Last night, we took Cinder to a practice for the dog sport known as, "barn hunt."
Barn Hunt is gaining popularity in our area and with good reason. It offers an opportunity for any dog of any breed, including "Heinz 57," to participate in a less strenuous but still physically active, mentally stimulating competition. There are rules, levels of skill, and everything needed to be a competition, but it remains relatively straightforward and simple. It's a social time for humans and it's not very expensive because there isn't any special gear/equipment needed. The whole thing hinges on a dog's ability to scent out a rat in a tube. Yep-rat sniffing. If a dog can sniff out a rat from among a series of intentionally constructed straw bale mazes and tunnels, then you may have a winning competitor!
The overall general construct of Barn Hunt is as follows: In a straw bale maze including varied layers of bales and several closed tunnels through the bales, dogs are to seek and find a rat in an aerated tube. To add to the challenge, there are also empty tubes with rat bedding in them also hidden within the maze. Remember, the goal is to find the tube(s) with rats in them, not the empty bedding tubes. The dog is timed on how fast it finds the designated number of rats in the maze. However, apparently points are accumulated for performing certain things like going through the tunnel(s) and jumping on the different bale layers. They apparently subtract points if the dog "hits" on the empty bedding tubes. I confess to having started to read the rules, but got interrupted so many times I didn't get far and couldn't get back to them before we went to the practice.
Before people wonder and/or complain about rat abuse... The rats are actually all pets and are treated very well and great care is taken to be sure they aren't hurt or mishandled. The rat tubes are a sturdy PVC with many small holes for them to breathe, see, and the dogs to be able to scent them. The tubes have screw-on caps that the dogs can't possibly open; they're about 18" long; and there is nice bedding inside for them to rest or hide in. The rats are socialized and sweet. They are hidden in the straw in ways that the tubes don't move and the dogs aren't allowed to even try moving the tubes except as they move the straw away to reveal the tubes.
Last night was our first time to see barn hunting in person at a practice. A friend (and one of our obedience class trainers), thought it would be fun to see if Cinder would do Barn Hunt because it's fun and relatively easy. Her dog loves it! We met her there and she introduced us to several people and generally explained how it all works.
Cinder was surprisingly calm and quiet despite other strange dogs within close view the whole time. She got an "intro" lesson in barn hunting but surprisingly, was far more interested in getting attention from the instructor/judge than finding a rat in a tube. I thought surely she'd want to get at the critter in a tube but apparently not so much. We even opened a tube so she could meet the rat, which I feared may have cost the rat's life. She barely even sniffed at the rat - she seemed to feel it somewhat uninteresting. I was shocked at how little interest she had given that she's a regular huntress at home and on the farm. I suppose if the rats were in "Habitrail" tubes where they were clearly visible and ran around, THAT might've made her more interested - rat herding so to speak. I guess that's why terrier types do well at that but not so sure it's Cinder's game. In fact, I told the people there that I feel like she shouldn't give up her day job to be a barn hunter. I guess that means we continue the journey of finding out what Cinder's "day job" really should be.
The big deal is that Cinder went somewhere new, with strange dogs and some activity and had virtually NO reactive moments in the nearly two hours we were there. In fact, she and my friend's dog, also reactive, decided they could be friendly enough to be within three feet of each other as we walked out and to our cars together. For both of them, that's HUGE.
We may try barn hunt again a few times just to see if when she learns what we want, Cinder would be more interested, but my thought right now is that she thinks it's more fun to jump over the straw bales and glean all the attention she can from the other human(s) in the area. I guess that's not all bad, but not what you want your Barn Hunt dog to do.
That's the latest adventure with Cinder for now. As always, it was fun and different, showcasing her improving ability to be in a more "public" setting and surprising me once again. Just another day of life as we continue raising Cinder.
Be good to yourself, your dog(s) and others!
Chris (aka Cinder's Hu-mom)