How to Train Your Dog to Barn Hunt

Medium
2-4 Weeks
Fun

Introduction

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.

Defining Tasks

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.

Getting Started

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

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Step
1
Rats
Introduce your dog to the rats, keeping the rats inside a ventilated cage so your dog can sniff them.
Step
2
Tubes
Introduce your dog to the tubes the rats will be in.
Step
3
Search
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.
Step
4
Reward
Reward your dog for finding a tube.
Step
5
Obstacles
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.
Step
6
Reward
Reward your dog for handling the obstacles.
Step
7
Repeat
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.
Recommend training method?

The Agility Method

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Step
1
Agility training
Focus on agility training to help your dog get through barn hunt quickly.
Step
2
Set up
In your backyard, set up a hay bale maze with treat-filled toys hidden throughout.
Step
3
Run course
Run the course with your dog closely leashed to you.
Step
4
Toy and teward
Each time your dog finds a treat-filled toy, offer him a special treat as a reward.
Step
5
Repeat
Repeat this process, hiding the treat-filled toys each time you start over.
Step
6
No leash
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.
Recommend training method?

The Nose Sense Method

Effective
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Step
1
Fun
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.
Step
2
Boxes
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.
Step
3
Explore
Encourage your dog to explore each box, sniffing them out.
Step
4
Reward
Once your dog finds a particular box with a certain scent, offer a reward.
Step
5
Scents
Switch the scents in the boxes, leaving the one scent you would like your dog to find.
Step
6
Repeat
Repeat these steps and reward your dog each time he finds the box you would like him to find based on scent.
Step
7
Barn hunt
Move this exercise to a barn hunt using the rats and hay bales.
Recommend training method?
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Written by Stephanie Plummer

Published: 11/10/2017, edited: 01/08/2021

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Piper
Labradoodle
2 Years
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Question
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Piper
Labradoodle
2 Years

Are there any barn hunt rat wrangler/trainers in Baltimore County or Harford county? And that are open.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
914 Dog owners recommended

Hello DeEtta, I am not located close to you unfortunately, but I suggest looking on the website linked below and contacting the club closest to you. Ask your closest local club if they are aware of any barn hunting events, trainers, locations near you. http://www.barnhunt.com/clublist.html Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Bella
Yorkshire Terrier
8 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Bella
Yorkshire Terrier
8 Years

Would like instruction to get us started on barn hunting. Which I know very little about. But, My guess is Bella will love it, and may have some natural talent. She loves sniffing out animals.

Alisha Smith
Alisha S., Dog Trainer
236 Dog owners recommended

Hello! The best way to get started is to work on scent tracking. I am going to give you some very beginner tips on training this skill. After you work with your dog on this, you can contact a local trainer in your area for more advanced training. Start Early in the Morning To teach scenting a track, you need some treats and a grassy area, such as a baseball field or park. Although hot dogs are not the most nutritious food, I find they work best, and you won’t over stuff your dog’s belly. Begin early; many people start by 6 a.m. before anyone has walked on the grass. Create a Treat Track Have your dog sit or lie down and stay. Take a couple of inch-long pieces of hot dog and use your shoe to mash them into the grass. Make sure to crush the grass under the hot dogs, which will release a grass scent. Then, with the hot dog residue on the bottom of your shoe, walk a straight line away from your dog. Every six or ten feet, drop a piece of hot dog. Stop after about 20 feet and drop one of your gloves or one of your dog’s toys; your dog needs to find something at the end of the track. Drop another piece of hot dog on top of the item. Command Your Dog to Find the Treats Go back to your dog and release him from his stay, encouraging him to smell the ground where the hot dogs were. Tell your dog “Find it!” and let him sniff. If he begins to follow the track, praise him quietly by saying, “Good dog!” and let him lead the way. Don’t be too enthusiastic or you may distract the dog from his sniffing. Also, don’t try to lead him; let your dog figure it out. At this point, your dog is following several scents: the trail of hot dogs, which helps motivate him, the crushed grass where you mashed the hot dogs and the crushed grass where you later stepped. Your dog is also following your individual scent, which he knows well because he smells your scent every day. But now your dog is learning to combine the scents, to follow them and to find the item at the end of the track. Start Increasing the Length of the Track When your dog successfully completes this trick, make another one by taking 10 steps to the side. If your dog is excited and having fun, you can do three or four short tracks per training session. As your dog improves over several sessions, make the track longer, add curves and corners, and drop several items along the way, but put the hot dog only on the one you want him to find. When making tracks longer or adding curves, use small pegs, stakes or flags to mark the track so you can tell if your dog is off track. Air scenting requires your dog to find someone by sniffing the scents wafting through the air instead of following a track. Most search-and-rescue dogs have both skills; they can follow a track, but if people walking over the track spoil it, they can also use their air-scenting skills. Please let me know if you have any additional questions. Thank you for writing in.

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Question
Grainger
German shepherd mix
1 Year
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Question
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Grainger
German shepherd mix
1 Year

Grainger participates in a barn hunt training program and is very good at finding rats but I have an issue with tunneling.

I have a regulation tunnel setup with hay bales but he will only tunnel if treats are offered but occasionally will tunnel without treats.

Any suggestions on how to tunnel without treats?

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
914 Dog owners recommended

Hello Nedra, I would work toward getting pup to tunnel following a scent. I would see if you can put something like a fake rodent with added rodent scent you can buy online. I would set up the toy so that there is a long thin rope attached to it, to where you can place the toy at the entrance of the tunnel then pull the toy through the tunnel quickly using the rope. When pup spots the "rodent" give pup a command to signal he should go into the tunnel, then let pup's prey drive motivate them by wiggling the rodent by dragging it with the rope through the tunnel a bit, and then pulling it through quickly once you release pup to chase it. After practicing this enough that pup is excited about the chase whenever he sees the tunnel, I would then use just the scent used on the fake rodent to scent the tunnel with a little line of scent - like a real rodent scent trail would do. At the end of the scent trail on the other side of the tunnel have the fake rodent waiting for pup. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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