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There’s an up and coming sport on the K9 sports scene. It’s called Barn Hunt, and it combines vermin tracking with the thrill of competition.

Dogs are timed while they hunt for rats hidden inside of secure PVC-style tubes with air holes, which keep them safe during the event. The tubes are covered with a light layer of straw. The dogs use their natural hunting instincts and sense of smell to track down the rats. Montana K9 Sports trainer Jessica Clough says Barn Hunt looks simple, but can be challenging to truly master.

“What we have to do is balance the normal obedience stuff that all our dogs need to learn to be...a nice member of our family, and use their hunting and their natural pretty drive to find the rat tubes hidden among the straw bales,” Clough said.

Clough says Barn Hunt uses scent work and training similar to that of drug detection and search and rescue dogs. She says most dogs do fairly well at the sport because they’re using a natural set of skills, and it doesn’t require extensive, specialized training. The skills of the sport can translate to the rest of a dog’s life outside of the ring.

“If you have woodpiles or squirrels or rats or gophers or whatever, this kind of hones in those skills to find where that smell is coming from, and get to them as quickly as possible,” Clough said.

Clough has more than 30 years of dog training experience, and she says the trust that‘s built through practicing for competition can also be learned at home. The key is to include the dog in as much of daily life as possible. 

"If you take them everywhere with you, and you just do a little bit of work, they start to realize that being included is wonderful, and following rules and directions and commands is the way to be includes,” Clough said.

Clough says most states have Barn Hunt competitions due to the sport’s growing popularity. Dogs with no training can still compete and get titles on the instinct level. More information about Barn Hunt competition opportunities and rules is available here.

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