Archive for the ‘barn hunt’ Category

My faithful photographer was off training Carlin this morning, so the photos I have are sans dog. But these photos are two views of the Open-level Barn Hunt course that Tooey and I practiced on today.

The hardest part of today’s course was, as always, the tunnel. For the Open level, the tunnel is 4 hay bale widths long, and in the middle, it takes a right-angle turn. So going in, the dog sees no light at the end of said tunnel. Plus, the tunnels are only 1 hay bale width high, shorter than Tooey is tall.

Tooey had two runs. In both, she found her two rats with no trouble, and didn’t hesitate to jump up on the bales to see if the rats were hidden up there.

This is good. At last practice, she searched the ground, but didn’t seem to think that there would be any elevated rats. This time, she remembered that rats could be up off the ground.

But taking the tunnel is still not a sure thing. On her first run, she squeezed herself through so nicely that I thought she’d gotten the concept. On the second run, though, she’d stick her head in the entrance, but didn’t proceed.

So, the woman playing judge planted a tube with a rat in it right at the end of the tunnel. And when Tooey was in half way, I hurried to the other end with liver treats to reward her with. Plus praise. Lots and lots of praise.

So I call this a great practice. She’s not ready to compete yet, but we’re getting there.

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Ms Tooey is good bird dog, but she has always been a good critter dog, too. Critters are anything that loosely fall into the rodent category, ranging from field mice to porcupines. It doesn’t matter if they live in trees or underground; all are fair game for her.

Patrice has even put a Barn Hunt title on this girl because of her distinct talent for ferreting out rodents (appropriate verb even if she isn’t a weasel).

Currently, our new home in Boise has enough tree squirrels to keep both Tooey and Carlin busy and vigilant. They spend several hours everyday laying in wait underneath a lilac bush as a brace of squirrel predators. This lilac bush is strategically placed next to one our neighbor’s sheep pens where corn and other feed is bait for squirrels. From their hideout, the pups can scan the fence line and trees for any incoming marauders.

So it was a bit unusual when Tooey started sniffing the dirt at the back fence last night. She would not leave one specific area and then started digging at the base of the fence. She even got Carlin interested, and the two of them alternated pounding on the fence with digging at the base. She was so persistent that we had to drag her inside last night, as she would not leave the fence line or respond to a verbal recall. We were puzzled because on the back side of the fence is a neighbors’ decorative fountain, with no indication of rodents, just the sound of trickling water.

This morning she made a bee-line to the spot and started digging again.

Our neighbor decided to check out a small space between his fountain and the fence with a flashlight. He subsequently retrieved a fermenting squirrel that, based on rigor mortis, had only been there for less than 24 hours. Fortunately, his discovery saved Tooey the burden of ripping off fence boards and digging a trench. (She was told to “leave it”, yet she persisted.)

As soon as the critter was disposed of, and Tooey confirmed that there was nothing of interest behind the fence, she returned to her post under the lilac.

Barn Huntress Most Excellent . . .

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Tooey got her RATN title from the Barn Hunt Association last month. Fortunately, the AKC and Barn Hunt have an agreement whereby the AKC will recognize Barn Hunt titles as part of their Barn Hunt Titles Recognition Program.

So, now the AKC shows that she has a nice shiny new AKC-recognized title to add to her long list.


As I’m looking at this, I marvel at all the activities Tooey, Russ, and I have participated in together. And I notice that they’re all “novice”-type titles. I’m going to have to look at that, and see when next we can train for the next level of Barn Hunt, Tooey’s current fav.

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As I was driving home from the NW Barn Dogs barn hunt trial today, it hit me. Barn hunt is the only dog sport in which Tooey pays no attention whatever to all the people in and outside of the testing area.

In Obedience and Rally, she was always a bit wary of that person who kept following us everywhere (aka, the Judge). In one Obedience trial, for example, she sort of did the heeling pattern, but she did it such that I was always between her and the judge. That meant that sometimes Tooey was on my left, as required, but sometimes she was on my right or behind me.

In retriever hunt tests, she would mark the fall of the bird just fine, but once she got out there in the field to retrieve it, she would eye the gunners and bird boys, hiding nearby in blinds, with a great deal of suspicion. At one test, she found the bird, but then, catching sight of the bird boy, she sat and looked back at Russ. You could see the thought bubble over her head: ‘Who are these guys, and what the heck are they doing out here?” Similarly, in many spaniel tests, she would make a point of staying away from the gunners, who walk either side of the course with the dog and handler, or she would study them carefully before going off looking for birds.

I think, maybe, Barn Hunt must be Tooey’s sport.


We qualified in two Novice barn hunt trials today, earning Tooey her RATN title. But even better than the title was her performance.


