When I met my dog Jackie while volunteering at the Kent Animal Shelter, she had just gotten off the plane from Puerto Rico the day before. She was a trembling and timid one-year old Jack Russell mix. We weren’t sure of her background in Puerto Rico, but she was terrified of people, dogs, noises, just about everything really. We immediately tried to enroll her in obedience training, but the trainer initially turned her away until I had a chance to socialize her a bit because she was so fearful. When we started obedience a month later, Jackie would shut down at the first big noise on the other side of the barrier at Petco. Building her confidence was a slow process. Eventually she graduated Canine Good Citizen, and we began branching out into other doggie sports and activities.
Our trainer’s dog was involved in agility and something called “Barn Hunt.” He gave us the name of the trainer for both, a woman by the name of Jean Jacobson who happened to be the founder and president of the AFFA Barn Hunt Association here on Long Island. Our trainer described Barn Hunt as a sport in which a dog enters a barn filled with bales of hay. Somewhere in the hay a rat is hidden. (The rats are in an safe and comfortable aerated tube). Dogs have two minutes to “find the rat!” Of course, for most dogs that is the easy part. The hard part is knowing your own dog’s personal “tell.” Once you believe your dog found the rat, you have to call it by saying “Rat!” If you’re wrong, you’re disqualified. If you are correct, then where you place in the competition is based on time against all the other dogs competing.
Jackie and I started agility classes, and eventually there was an upcoming event called “Meet the Rat.” Jean introduced Jackie to the rat (who is Jean’s personal pet by the way), and Jackie was somewhat interested as Jean dragged the cage across the lawn. Some dogs are more interested than others. You may think you have a dog that would surely be interested because of their breed or their propensity for chasing squirrels in the yard, but the Barn Hunt sport is a completely different ball game!
Next we moved onto finding the rat now in the tube hidden somewhere in the hay. One of the rules of competition is that the dog must go through a tunnel made of hay bales, and the dog must also jump up with all four paws onto a bale of hay, in addition to finding the rat. Jackie had no problem with the tunnel or jumping “up!” as she had been doing agility for a few months already. In her first attempts, she did find the rat in less than a minute, but she had no “tell” or signal to me that she had found it. This was certainly not going to be helpful in competition! Luckily there was mock trial coming up, and we signed up.
Lo and behold, we failed at our first mock trial competition because of Jackie’s lack of a “tell.” However, since it was only a practice, the judge and volunteers were wonderful. They let us stay in the ring after our time was up, and they pulled the rat from where it was hidden, showed it to Jackie, and then kept replacing it in the hay. Eventually Jackie caught onto what her job was, and every time she “found” the rat, she would snort. She had finally developed her tell!
We were excited for our first Barn Hunt coming up on February 7th, 2016. When it was our time, we entered the ring, and off Jackie went, first through the tunnel, then “up” as instructed, and then immediately over to where the rat was hidden. She gave a soft snort, so I as the handler was a bit hesitant so it took me a moment to realize she must have found it. I called it at 37 seconds, and we were right! We ended up taking first place that day at the small dog novice level.
Jackie has been busy practicing her sport this summer by standing guard on the deck and chasing errant squirrels and chipmunks that dare cross her yard.
The next Barn Hunt trial on Long Island is going to be in November at the County Farm in Yaphank. For more information, you can go to:
-Teri Brogden, owner, Hounds Town Commack Rd