According to Chinese Zodiac, 2020 is the Year of the Rat, which might give people with musophobia the heebie jeebies. However, I am excited about the beginning of a new decade and new dream. The Rat is the sign of independence and hardworking success, which I’m hoping to channel this year. The rat is also a sign of excitement for my German Shepherd, Aslan, as the primary target in a sport called Barn Hunt.
When I first adopted Aslan, I had a very difficult time controlling her high prey drive, mainly because I was inexperienced with training. I was trying to suppress the natural drive over and over with forced recall, “placing” her, or making her push through the obedience during high distractions with “prey” walking around. Prey to Aslan is anything that moves quickly and weighs under 10 lbs (4.5 kgs) and unfortunately includes cats, small dogs, chickens, squirrels, birds, lizards, toads, hamsters, etc. I was so frustrated, until I realized that her natural drive was never truly going away. I had to learn to manage it. What better way to do that than to let Aslan express her prey drive in an appropriate setting?
What is Barn Hunt?
Barn Hunt was created to allow any canine, not just those bred for “ratting” like terriers, to participate in a fun dog sport that tests their hunting and scent skills. The goal is to find the hidden rat and for the dog to be able to communicate that to the handler. The events are held in a fenced, “barn-like” setting with hay bales to navigate.
For those of you concerned, no rats are harming in the making of Barn Hunt. There is an entire section of the handbook specifically discussing the proper handling, housing, and training of the rats. A rat is safely and humanely contained in a specifically designed PVC tube with bedding. The rats are also trained to enter the tubes, and great care is taken to ensure the rats are not too stressed throughout the event. To make the hunt more challenging, the dogs are presented with tubes with rats, tubes with just bedding, and tubes with nothing. The dog has to decide which tube has the actual rat.
To be eligible to compete, the dog has to be at least six months old and able to fit through an 18 inches (~45 cm) opening between two bales of hay, which is the width of the tunnels, and the height of a bale of hay, approximately 22 inches (~55 cm). Please note, that this might not be the best sport for a Great Dane. Dogs can compete in five class levels – Instinct, Novice, Open, Senior and Master.
Because the handlers have no idea where the tubes are hidden, they have to rely on their dog’s hunting skills to find the rat in a specific time period . Dogs are tested on speed and agility as they are required to complete a “tunnel,” “climb,” and to find the rat. This is a team sport, so the handler must know how to recognize when their dog indicates that a rat is found. Once the dog indicates a “find,” the handler must vocalize, “RAT,” to the judge for scoring purposes.
In order to participate in sanctioned Barn Hunt events, your dog needs to be registered with the Barn Hunt Association. There are local trainers and clubs for Barn Hunt in North Carolina, such as Teamworks, which is the location I choose for training. Please keep in mind that this is a wonderful sport for dogs and handlers of all ages, because Barn Hunt is not as physically taxing on the dog or handler as agility for example.
For information on how to register, find scheduled events in your area, and learn more about the sport, please visit the Barn Hunt Association website. Remember to enjoy the Year of the Rat as much as Aslan enjoys Barn Hunt. Happy New Year from my pack to yours!