By: Jessica Anlauf
One of the fastest growing canine sports in the United States today is Barn Hunt. Live rats are safely housed in pvc pipe tubes and hidden among straw bales within a trial ring. Tubes which contain only rat litter as well as empty tubes are also hidden within the bales. A handler and dog team enter the ring and the handler releases his dog to find the rats. It is the dog’s job to distinguish between which tubes are empty, contain litter or contain the live rat and then indicate, often times by pawing, scratching or barking when they have found the live rat.
The Barn Hunt Association’s website (barnhunt.com) describes the sport as “based on the traditional roles of many breeds in ridding farms, barns, crop storage areas, and homes of destructive vermin.” Those breeds are generally found within the terrier group and were used by professional rat catchers in England who were paid based on how many rats the dog would find and kill. However, terriers weren’t the only ratters employed in the 1800’s. In fact, in a book titled “Full Revelations of a Professional Rat-catcher, After 25 Years’ Experience,” written by Ike Matthews in 1898, Ike describes how retrievers were vital to his employment and offered him an even greater profit than terriers ever could. Retrievers would hunt and find the rats but instead of killing them they would bring them back to him unscathed. Those same rats were then used in rat hunting competitions held later on. Therefore, a good ratting retriever would provide the rat catcher with a dual income, one for ridding the space of the rat and yet a second for the use of the rats in subsequent competitions.
Although competitions varied and evolved over time, Ike describes one particular form of competition held int he 1800’s that closely resembles that of Barn Hunt today. Rats were released into bales of straw, and roughly 60 men from all classes and walks of life would compete with their best ratters to see which dog could hunt and find the most rats. Rat Catchers like Ike were even employed by clients to train their dogs for rat hunting at their estate as well as for competition.
Today the sport ensures that rats are safe and unharmed by housing them in pvc tubes,
but all other aspects appear to be the same. Terriers enter the ring with a natural instinct to kill, while retrievers hunt and oftentimes attempt to retrieve the tube. Individuals of all backgrounds enter the trials with their dogs and spend countless hours on training with professional dog trainers to ensure a successful run at the trials. The atmosphere is one of excitement and competition yet also of camaraderie and respect for the dogs. Barn Hunt is still a sport that can be enjoyed by all including the once highly valuable ratting retriever.
Apple Blossom Kennels – Braham, MN