Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Barn Hunt

In our new effort to make training fresh again, Lowell and I are doing something we haven't done in a while - taking in-person lessons with our own dogs again!  Having decided the dogs could use a new activity, we decided to sign up for some barn hunt lessons with Tempo, Cadence, and Fate.  We thought it seemed like a fun option for all of them.  It is a terrier's dream for Tempo.  Cadence has done a bit of nose work in the past and enjoys it, and the physical demands of the sport are within his capabilities.  Fate just likes to do stuff.  Anything.  But, honestly, she tends to be so handler-focused, that an exercise like this where she needs to problem-solve independently is a good thing for her.

For anyone not familiar with barn hunt, it is basically tracking for live rats hidden (in safe, secure tubes) among bales of hay.  Lest anyone worry about the welfare of the rats, rest assured that all the barn hunt rats I have known are also loved family pets who are specifically desensitized to dogs and the tubes, are trained to go in on their own, and most I know are also given the choice on any given day whether or not they want to get in the tube to be the decoy.  I can tell you that the rat our dogs first learned on was so bold that he was trying to reach through the bars of his cage to get to the treats I was giving to my dog inches away.  I like rats.  I've had them as pets.  I wouldn't do any exercise that I felt was traumatic to them.  If you are worried, you can read more about barn hunt rat care here.

The way the terrier and the BCs took to the sport was quite different.  For Tempo, it is pure predation and terrier drive.  Once he saw the rat on the first day, he was hooked, but if anything his arousal and excitement becomes a barrier to him being able to think straight and figure out what is relevant.  His first couple runs tend to have a frantic, unfocused pace.  Rats! Hay! Barn! Smells!  Once he has bounced off every bale of hay a few times, he settles into it better and starts to think.  I think he finds the tube a bit disappointing though.  I think it is a little bit of a let down when he can't see the actual rat, so every now and then the instructor lets him have a little glimpse of the rat, which seems to make him happy.

When Cadence and Fate saw the rat in the cage at the first lesson, they were actually a little disturbed by him.  Once he was in his tube and they didn't have to look at him, they got into it as a nose work exercise though.  There is much less predatory drive at play for these two - instead it is a problem-solving task.  Cadence has done the most nose work, so he is picking the sport up the fastest of any of them.  His barrier right now is building confidence to climb up on the hay bales due to his coordination problems.  I can usually tell now if he thinks the rat is up high, so then I show him a safe way to get on the bales (which I'm told is legal as long as I don't touch him).

I think Fate honestly thought this was all a little bit stupid until halfway through the second lesson, when she finally started to put it all together.  Once the light bulb went on, she started straining to go between hides, so I think she's beginning to like it.

Here is a video of Cadence at his second lesson:

And one of Tempo:

(Lowell is asking if it is legal for him to use his body to block Tempo from attempting to jump straight off the top of the bales of hay - which he had already done once - and to guide him back to a safer climb down.  It was.)


Krista Stilger said...

Love it! I have often thought of getting my terrier involved in Barn Hunt. Where did you go?

reddog said...

Krista: We go to Zodiac Ranch in Milford. http://www.zodiacranch.com/home.html

Krista Stilger said...