I knew it was going to be really hot in Salem, and I hoped Tooey would be hot on the trail of a rat there, too. And in fact, she found three (one with a little help)!
Tooey with her Novice qualifying ribbon
We found the Northwest Barn Dog’s Barn Hunt at the Oregon State Fairgrounds in the Livestock Pavilion. Just like the last (and also our first) Barn Hunt we attended, there were lots of terriers and “go-to-ground” dogs, but there were also a fair spread of other breeds, everything from a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, to a Poodle and Portuguese Water Dog, to an Afghan hound. Tooey was the only Irish Water Spaniel.
First, we entered the Instinct test. I mostly did this to remind Tooey what the smell of a rat is like. Once in the ring, she sniffed at all three tubes (one empty, one with rat litter, and one with a rat) for a few seconds, but then wandered away to sniff around in the hay. Not a good opening — I mean, how am I supposed to figure out which tube has the rat in it, if she doesn’t tell me? So I pointed at the tube at which she had sniffed the longest and asked, “Is that the rat?”
The judge gave me a funny look, and then I remembered the rule: the handler must call out definitively, “Rat!” So, I said, “um…, Rat.” The judge’s expression changed, he said “Congratulations,” and with that Tooey earned her RATI title.
Tooey with her RATI qualifying ribbon
In the Instinct test, Tooey had found the rat in much less than her allotted minute, but she didn’t seem all that interested in it, so when it came time to enter the first Novice trial of the day, I wasn’t sure what kind of signs to look for. How was she going to show/tell me where the rat was hidden? Since the rat tubes are moved every five dogs, and since dogs and handlers have to stay behind a blind while each member of their group of five is in the ring, I wouldn’t know where the rat was hidden. Tooey would have to find it, and tell me she’d found it.
The Novice course is more complicated than the Instinct test, and the tubes are hidden under hay, in and around hay bales, rather than being out in plain site.
Novice course with Rat wrangler (background) and judge Wally Quinn (foreground)
While waiting for our turn, I had helped as leash runner and scribe at the Novice ring, so I’d been able to watch about 15 Novice dogs hunt in the hay ahead of us. Some madly wagged their tail when they found the rat, others barked, some tried to dig the tube out from under the hay, some looked back and forth between the rat and their handler. And some seemed to give no sign at all. That’s what I was afraid Tooey might do, based on her performance in Instinct.
So when we got into the ring, I made several errors. I didn’t give her long enough to hunt, and I didn’t direct her quickly enough to new areas of the ring to hunt, and then I called “Rat” at the first spot she’d shown some interest in. Turned out, that had been a spot where a rat had been hidden at one time.
Once nice thing about Barn Hunt is that when dogs fail to qualify because they didn’t find the rat, the rules require the judge to take the handler to where the rat is hidden, so that the handler can direct the dog to the rat and then praise the dog for having found it. I took full advantage of that, praising Tooey generously for having found the rat, and then as soon as we were out of the ring, rewarding her with many salmon treats.
After getting ourselves soaked with water from a garden sprayer and then resting quietly in the shade, we had a second try in the afternoon. This time, Tooey found the rat quickly and decisively. She dove nose first into the pile of hay, and then tried to push the tube out into the open. With that, she completed the Rat element of the trial, but to qualify in the trial, she also had to jump up with four feet onto a bale (the Climb) and go through a tunnel made of hay (the Tunnel).
Getting her up onto the hay bale didn’t take too much longer — I just encouraged her to search up on the top of three stacked bales, and she had to climb up to do that. But then it took her forever (I have no idea how long, as handlers are not allowed to time themselves) to go through the tunnel. I’ll find out in a couple of days, but I’ll bet her time was very close to the 2 minutes allowed to complete all three elements.
But in any case, she qualified, and earned her 2nd (of 3 required for the RATN title) Barn Hunt Novice leg, and I learned what she does when she finds the rats — dives in nose first.
Now that I think of it, that’s what she did in her first Novice trial, too. Why did I lose faith? As one of my fellow handlers said after her dog failed to qualify because she missed her dog’s signs of having found the rat, “Trust the dog. I just have to trust my dog.”
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