What Is Barn Hunt?

Not every dog sport is inclusive. Deaf dogs and dogs with only three legs are often left out of the competition ring in traditional dog sports. In this article, we’ll discuss Barn Hunt, what it’s all about, and how it offers an inclusive competition for all dog breeds and abilities who can fit through an 18” wide barn tunnel.

What is Barn Hunt? Barn Hunt is a competition that involves dogs sniffing around a barn or barn-like course for vermin. The vermin, typically trained rats, are placed in a protective and breathable tubes. There are many different titles that a dog can receive based on their proficiency in the job performed.

One of the coolest aspects of the Barn Hunt is that it’s inclusive. It doesn’t restrict based on breed, mix, or size. All your dog needs to be able to do in order to compete is fit through an 18” wide tunnel. Read on to find out more about the Barn Hunt and how to get your dog started.

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Barn Hunt Explained

The idea of a Barn Hunt stems from the work that Earthdog breeds performed in households and on farms. Typically terriers and Dachshunds, these dogs would actively seek out and exterminate vermin. Rats and mice can carry a potentially lethal disease. This disease could be transferred to both humans and livestock. In an effort to keep their farms productive and healthy, farmers would use and train certain breeds of dogs to locate vermin and remove them. These dogs were able to burrow into the earth or chase vermin out of their hideouts and away from the farm.

While some dogs are still used to keep vermin out of the home and barn, the practice has become more recreational than anything. There have been Barn-Hunt-Type of sports before, but they were typically restricted to certain dog breeds. The Barn Hunt that has been gaining popularity across the country today was started by Robin Nuttall. She wanted to have a competition that would allow any dog breed to try their hand at detecting vermin.

In this way, many trainers of vermin-locating dogs were able to try and train their dogs out in this competition when they had been barred from the other competitions because of their dog’s breed. The Barn Hunt welcomes deaf dogs, tripod dogs, and dogs of any breed or size. They just need to be able to fit between an 18” wide opening.

Getting Started with Barn Hunt

Training your dog to search for rats can be quite easy. For those who have terriers or other Earthdog breeds, you’ll likely find that your dog takes up the training quite easily. That’s because it’s part of their instinct to look for vermin. To begin, you’ll need to be able to access hay bales. You’ll use these to create a fenced-in search area. The hay bales can create tunnels and other obstacles that your dog will have to solve in order to find the rat.

You’ll also need some rats. First, you should introduce your dog to the rats while they’re in their cage. Allow them to smell and see the rat inside of its cage. Then place the rat inside of a ventilated tube that is used during a competitive Barn Hunt.

You should start off easily. Hide the tube somewhere that isn’t too out of sight and doesn’t require completing obstacles in order to find. Once your dog finds the tube, you can reward them. Increase the difficulty by placing the tube under or over obstacles for your dog to solve. In no time, you’ll have a dog ready to try out an official Barn Hunt competition.

What to Expect at a Barn Hunt Competition

Barn Hunt competitions are quite relaxed provided that you follow the rules. When you arrive, you first have to pass an instinct test. This test basically qualifies your dog for the Barn Hunt. Three tubes are placed in front of your dog. One has a rat in it, the other has a nest in it, and the final tube has nothing. If your dog shows an interest in the one with a rat in it, then you’re qualified for the Barn Hunt.

Leashes are not used during the actual hunt. Though your dog does need to be leashed outside of the competition. A starting area is where you and your dog wait for the judge to begin the time. Your dog begins by going through a tunnel made of hay bales. You are not allowed to touch the hay or direct your dog in any capacity in terms of finding the rat. You are, however, able to direct them into the starting tunnel. While your dog is hunting around the search area, you are unable to touch your dog. Nor can you bring treats or cameras with you into the search area. Your time starts once the Judge tells you to begin and runs until your dog finds the rats.

Once your dog finds the rat, they are to signal to you that they found a rat, and you are to announce, “Rat.” This informs the rat handler that your dog found the rat. The level at which you’re competing will determine just how many rats or on the course.

Outside of the competition, you are expected to stay at least 10′ away from the search area ring. Typically, there is a crated area where you can wait with your dog.


There are different classes of Barn Hunts. Each gives a title as a reward if your dog completes the challenge in the given time. As your dog shows proficiency, they are able to try out at different class levels. The class levels are as follows: Instinct, Novice A, Novice B, Open A, Open B, Senior A, Senior B, Master A, Championship, and Crazy 8s.

The titles rewarded are, respectively: RatI, RatN, RatNX, RatO, RatOX, RatS, RatSX, RatM, RatCH and RatCHX, and for the Crazy 8s Class–CZ8B, CZ8S, CZ8G, and CZ8P. As the classes go up, the difficulty in the search area also increases. Dogs may need to find more rats or they may be introduced to tubes that are decoys. Time limits and search area also change based on class.

Competitions are not always held within a barn either. They can be both inside and outside. There just needs to be enough space for the hay bales to be placed in a maze.

Best Barn Hunt Dog Breeds

Because terriers were trained to find and remove vermin from barns, they’re easily the dog breed that you might want to consider the most for a Barn Hunt. However, there are other breeds that can do just as well. Essentially, any dog that is capable of or has a particular skill of scent detection can do well with Barn Hunt competitions.

Such breeds like the Australian Shepherd, the Australian Cattle Dog, the Border Collie, the German Shepherd, the Pembroke Welsh Corgi, the American Foxhound, and any Pointer breeds can likely find great success and a lot of fun at a Barn Hunt. The biggest factor to consider is that 18” wide opening. As long as your dog can fit through that, has an interest in finding rats, and can develop their scent identification skills, they’re perfect for a Barn Hunt.

Related Questions

Are there other sports similar to Barn Hunt?

There are a few similar sports to a Barn Hunt. Among those is the sport known as Brush Hunting. In this competition, a rat is also used and placed in a tube. The competition is held outside in a wooded area. The search area is kept small for simple competitions but is enlargened for competitions with increasing difficulty.

Is Barn Hunt considered ‘nose work’?

Although the two competitions are held separately, Barn Hunt is very similar to Nose Work. Both utilize the dog’s ability to identify a particular scent. However, while you achieve titles for the Barn Hunt, these do not immediately transfer to the titles awarded in Nose Work competitions. So, while they utilize the same training, they are separate competitions.