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The Sport of Barn Hunt

By Sara Garthly

An exciting new rat hunting sport has hit the dog world this year that has a lot of people talking, and it’s called Barn Hunt. Rat hunting type games and activities have been happening alongside Earthdog trials for years, but they were still only eligible for Earthdog breeds. It wasn’t until Robin Nuttal, an accomplished trainer with Dobermans and Miniature Pinschers who desired to do more with the Min Pin’s ratting history, that the Barn Hunt Association was developed and the sport was born. Unlike Earthdog and the American Working Terrier Association, it is open to any breed or mixed breed displaying ratting and vermin hunting skills.

Barn Hunt not only demonstrates a dog’s hunting drive, but also, it tests their speed, agileness, confidence, and scenting ability in a barn-like setting. It need not be held in a barn and can take place either inside or out. Hay bales are used to offer tunneling and climbing opportunities along their path as they search for the hidden tubes. There is also a handler component, in that the hander tells the judge when the dog has found the correct PVC tube with the rat; so having a deep partnership with your dog and knowing their body language is a key element. The level of difficulty increases with the higher titles, which are: RATI (Instinct), RATN (Novice), RATO (Open), RATS (Senior), RATM (Master), RATCh (Champion), and RATChX (Champion Excellent).

The course for RATI is a standardized course. The hay bales are arranged looking similar to a tuning fork, with the constructed tunnel being the handle. The three tubes (empty, litter, and litter/live rat) are out in the open and the dog has one minute to indicate the tube with the rat. The tunnel and the climb are not required for this class, but usually encouraged to prepare you for the other classes. One only needs to pass this test once to obtain the title. You can also continue to enter this class as a warm up until the dog has earned the Novice title. For the other classes, (RATN through RATM), the judge designs the layout of the course and like agility and rally, some are quite creative and challenging, while others are fairly simple. The courses do vary from level to level, with more bales being used in Senior and Master. Each level has at least one official tunnel, which is the length of one hay bale in Novice, but must be longer in Open, Senior and Master. Each team starts out in the Start Box, where the dog’s collar and leash are removed, (dogs run “naked”), and the clock starts when the dog is released and either the handler or the dog leaves the Start Box.

In RATN, three PVC tubes are hidden – empty, litter, and litter/live rat. The team has two minutes to locate the rat and execute the required tunnel and climb.

In RATO, five tubes are hidden – one empty, two litter, two litter/live rats. The team has two minutes, thirty seconds to find the two rats and execute the tunnel and climb. The course has a higher level of bales and one tube must only be reachable by a climb. Dogs are allowed to be briefly praised after finding each rat.

In RATS, eight tubes are hidden – one empty, three litter, four with litter/live rats. The team has three minutes, thirty seconds to find all the rats and execute the tunnel and climb, with one rat only reachable with a climb. Dogs are again allowed brief praise after finding each rat.

In RATM, ten tubes are hidden. All tubes will have litter. Anywhere from one to five tubes will have rats, and that number will change at random. The team has four minutes, thirty seconds. If there is more than one live rat tube on the course, at least one live rat will be only reachable by a climb. If there is only one live rat on the course, it may be located anywhere. When the handler feels the dog has completed the search and indicated all rats, the handler tells the judge the dog is finished.

RATN, RATO, and RATS only require three qualifying legs to obtain the title, while the RATM requires five qualifying legs under two different judges to obtain the title. After achieving the RATM title, there is still an opportunity to trial by going for the RATCh and RATChX titles. RATCh is 10 Master legs and RATChX is 20 Master legs. As of right now, all but the RATI is being recognized by the AKC. One simply sends in the paperwork with a copy of their title certificate to the AKC with the appropriate fees, and the title will be recorded on the dog’s registered name.

Barn Hunt, like other scent work, is uniquely different than other sports because the handler is in the dog’s world. The dog is the leader and the handler is the follower. It is about being quiet and listening to your dog. There is something quite fascinating about stepping back and witnessing your dog doing something so instinctual and being good at it. As Barn Hunt continues to grow, there is no doubt we will be seeing more and more Kerries with these titles on their names as this sport was surely made for them.


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