November 17, 2014 by Julia
This weekend Delta and I headed out to try an up and coming sport – Barn Hunt. Once again, our day of fun was hosted by UDSNNE. This new club has done a fantastic job of bringing fun introductory events to our area and I can’t thank them enough. Saturday’s event was a “fun test” which gives newbies like us a chance to try our hand and learn more about the sport.
I knew a little bit about the sport already – Delta’s breeder started going to events this summer with Delta’s older sister and mother as well as her Boston Terrier. Both family members have their Novice titles and took to the sport quickly. Given Delta’s prey drive, I figured she’d share the family enthusiasm for the sport.
First up was the instinct test. There three tubes in the ring – an empty tube, a tube with rat shavings, and one with the actual rat. They switch out the rat and change the tube position every few dogs. You don’t know which tube is which, so you have to trust your dog when they “indicate” the rat.
I was a bit surprised when Delta was startled by the rat. She was sniffing it and I had a feeling she was smelling the little bugger. Then it moved or made a noise and she jumped away, confirming that it was the right tube. She isn’t normally a “jumpy” dog, but I suspect it was just the surprise factor. Her reaction in the next round confirmed that for me.
For a Novice level, the dog is required to go through the hay tunnel, climb on a bale, and find the rat. Instead of being laid out in a neat row, the tubes are all buried. They aren’t required to do them in any order, they just need to do all three in 2 minutes.
I tried to get Delta to do the tunnel and climb right off so we’d have most of the time for her to find the rat. I wasn’t sure she’d understand the game right off now that the tubes were out of sight. I shouldn’t have been concerned. After I ushered her through the tunnel, she got right to work. She worked the ring in a rough circle and her body posture reminded me of when she’s tracking. Again, I was pretty sure she’d found the rat, but I waited for her to commit to the smell before I called it. The judge kindly pointed out that Delta had actually done a climb yet, so we went back to the bales for a quick scramble.
As someone who’s done a lot of obedience training, it was a very different experience to watch and participate in a sport where you are essentially a by-stander. You can verbally encourage your dog and direct them to go through the tunnel or climb, but you have no idea where the rat is. You have to trust your dog and know how to read them.
The majority, if not all, of the teams participating were brand new to Barn Hunt and most have participated in another sport. It was interesting to see teams who normally trained in “team” sports where the human gives commands and the dog complies. The handler’s instinct was to direct the action, tell the dog what to do. Some dogs were so used to being told what to do that they kept looking to their handlers for direction.
I recall one team in particular had a hard time during the instinct test. The handler was talking and pointing. The dog would sniff the tube with the rat and then look up at the handler. From outside the ring, it was clear as day that the dog was saying “It’s this one. See? This one.” After finally calling “Rat?” on the wrong tube, the handler gave a good-natured comment about the dog’s intelligence. If you’d asked the dog, it would have told you who the real dummy was.
I think I had a leg up since Delta and I have done some tracking. I know what she looks like when she’s on the scent. I was able to reel in my chatty nature, limiting how much I directed or talked to her. I directed her to perform the tunnel and the climb, gave her little encouragement, then shut my mouth and stayed out of her way.
I love exploring different sports and seeing the many the ways that people can partner with their dogs. The many ways we can learn to communicate and work together are fascinating to me. And I am grateful that I’ve had the opportunity to try so many things and that I’ve had dogs willing and able to play these different games.
So, what will our next adventure be?