Posts Tagged ‘barn hunt’

It was a busy weekend with the dogs. Russ took Carlin out spanieling on Saturday, and on Sunday I took Tooey to Barn Hunt practice and Carlin to Scentwork practice.

Russ said Carlin did everything perfectly spaniel-wise. The grey, snowy weather didn’t trip him up, and he didn’t forget anything, even though he hadn’t been practicing spaniel work since last fall. He found his birds, sat after flushing them, stayed sitting while one flew away and the others were brought down, retrieved the downed ones, and delivered them to hand.

Apparently, Carlin’s work finding birds was better than Russ’s work bringing them down, but as I wasn’t there, so I can’t say.

Anyway, Sonya Holcomb took some photos, for which I am grateful.

Carlin waiting his turn to hunt — photo by Sonya Holcomb

Carlin staying steady in the field watching his flushed bird fly away — photo by Sonya Holcomb

Carlin delivering his bird — photo by Sonya Holcomb

There are no photos of Sunday’s practices, as there were no photographers to hand and I was busy handling my dogs.

On Sunday morning, Tooey was a bit off on her rat hunting. I actually began to wonder if she was feeling well. She was way slower than normal — if the practice runs had been at a trial, she’d have qualified in only one run, which was just two seconds under the time limit (2 minutes 30 seconds for the Open level). And she did something she’s never done before — indicated a tube that didn’t have a rat in it. Very odd. She indicated that same tube (but not any other non-rat tube) in both runs 2 and 3. The woman playing judge said she thought Tooey was treating this non-rat tube differently from the tubes with a rat in them, but agreed that it was a subtle difference.

But in all three runs, she happily went through a longer-than-usual tunnel without being asked, and she was happy to climb the hay bales. So — not a total loss. I do wonder how she and I will perform in a couple weeks at the Valley Barn Hunt trials in Kuna, Idaho. I guess we’ll see, as Sunday’s practice was the last one before the trial.

Carlin did really, really well at his Sunday afternoon scentwork. He stayed mostly calm (except when a pug, dressed in a lumpy yellow coat with a floppy hood, walked by — obviously, this was an alien being that needed warning off). Staying calm around other dogs is his challenge, so I was happy with his demeanor overall.

I am often amazed at that dog’s nose. He found all his hidden odors — small containers of birch essential oil buried in the dirt, lying along the railroad tracks, tucked up high in a door jamb, behind an electric meter, and under a wooden pallet. He even found a container with clove essential oil, stuck up above his head on a fence post. I haven’t trained him to find clove, so he got rewarded big time when he found and indicated that one.

All in all, a very happy weekend. Both dogs ate their dinner and zonked out — Carlin curled up on the grass in the backyard kennel and Tooey inside on her dog bed.


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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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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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