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A barn hunt is a necessity for some dogs who live on a farm and have the job of keeping rodents away from barns, hay bales, and animal feed. A barn hunt event is a fun game some dog owners play using rats, hay bales, and tunnels to test your dog's agility and skill. There might be several reasons a dog owner participates in a barn hunt with their dog, whether it be for fun or to train a farming work dog. Barn hunt dogs can be compared to detective dogs. They are trained to search and find, retrieve, and recover.
The sport of barn hunting is an organized sport with judges, teams of dogs, and rules. However, dog owners cannot let their dogs just run freely in a barn hunt; they need to understand the rules, the goals, and how to participate so they can catch the best prizes. Dogs who naturally barn hunt as part of a working dog duties may have similar rules in that the farmers use the dogs to keep their barns clear of vermin, so they have time to focus on farming. No matter the reason your dog is training for a barn hunt, the training is similar if not close to the same. Though there are rules in a barn hunt game such as don't touch the hay, if you are a farmer, training your dog to protect and hunt your barn, you could make your own rules.
You will need a few things to set up a barn hunt course and train your dog properly for a barn hunt.
- A maze of hay bales.
- Plastic tubes hidden within the maze.
- Live rats.
- Your maze must be such that your dogs can go through the tunnels and climb on top of the hay bales to alert you of the rat he is caught.
- Treats for Rewards.
- A dog small enough to go through the obstacles.
The Hide Tubes Method
Introduce your dog to the rats, keeping the rats inside a ventilated cage so your dog can sniff them.
Introduce your dog to the tubes the rats will be in.
Teach your dog to search for the tube and rats using a tube somewhere hidden amongst the hay bales in your obstacle course and walking your dog around until he discovers a hidden tube. You can carry a tube with you and let your dog sniff it every now and then to stay on course. He should associate the scent with what's hidden.
Reward your dog for finding a tube.
Teach your dog the obstacles that will be in the barn hunt by offering some agility training over the hay bales, around corners, and through tunnels.
Reward your dog for handling the obstacles.
Repeat the steps above until your dog can find the rats as soon as you let go of the leash or as soon as he enters the maze.
The Agility Method
Focus on agility training to help your dog get through barn hunt quickly.
In your backyard, set up a hay bale maze with treat-filled toys hidden throughout.
Run the course with your dog closely leashed to you.
Toy and teward
Each time your dog finds a treat-filled toy, offer him a special treat as a reward.
Repeat this process, hiding the treat-filled toys each time you start over.
Over time, let go of your dog's leash and let your dog explore on his own. You should stay nearby and coach. You can begin to use verbal commands to 'seek' each time you have your dog seeking on his own.
The Nose Sense Method
Though the goal of a barn hunt is to find rats in tubes, you can create your own barn hunt with fun toys and obstacles different than hay bales. Dogs need agility to participate in the obstacle course, and they also need a good sense of smell. Though this comes naturally for most dogs, honing in on that sense of smell could help with a barn hunt.
Place boxes around an open area, each with something different inside offering your dog a special scent in one box and the others a scent your dog dislikes or no scent at all.
Encourage your dog to explore each box, sniffing them out.
Once your dog finds a particular box with a certain scent, offer a reward.
Switch the scents in the boxes, leaving the one scent you would like your dog to find.
Repeat these steps and reward your dog each time he finds the box you would like him to find based on scent.
Move this exercise to a barn hunt using the rats and hay bales.
By Stephanie Plummer
Published: 11/10/2017, edited: 01/08/2021
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