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What Is a Barn Hunt for Dogs? Vet-Verified Info & FAQ

Written by: Rachel Giordano

Last Updated on May 10, 2024 by Dogster Team

Spring spaniel dog searching barn

What Is a Barn Hunt for Dogs? Vet-Verified Info & FAQ


Dr. Ashley Darby Photo


Dr. Ashley Darby

BVSc (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Some dog breeds were bred for specific purposes. Take terriers, for example. Terrier breeds, like the Rat Terrier, are small and can fit into tight spaces for hunting vermin. Ratting breeds were mainly bred to hunt and kill rats and other vermin in barns to protect grain and other supplies, proving their worth among farmers and ranchers alike. Fast forward to today, these breeds still love the thrill of the hunt; however, an event called Barn Hunt allows dogs to put their hunting skills to the test and compete for the several coveted titles the event carries, all without harming the rats.1

Any dog, purebred or mixed that can fit into an 18-inch-wide bale-height tunnel, can participate in Barn Hunt. Join us in learning all about Barn Hunt and how it works.

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How Does Barn Hunt Work?

Barn Hunts are a relatively new dog sport that begins with building a course full of hay bales or straw, with some events held in actual barns, while others may be outdoors; however, whether indoors or outdoors, the course will be held in a fully fenced, secured area. Aerated, well-ventilated tubes and decoy tubes are hidden throughout the course to test the dog’s senses. The object is for the dog to find as many rats as possible, scoring points with each rat found in a certain amount of time. The dog must also indicate the rat to the handler.

The difficulty level increases as the dogs advance through the courses, making it even more interesting and challenging. This involves increased course size, tunnel difficulty, and the number of rats the dog needs to find. The dogs are judged on their sense of smell, instinct, surefootedness, and agility.

While all dogs of any breed or mix can compete, they must be able to fit into an 18 x 20 x 22-inch tunnel and be at least 6 months old.

Australian Shepherd checking out the straw searching for a rat in a tube
Image Credit: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock

Are the Rats Harmed During Barn Hunt Events?

Absolutely not. The Barn Hunt Association (BHA) takes the rats’ safety very seriously and goes to great lengths to ensure no rats are harmed during the events.

BHA uses well-ventilated tubes that allow the rats to move around inside without issue, and the PVC material is sturdy enough to prevent the dogs from puncturing through and harming the rats.

What Are the Different Barn Hunt Levels?

All dogs must pass four skill levels to obtain the Barn Hunt Champion and Barn Hunt Elite Master Champion titles: Novice, Open, Senior, and Master. There is also a basic instinct test in which a dog must find only one rat among three tubes. This test is conducted in an open space with a 60-second time limit under one judge.

All levels vary in difficulty, including the number of rats to find, how high the hay bales are stacked, the difficulty level of moving through the tunnels, and the time allowed to complete the course. Let’s break it down to give you a better understanding.

Border Collie checking the straw for a rat during a hunt game
Image Credit: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock

1. Novice

Like the Instinct level, the dog is required to find only one rat among three tubes; however, the dog must navigate through elevated hay bales, requiring climbing. The tubes are elevated, and the time limit is 2 minutes. The dog must also pass through a straight tunnel, and this level requires one or more judges.

2. Open

The Open level has a time limit of 2 minutes and 30 seconds, and the tunnel is more challenging with a 190-degree turn. Tube specifications are one empty tube, one litter tube, and two tubes with rats, with one rat tube elevated. The dog must find two rats at this level.

3. Senior

At this level, there are even more hay bales to navigate, in addition to a more complicated tunnel with 90-degree turns. Dogs must also find four rats out of eight tubes in 3 minutes and 30 seconds.

4. Master

The Master level has even more hay bales to climb, and the number of rats to find ranges from one to five. The course also has tunnels with 90-degree turns, and the time limit is 4 minutes and 30 seconds.dogster paw divider

What Are the Different Barn Hunt Titles?

A dog can earn several titles recognized by the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club, and Canadian Kennel Club. They are as follows:

terrier dog competing in barn hunt sport scent hunting
Image Credit: Charlotte Lehman, Shutterstock
  • Novice Barn Hunt (RATN),
  • Open Barn Hunt (RATO),
  • Senior Barn Hunt (RATS),
  • Master Barn Hunt (RATM),
  • Barn Hunt Champion (RATCh),
  • Master Champion (RATChX),
  • Crazy 8s Bronze (CZ8B),
  • Crazy 8s Silver (CZ8S),
  • Crazy 8s Gold (CZ8G),
  • Crazy 8s Platinum (CZ8P)

Advantages of Barn Hunt

Barn Hunt is not only an excellent bonding opportunity between a dog and the owner but is also great fun for the whole family. The sport also provides a dog with:

  • Physical and mental stimulation
  • Allows for exercising natural instincts
  • Builds confidence in dogs
  • Make new friends (both humans and dogs)
curly Mudi dog competing in barn hunt sport scent hunting
Image Credit: Charlotte Lehman, Shutterstock

How to Get Started in Barn Hunt

If you live in the U.S., you can register your dog on the Barn Hunt website (there is a $32 one-time registration fee). From there, you can find a Barn Hunt club near you, along with an event calendar. Each club will have varying registration fees for the actual event, with $25 to $35 being the normal range. The website also gives you access to the complete rules for Barn Hunt.

If you live outside the U.S., you can search for events in your country, such as Barn Hunt UK. You can also search social media groups that share Barn Hunt event details in your country.

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Final Thoughts

Barn Hunt gives every dog, regardless of pedigree or mixed breed, the chance to compete in a fun, enrichment-filled event. It is also an excellent bonding opportunity between a dog and their owner since they must work as a team, and it also allows a dog to sharpen their natural hunting instincts.

Barn Hunt is a relatively new dog sport but is gaining more popularity each year. Remember that no rats are harmed during the events, with the utmost safety measures to keep the rats safe. No matter where you live in the U.S., you’re likely to find a Barn Hunt event near you; you can also find them in other countries.

See also:

Featured Image Credit: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock

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