay or straw bales stacked up to create climbing and tunneling obstacles for dogs to navigate through. The goal is to find the rat hidden in the hay.
A rat is safely and humanely contained in a PVC tube with plenty of air holes, and hidden in the hay. The rats are not harmed during the events. The tubes are large enough for the rat to turn around in and contain bedding. Great care is taken to make sure both rats and dogs stay safe. To make the hunt more challenging, empty tubes or ones with bedding but no rat are also hidden in the hay. In advanced levels, more than one rat is hidden under the hay somewhere along the course. Dogs need to move through tunnels and climb hay bales to find the tube with the rat.
Events are open to purebred or mixed breed dogs at least six months old. No ratting history is required, but the dog must be able to fit through an 18” opening between two bales of hay, which is the width of the tunnels, and the height of a bale of hay, approximately 22”. Dogs are placed into one of three height groups: small dogs 13” and under, medium dogs over 13” up to 18” and large dogs over 18”. Dogs can compete in five levels of difficulty – Instinct, Novice, Open, Senior and Master – and earn awards in each.
The challenge for the dog and his handler is to find the rat in a specific time period. Dogs are tested on speed, agility and ability to keep his footing. This is a team sport and the handler must signal when their dog has found the correct PVC tube containing the rat. This is a sport where the handler needs to know their dog well enough to recognize signs that indicate a rat has been found, including subtle signals that can be harder to pick up. Handlers have no idea where the tubes are hidden or which ones contain a rat, and must wait for their dog to find the correct tube.
The object of the sport is to have fun whether you are participating or just watching. It’s a sport that celebrates the working ability of dogs and the bond and communication between a dog and his owner.
In order to participate in sanctioned Barn Hunt events, your dog needs to be registered with the Barn Hunt Association. However, there are also tests and training clinics that don’t require registration. This is a new dog sport that has quickly grown in popularity around the country. For information on how to register, find scheduled events in your area and learn more about the sport, and visit the Barn Hunt Association website. Barn Hunt is not an AKC or UKC sport, but both kennel clubs will record Barn Hunt titles on their pedigrees.
If you’re looking for an exciting sport to do with your dog, Barn Hunt doesn’t require a lot of running on your part or extensive training for your dog. A healthy body needs proper exercise and good nutrition like CANIDAE premium quality dog food. A healthy mind needs stimulation to keep it sharp. Barn Hunt is a good outlet for excess energy and provides stimulation for the mind as well. All you need to add is the CANIDAE dog food!
Top photo by Deb Christoff
Middle photo by Sandra Tung
Bottom photo by Lisa Quast
Read more articles by Linda Cole