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Competing In The Barn Hunt

British Trainer on scent work with any breed...

 

 

Graham Mabbutt, Cynologist and author of "A Passion For Dogs, A Journey Of Discovery"

 

Scent work should and can be done with any breed but with using live rats, proper praise, encouragement and courage of participants… lavishly illustrated!

 

I received a very interesting letter from a dedicated breeder of Catahoula Leopard Dogs in which she writes, “We have a sport here in The U.S. called Barn Hunt. Basically, rats are hidden in PVC tubes and the dogs are required to find them in a maze of straw bales. My best tracking dog ‘Sooner’ walks around with her head in the air and never indicates a rat. We call this cataloguing, but she will not indicate where the rats are.

 

I do not know the Catahoula but my understanding is that they are rooted in the Beaceron.

 

A few years ago I was taken aside from a group of tourists by a French Count, who realised, I was far more interested in his brace of crop-eared Beacerons than his chateaux and gardens. I was also a party to the rearing by a friend of mine of a Beauceron and a Wolf Cub born in a Circus (Sam and Nellie pictured left), both interesting experiments.

 

The Barn Hunt, authorised by The American Kennel Club through The Barn Hunt Association, awards qualification certificates up to Master Champion, RATCHX, for Clubs licensed to hold ‘Earth Dog Tests’ for all Breed’s. How the AKC square this up with the fact that in some states hunting with dogs for mammals is unlawful (rats, although classed as vermin are most definitely mammals) I do not know.

 

The same would apply should ever such a test be introduced in the UK where The Hunting Act 2004 bans the hunting of wild mammals with dogs in England and Wales. Further, since 1976 we also have The National Fancy Rat Association. The secretary, a schoolteacher, came to me with a problem Yorkshire Terrier who got along with her show champion rat. Her ‘Yorkie’, his silken coat sweeping the ground and a red ribbon tied to his top knot, was indeed neurotic. I don’t know about the parti-coloured rat but through instinct denial and unnatural association, the two maintained a status quo, living together on the friendliest of terms.

 

Oh! for the Yorkshire Terrier of yesteryear where it is recorded “Tiny The Wonder” killed a hundred rats in a barrel in under an hour.

 

During the latter years of the 2nd World War, wearing my very first pair of long trousers, I was pitch forking corn sheaves into the maw of a thrashing tackle powered by a steam engine within a circle of chicken wire surrounding the whole operation. At the last layer of sheaves, rats and mice were running everywhere and a large buck rat ran up my trousers leg.

 

Never since have I divested my trousers so quickly, dropping them to my ankles at the same time clutching the rat to my groin to throw it by its tail to my faithful dog that caught it in mid-air.

 

With the annual advent of the threshing tackle a collection of terriers (‘tere’ meaning earth) arrived by common consent from the local hunt and nearby farms gathering round the ring of wire netting as for an arena set up for their sport. This applied equally to the last swathe of standing corn in the harvest fields when the lurchers of the parish readied themselves as if straining in the slips to course and kill numerous rabbits, hares, and the occasional fox breaking cover.

 

Killing rats is an art requiring quickness not necessarily gameness. The good dog takes the rat by the head and shoulders and without shaking, drops it stone dead.

 

Few show pedigree terriers will face a pit of rats with perhaps the exception of the Patterdale and the Glen of Imaal. The same applies to going to ground, still less are they prepared to squirm to subterranean depths along a narrow ‘pipe’ to face a badger lying on a raised shelf especially constructed to afford it the advantage. The Revd. Jack Russell must be turning in his grave, not only for their lack of gameness but also for the altered appearance of terriers that to this day bear his name. Alas they are no longer narrow in the chest, long legged to run with the hound pack and ‘broken’ harsh coated to face all weathers.

 

To return to Suz’s ‘Sooner’, who pardon the pun, would sooner adopt avoidance behaviour than indicate a rat, caused I have no doubt by the fact that there has never been the positive reinforcement of the kill.

 

The remedy for a track greyhound when tired of chasing an electric hare of flapping cloth is to allow the dog a short simple course for a live rabbit or hare with the reward of the kill.

 

Such an expedient I guess being repugnant to Suz there is only one alternative and as always when faced with a problem, begin with the basics, remembering that all remedial training is incremental.

  1. Make sure that ‘The stay handler out of sight’ is thoroughly understood by the dog and no matter the circumstances, even if the heavens fall there is no release until you return.

  2. Arm yourself with two identical tubes of PVC as used in the barn hunt, instead of a live rat both tubes stuffed with wood-wool bedding impregnated with the smell of rat’s urine.

  3. Confine yourself to playing what should be a happy game around the house, (Never long enough for the dog to get bored; always pleading in every line of the body ‘can I play on?

  4. With a firm command place the dog in the ‘Sit stay’ outside the chosen room for the search/hunt to take place.

  5. First proffering one of the tubes to smell, leave to place the tube whilst out of sight, hiding it in a slightly open drawer, behind a radiator, or in any of the many places afforded by any normal living room.

  6. Return to the dog who will be by now in a fervour of impatience. Send the dog forward at the same time following closeup with the second tube easily available in a jacket pocket.

  7. Stand back watching to see if every part of the room is covered by the dog visibly inhaling and exhaling.

  8. Immediately upon a positive indication, throw the tube that is to hand for the dog to pounce on for the reward of killing a prey object.

  9. Should there be failure to indicate and/or if scenting begins to wane, remembering the areas not covered, take the dog around following your hand with his nose. On indication repeat the positive reinforcement as in #8.

  10. When this game is almost the acme of the dog’s life then and only then, take the dog to your Club where the straw bale maze is set up to practice with a live rat but still retaining the tube filled with wood wool as a reward for a find.

In this way there is every chance Sooner will recover and catalogue any number of rat’s in sequence as in The Barn Hunt test I have my doubts.

 

In substance detection whether it be for explosives, drugs or live game, to search any number of room’s closing each off in sequence as ‘clean’ or otherwise with certainty is a problem. To paraphrase the often the proverbial ‘needle in the haystack’… give me the haystack and I will find the needle but a number of haystacks in a set time is another matter.

 

A dog cannot be turned on and off or be guaranteed to work at its optimum like a machine, not forgetting nasal fatigue and boredom all too easily set in.

 

Searching for substances is unlike hunting. It is not instinctive and is at best a game or at worst a trick taught for reward.

 

Related Article Information by Graham Mabbutt: {1} Correction Not Punishment

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