An Introduction to Barn Hunting For Dogs

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Does your dog enjoy chasing squirrels in the park? If so, Barn Hunt might be the dog sport for your dog! One of the newest and fastest growing sport, Barn Hunt builds on a dog's sense of smell and drive to search for vermin. The primary goal of Barn Hunt is for dogs to navigate through hay bales and correctly identify the location of a rat that is safely contained inside a PVC tube hidden within straw. This dog sport is a great and safe way to build and channel your dog's natural desire to search and chase.


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The sport of barn hunting

Many dogs regardless of breed or mix have an inherent prey drive and can and will search for rats and find the sport highly rewarding and enjoyable. As the name implies, the sport of Barn Hunt primarily evaluates a dog's sense of smell and ability to find rats. The sport also tests a dog's speed and agility as dogs are timed while they negotiate bales of straw in search of hidden rats. Barn Hunt is welcoming to all dogs regardless of size, breed, or mix of breeds. Unlike the sport of Earth Dog in which only terriers who historically been developed as breeds to search for and hunt rodents and vermin are allowed to participate, with Barn Hunt dogs of any breed or mixed breed are allowed and encouraged to train and compete. Barn Hunt provides a modern and humane way to test a dog's natural hunting skills. Barn hunt is a highly accessible sport for dogs and people making it fun for dogs of all ages including senior dogs. Barn Hunt competitions are also open to dogs with disabilities including dogs who are deaf.


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Rat safety

Although the word "hunt" is involved in the name of the sport, the live rats are an important part of the sport and are well cared for. As the dogs search the rats are safely contained in ventilated PVC tubes that protect the rats while they are hidden in the hay bales. The rat's physical and emotional health is closely monitored at all times during training sessions and at shows. Rats who participate in Barn Hunt are not afraid of the dogs and there is a lot of focus placed on watching the rat's body language and ensuring that the rats are comfortable and happy. Positive reinforcement training techniques are utilized so the rats willingly enter the search tubes instead of being forced. The rats that are used as part of Barn Hunt are cherished family pets when they are not participating in Barn Hunt events.


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Barn Hunt titles are issued by BHA the Barn Hunt Association ( but are also recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC) the United Kennel Club( UKC) and the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC). There are multiple levels of competition of progressive levels of difficulty from Instinct through Master Champion. The first optional level of competition before Novice is the pass/fail "Instinct" level. Instinct is designed to test a dog's overall drive and instinct for finding rats. For the Instinct level test there are three tubes visible in the hay. One tube contains a rat, another tube has rat bedding materials, and the third tube is empty. To earn their Instinct title, the dog must correctly identify what tube contains the rat within a minute.


While competing handlers can talk to their dogs, praise, and gesture to the tubes, but cannot bring toys or food into the ring, or touch their dog anytime while they are searching until they have alerted to the presence of a rat. In more advanced searches dogs will need to go through tunnels of hay, climb onto hay and find the tube with the rat inside when it is hidden within the hay bales.



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Because Barn Hunt builds on a dog's natural desire to search, and their highly developed sense of smell dogs don't need a lot of advanced training to be ready to start competing at the Instinct and Novice level. If you want to start training in the sport, many local clubs across the country have classes, instinct clinics, or opportunities to introduce your dog to the idea of searching for rats which can help you determine if your dog is interested in the sport. BHA has a comprehensive searchable list of sanctioned events across their country on their website. to allow you to find events to enter in your local area. BHA also includes a link to sanctioned clubs this is a great way to find local groups that you and your dog can get involved with for training.


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