Barn Hunt

Barn Hunt is a new and quickly growing dog sport. It is based on the traditional roles of many breeds in ridding farms, barns, crop storage areas, and homes of destructive vermin. This was also one of the old farm corgis' many tasks. Barn Hunt is open to any dog of any breed or mix who wishes to play the game and can fit through an 18" (48 cm) wide by bale-height tall (14" / 35 cm) tunnel. Barn Hunt is an independent sport, but titles are recognized by both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC).

Rat container

Barn Hunt is committed to creating a safe and fun sport for dogs, that also holds rat care at the highest level of consideration. The rats used in Barn Hunt are often beloved family pets. They jump eagerly into their safe, comfortable aerated tubes and truly enjoy interacting with the dogs. Barn Hunt is a sport where the dog and handler are required to locate and correctly identify one or more live rats hidden inside a safe PVC container or 'tube'. There are additional 'dummy' tubes which will only have a small amount of used litter from the rat cage or may be completely empty. The number of tubes and type of tubes (rat, litter or empty) depends on the title level.

The tubes are hidden on a course of straw or hay bales arranged from 2 to 4 bales high, also depending on the level of advancement, inside a securely fenced ring. Handlers and their dogs are required to wait in a 'blind' which is a place away from and out of sight of the ring while the rats are hidden at the judge's direction, so the handler will have to interpret their dog's behavior to determine if they have correctly found the rat(s).

Fletcher had a great time looking for rats and succeeded in passing his instinct test. It was a bit hit-and-miss in his Novice runs, but when he does find the rat and is sure about it, he is very enthusiastic and LOUD! We had two 'practice' runs and one qualifier where he was also awarded 1st place in his height division (small).

Except for the very beginner Instinct level, where the tubes are also out in the open, the dog must also climb up on the bales with all four feet and go through a tunnel made from the bales at least once. The event is also timed, with different time limits based on the level (Instinct, Novice, Open, Senior and Master).

Fletcher (Wyntr's Dark Firebolt, RATI, RATO) on the left and
Ember (Wyntr-Mackinac Dark Energy, RATI, RATO, RATS).
After flubbing his first run in Open, Fletcher managed 3 consecutive qualifying runs, all with 1st placements for his height division (small) including a High In Trial for his title earning run.
Ember also finished her Senior title with a first place and High in Trial and came close to accomplishing a qualifying run for her first time in Masters.

Master is the highest level, but as with agility, there is also a Championship title (RATCH) and a Champion Excellent title (RATCHX), both of which require qualifying an additional 10 times each after completing Master. Multiple RATCHX (RATCHX2, 3, 4, etc.) are also possible.

You are allowed to talk to the dog and help him search by doing things like call him over to check a place he might have missed. However, you are not allowed to do any formal obedience commands like 'sit' or 'stay', but you can point out places for them to search and say things like 'go tunnel' to get them to go through the tunnel, or use whatever word they know to get them to climb up on the straw. I've also been teaching my dogs 'look up' so they will search higher on top of the bales because scent will naturally tend to go downward. If they are looking on the floor or somewhere down low, but there isn't any sign of a tube, it often means it's hidden somewhere up above them.

Photos from the
Great American Dogs Barn Hunt Trial in Garden City, MI on November 22, 2015

Fletcher did great on day 2 of the trial! He finished his Senior title with a 2nd place in his height division (small), then went on to get his first Q in Master with a 1st place in his height division.

Fletcher in the start box. Normally he takes off like a shot when I remove his lead, but this time he waited for me to hand off the lead before leaving. It didn't stop him from bouncing like a little kangaroo in excitement!

Less than 5 seconds into the run, he finds his first rat. I was sure we were going to NQ on this one because he usually finds a litter tube first, but he insisted it was a rat, and he was right! - Here I'm trying to climb up to remove the first rat to hand off to the Rat Wrangler. There are several ways to deal with the rat when it's been identified and this is one of them. This is also the only time a handler is allowed to touch the straw bales and/or the dog during their run.

I spent what seemed like an eternity trying to get him to go through the tunnel which is one of the required elements to complete a qualification. This is one of many attempts showing me pointing at the tunnel and saying 'Go Tunnel', with Fletcher ignoring me and doing everything else. Here he is about to jump up on top of the bales over the tunnel. He also would run inside the tunnel, then turn around and come back out again. We went back and forth between the two ends of the tunnel several times trying to find something that would get him to go through.

Fletcher exiting the tunnel after going through all the way, which at Master level can have up to 5 turns and be very dark, so I don't blame him for hesitating as long as he did before deciding to trust me and go through. Everyone watching cheered as I called "Clear" and we qualified!
1 Q done, 4 more to go for his Master title!

Dogs can have different ways to signal that they have found the rat. The handler has to watch their dog's body language and interpret what the dog is doing. My Fletcher is easy - he gets excited and digs and barks at the tube when he finds one with a rat inside. Unfortunately he sometimes also does the same thing for the litter tube and he's even done it to an empty one at least once. A lot of novice dogs will do this until they understand what they are actually trying to find is just the rat. As they get experience, many will learn to completely ignore the other tubes. By Master level, most dogs will be experienced enough to only indicate the tubes with rats.

Some dogs can be very subtle, which makes it very hard for the handler. I saw one whippet whose only indication was to stop and slightly turn one ear toward where the rat tube was hidden. There was a setter that would just freeze and stare closely at the location of the tube in the straw. Other dogs might jump back as if they are surprised when they find one and some will only stop for a moment, then walk away without really letting the handler know it was a rat. My Ember would do that to me sometimes, but with practice she now knows to do a little more than that for me and she will even bite at the tube, which is allowed as long as the dog does not try to carry it around or shove/shake it around too much.

Some dogs will just follow the handler around the ring and wait for them to point out places to search, while others will run around ahead of the handler and search mostly on their own. My dogs will hunt on their own at first, then will start looking where I ask them to search once they run out of ideas.

Learning to read the dog's body language and helping them search is what makes it a team sport.

Handlers are not allowed to touch the dog or the straw or step over any bales at any time once they have left the start box on the course unless they have called 'rat'. Neither are they allowed to lift the dog off the floor to restrain them except when coming into the ring or when they are done and getting ready to leave the ring. Clickers and/or food are not allowed in the ring.

In order for the Rat Wrangler to remove any tube(s), the dog must be restrained at a minimum of two feet (approx. 60 cm) from the tube or whatever distance is required for the Rat Wrangler to have safe, unimpeded access to the tube. The handler cannot deliberately pick up the dog, but may place one or both hands flat on the dog's chest and/or one or both arms loosely around the neck or torso with a hand or hands on the chest. At least two of the dog's feet must remain in contact with the ground/surface at all times while the handler is touching the dog. This can be difficult if the dog is excited or wriggly, but is important for safety. Dogs who are too aggressive with the rat tube will be disqualified by the judge.

The Rat Wrangler must take care to hold the tube horizontal and not to drop it when handing it off to another RW or whoever is outside the ring. The rat will then be kept in a location where it's scent will not interfere with the dog continuing to hunt if there are more rats to be found.

To see complete rules, information and photos, check out:
They now have an international license available and I believe there is a club in Norway now holding events.

I have created a set of 'cheat sheets' called Barn Hunt Basics, to help handlers and even judges remember the details and requirements for each level and posted them on my website :

Kathleen Carlson, USA