Saturday, July 11, 2015


I got my start in dog sports in 1985, and earned my first obedience title in 1986. I did some tracking in the late 1980's/early 1990's. I was again a Novice A person when I started agility circa 1990. I got heavily into hunt tests with the Flat-Coats circa 2006.

Last month, I went to a Barn Hunt workshop on a Saturday afternoon. Sonic was tepid at best, but Jag... he was in heaven. He definitely got more and more into it each time we entered the ring area for our turn.

The basic idea of Barn Hunt, which is for all breeds of dogs, is for the dog to locate a rat which is hidden in a tube - a piece of sewer pipe with holes in it. The tube is hidden somewhere in a structure built out of straw bales. The dogs also have to "tunnel" - i.e., go through a tunnel through the straw bales, and they have to do "a climb" - hop up on the straw pile as they hunt. At the Novice level, the tunnel is open at either end, and the bales are at most 2 bales high. There are 3 tubes - one with a rat, one with used bedding, and one empty. The dog has to indicate to the handler when he finds the rat.

Last Saturday, we attended our first Barn Hunt trials, entering the Instinct test, a very basic test, where all 3 tubes are laid out in plain site. Jag passed that fairly easily.

In the first Novice class, we were in the first "blind" - a group of up to 5 teams that all have their tubes in the same place - so didn't get a chance to watch much before we went in the ring.  He did quite a lot of searching in the ring. When he started biting at a tube, I called "Rat!", but alas, it was a tube with litter in it. I took him to where the tube with the rat was (after the judge pointed it out to us), and he got more excited than he had on the one with litter in it.

In the second Novice Class, he darted through the tunnel, turned left, I encouraged him to hop up on the bales, and he almost immediately started to indicate that he'd found a tube. I eventually called "Rat!" and this time, it was right. 27 seconds out of the 2 minutes allowed. First RATN leg!

Today, we headed off for another new adventure, and went to try Earth Dog for the first time. The property we were at is simply beautiful and the weather was perfect for spending it outside enjoying our dogs. I didn't manage to take any photos, but Jag thought Earth Dog was Da BOMB! We started out with Beth Widdows (who trained 3 of her Westies in obedience with me years ago) helping us rank beginners with how to get started going through short tunnels above ground and getting to practice "working" the rats. Jag caught on very quickly and was soon biting the bars like a pro. After a break in the Burb, I went out by myself to see the Intro and Novice tunnel set up.

We tried the Intro course next, which was a simple tunnel with a left turn, but requiring him to go down a short ramp to enter it. He didn't have any trouble with the tunnel, but he was a bit hesitant to "work the rats". The dog needs to show noisy enthusiasm for the work - just staring won't cut it. It is one reason I've never been sure I wanted to try Earth Dog, since I loathe barky/whiney dogs. So here I was, encouraging him to bite the dowels that separated him from the rats, to whine, to dig, etc.

Next we proceeded on to the Novice course. The Novice tunnels are 30 feet long. This one had 3 turns on it. He again arrived at the rats fairly quickly. He also figured out how to turn around and come back out the entrance, which isn't desirable at the beginning levels. The Novice dogs are removed from the tunnel right by the rat cage via a trap door. He worked pretty hard at the rats with encouragement, but he'll need to learn how to keep up the work for 60 seconds with zero encouragement from me.

I put him away in the Burb, took a break, then had one final turn. One of the things I've vowed is that I won't give him access to the rats unless he is keeping his emotions in check. Getting from the Burb to where the tunnels were was a lengthy affair, as we proceeded 5 steps forward, 3 steps back. The 2nd turn was actually better in terms of him restraining himself somewhat on the walk to the tunnels. Reminds me a lot of what Sonic was like when we started our field work. It is SO exciting!!!

Next Saturday, we will be doing two more Novice Barn Hunt trials, with a practice session tomorrow at the grounds where the trials will be. It is fun learning a new sport, and it is great seeing Jag turning on to the sport he is bred for.