Tooey and I in the start box — photo by Joan Walker

The first trial she needed only about 1 minute 7 seconds. She found her her rat (which was held out of harm’s reach in an aerated tube) almost right away, pawing and digging at it — no way could I miss that find. I called “Rat!”, and then all I had to do was get Tooey to pass through the required tunnel and climb up on a bale. She didn’t really want to do either; she was intent on hunting for more rats. But finally, after my third request, she hopped up onto a bale and ran through the tunnel, almost all in one move. The whole time, I don’t think she even noticed the judge or the rat wrangler. This was her third pass, that that earned us her title.

Today’s second trial (her fourth “bonus” pass) took her only just over 39 seconds. She knew her job, and executed all three required elements, pretty much in the same order as the first time: rat, bale, tunnel.

It was a fun day, and I am so proud of my Irish Water Spaniel girl, who in her past life, must have been some kind of earthdog.


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I blame the heavy rains. Or maybe it’s Santa Claus’s fault.

In any case, Tooey has got her Christmas wish: a mouse in the basement. (Or at least, I HOPE it’s a mouse, and not a multitude of mousies.)

She’s been busy down in the basement, following her nose and her ears, tracing the path of said mouse along the baseboards, up the insides of the walls, and behind the furnace and washing machine.


Last night, I came in the back door (which shares a hallway with the stairs down into the basement), to find a dead mouse. I assume it was thoughtfully delivered there as a memento, a prize, a trophy for me to find when I came back from my errands outside.

Unfortunately, I did not appreciate it in quite the style a hard-working Irish Rodent Spaniel might wish. No, instead of saying “thank you,” I just screamed.

But I should have thanked Tooey better than that. After all, I have previously praised her for her rat hunting prowess at Barn Hunts. The least I could do is tell her what a good little hunter she is.

So: Good hunting, Tooey. Good girl. If you catch any more, give them to Russ. He’ll be delighted, I’m sure.

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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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I have always known that Tooey loves critters — moles, voles, rabbits, squirrels, mice — any critter she can chase. She’s an Earthdog wannabe.

So, when I saw how much Tooey loved finding rats in the hay at a couple recent Barn Hunt workshops (posts here and here), I knew I’d have to enter her in a real Barn Hunt test.

So this morning, too early and not nearly bright enough, I drove up to the Columbia Country fairgrounds to exhibit both Cooper and Tooey in two of this weekend’s River Ratters Barn Hunt tests.

The experience was a lot like a hunt test — checking in, watching other dogs, chatting with other exhibitors, “airing” your dogs, and waiting, waiting, and waiting for your turn. And not knowing exactly when your turn is going to be because the running order gets adjusted from time to time.

While I was waiting, I took a couple of pictures from two sides of the first Novice course*. It’s constructed of hay bales stacked in various configurations inside an enclosed ring. There has to be one tunnel made of hay bales (which you can kind of see in the middle of the top photo), and there have to be hay bales that can be climbed onto. Two of the requirements are that the dog has to go through a tunnel and has to put all four feet on top of at least one hay bale.



There are also piles of hay around, next to, on top of, and stuck beneath various hay bales, and that’s where the rats (enclosed in sturdy aerated tubes) are hidden. (A Novice Barn Hunt course has three tubes hidden in the hay — an empty one, one with rat litter in it, and a third with a rat in it.)

Both Cooper and Tooey NQ’d the first test. I put that down to inexperience on all our parts. Cooper wasn’t sure what he was looking for. Tooey knew what she was looking for (she’d previously dragged me over to the area where the waiting rats were resting), but I was unable to interpret her body language. I thought she’d found a rat, and called “Rat”, when she had only found a tube with rat litter in it.

The second trial went better. Cooper had a better understanding of what he was looking for, but I again misinterpreted his body language. I thought he’d found a rat, and called “Rat”, but what he’d found was the place where the rat had been for the previous dog. Oh well.

On Tooey’s second trial, she made it easy. She scooted through the tunnel without my asking her too, happily jumped up on a hay bale, hunted around a bit, and then dove head-first into a hay-filled corner. I called “Rat”, and this time I was right. And she’d done it well within the two-minute time limit.

So, with this nice performance, Tooey earned the first leg of her RATN title. The judge complimented her on being a “good little hunter.” And on top of that, she placed 2nd in her division (Novice – Large) for her time of 1 minute, 2.13 seconds. And that time put her 5th overall in Novice, out of 26 competitors.

The trial photographer took a couple of pictures of Tooey hunting for rats during her second trial:

photo by Amy Paynter

photo by Amy Paynter

photo by Amy Paynter

photo by Amy Paynter

Like many other dog sports, in Barn Hunt, a dog needs to qualify at three tests to get the title at that level, so Tooey is 1/3 on her way.


*Those of you who know about Barn Hunt already may notice the three tubes laid out side by side in the foreground of the top course photo. Those tubes had been placed there for the Instinct test, in which the three tubes are placed out in the open. In the photo, the hay bales had been mostly rearranged from the Instinct test configuration to the Novice test configuration, but the tubes had not yet been hidden in the hay.

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We’re not going to let a little thing like a show coat get in the way of hunting down critters. Nope, nosiree. Damn the hay, and full speed ahead! There are critters in that there hay!


If nothing else, Tooey has the drive to hunt critters. I have watched her more than once dive into blackberry bushes after rabbits, dig madly in the mud for moles, and climb trees after squirrels. She comes back from her adventures covered in whatever was between her and her prey — brambles, mud, leaves, twigs, and thorns.

And now, with our recent Barn Hunt practices, she’s come out covered in hay.

Tooey loves to hunt, and she’s fast, agile, and balanced. So, you can imagine what I thought when I read this on the Barn Hunt website:

Barn Hunt is also for any breed or mix of dog who loves to hunt and who can fit through an 18” wide gap between two hay bales. It will test speed, agility, and surefootedness.


The fact that rats are new to Tooey is not a problem. She got that right away. And, unlike the wild rabbits, etc., the rats in Barn Hunt are well protected. And she’s used to hunting in streams, ponds, grasslands, sage brush, and farm fields. What’s new are the hay bales and loose piles of hay.

We spent last Sunday morning out in Damascus, Oregon, practicing with the NW Barn Dogs group. They set up a Novice-level course, and Tooey did well in both her practice runs, running through a tunnel, climbing the hay bales, and finding two rats (only one is required at the Novice level). In fact, she found her first rat (enclosed in an aerated tube, of course), and put her front legs around the tube as if to gather it to her chest and say, Mine! She let the rat wrangler take the tube, but followed him across the ring, watching where he put the rat before responding to my encouraging her to “find another one!”

In my next foray out, I plan to take a picture of the set up, but you can see pictures on the Barn Hunt website.

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A month or so ago, I found an event that I’d been hoping to see for a while. See, Tooey doesn’t love competition Obedience and she’s so-so about Rally, which are the sports I do with Cooper, so I’ve been looking for another sport to do with her.

She loves chasing critters, but not being an earth dog like Dachshunds and the various types of Terriers, she’s not eligible to compete in official AKC Earthdog events. I also thought about Lure Coursing, where a dog chases a plastic bag around a course. That sport is mainly for sight hounds, like Afghans and Greyhounds, but there is a Coursing Ability Test open to all breeds. However, almost every bird hunter I know has warned me against that sport, saying that I don’t want to teach Tooey it’s OK to chase game rather than flush it up.

So, what to do?

Then I came across a new-ish sport called Barn Hunt. It’s not an AKC sport, but the AKC does recognize titles awarded by the Barn Hunt Association. And it involves going after critters, namely rats.

Now, I am not fond of rats. At all. The mere thought of rats running around gives me the creeps. But these rats are safely enclosed in thick plastic rat tubes. The tubes provide the rats plenty of air, plenty of space, and safe from dog teeth and claws. And the tubes keep the people safe from the rats, too.

Here’s how the Barn Hunt Association describes it:

In Barn Hunt, dogs locate rats (safely enclosed in aerated tubes) hidden in a straw/hay bale maze [to introduce tunneling and climbing obstacles in the dog’s path]. It’s a timed event with 3 different dog height divisions.

So, when I found a Barn Hunt workshop (put on by Valley Dog Sports in Dayton, OR), I signed up for it almost immediately. But just before I actually signed up, I did a double-take at the date, and then asked Russ, “Honey, would you like to spend our anniversary at a Barn Hunt workshop?”

Lucky me, he said yes. So I signed us up, and this morning, we all piled into the car and headed south.

The first part of the practice was just going through a hay tunnel, jumping over a hay bale, and then finding a rat in a tube out in the open. Cooper was fast — he found the rat in 16 seconds. Tooey was a little slower, but she found her rat, too, but, disappointingly to me, didn’t act all that thrilled with the idea. But then we went over to another space where the rat tubes were hidden in the hay, and that having to hunt and find really fired Tooey up. She hunted and hunted in, around, and between the hay bales, and when she found the rat, dived into the hay nose first. If this had been a real competition, I’d have been able to call “Rat!” without any hesitation.

Tooey and I did that a couple of times, and each time, she got more excited. At the end of our turn, I had to drag her out of there by the leash.

I think I may have found a new sport for Tooey. We’ll give a try for real when my recently-operated-on knee heals up and we get back from this year’s Irish Water Spaniel Club of America National Specialty. (A velcro-like IWS show coat does not mix well with hay…)

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