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Beyond the bales

July 1, 2021

This was an article I wrote for a CWCCA publication several years ago.  Most of it is still relevant as a beginner look into the sport.  The sport has grown and there are more classes and opportunities.  And now there have been over 260 Barnhunt titles awarded to Cardigans as of 7/1/2021.

Of course 2 of the stars of the article are no longer with us.  Lindy achieved her RATO and Sienna was the first Brussels Griffon to earn a Barnhunt title.  Bailey retired as she is now 12+ and she is not comfortable jumping on the straw bales.  But for bragging rights, Bailey is the first Cardigan in the sport to earn a Senior Barnhunt title. And now the new generation is just starting out with Cali and JeffJeff learning the Barnhunt ropes.

We are looking forward to getting back into trialing. Beyond the bales or adventures in Cardigan Barnhunt First of all I love Barnhunt almost as much as my dogs.  I started “in” dogs with German Shorthaired Pointers and I always loved going to the Hunt Test and Field Trials held for the pointing breeds.  The only problem was that the dogs were always so far out in front that you missed a lot of the work they were doing prior to the “point”.  Barnhunt gives you the opportunity to watch your dog and their up close and personal body language and as part of the team it is up to you to learn to understand that language.

Beyond the Bales – Written for a CWCCA publication

I started Barnhunt on a whim, it was established early in the North Georgia area and after reading about it and knowing how much fun my dogs had hunting SQUIRREL! I thought it would be something fun to try.  From what I read you could Barnhunt without any type of training but luckily for me there were some classes available.  We took a class and low and behold there was a trial the next weekend so we entered.

Our first trial experience was fun and partly successful.  At the time I was running Bailey a 5 year old Cardigan and Sienna a 5 year old Brussels Griffon.  Both girls easily passed their instinct test earning their RATI designation.  Novice was a bit more of a challenge as I had not yet learned to read my dog and their indicator of a live rat.  This is the key to Barnhunt, learn your dog and trust your dog!  Bailey indicates a live rat by “freezing” and perking up her ears.  When the ears go up I know there is a rat.  Sienna was much more subtle and would double sniff when there was a rat, but since it wasn’t moving she would move on looking for movement.  It took Bailey 4 tries to earn her RATN (Novice Barnhunt title) and Sienna it took 6 tries because I would miss her indicator.

Sienna became the first Brussels Griffon in breed history to earn a Barnhunt title.

Now just to make you familiar with what it takes to title a dog in Barnhunt here is a down and dirty list of what it takes to qualify.  Make sure you read the rules at  but this will give you an idea:

Instinct: Dogs will need to indicate and handler will need to call RAT! from a choice of 3 lightly straw covered Rat tubes. One tube will be empty, one will have litter and one will have a live rat.

Novice: Dogs have 2 minutes to find the Tube with 1 live rat hidden it the straw either on the ground or 1 bale high. There will be 1 clean and 2 litter tubes hidden in the straw as well as the rats.  Additionally the dog must put all 4 feet up on a straw bale for the climb and negotiate the tunnel.

Open:  In additional to above it will be 2:30 seconds to find 2 live rats.  At least one live rat tube will be hidden off the ground level. Senior:  It would be 3:30 to find 4 live rats with at least 2 live rat tubes hidden about ground level.

Master: You have 4:30 seconds to find a randomly assigned number of live rats between 1 and 5 and there will be a total of 8 tubes hidden up or down on the course.

For Novice, Open and Senior 3 qualifying legs are needed to title.  The Master title requires 5 qualifying legs.  As you can guess it gets harder and the trust and teamwork needs to be spot on for those upper level titles.

Once it was pretty apparent that Sienna could take or leave Barnhunt, I introduced 9 year old Lindy (Bailey’s Momma) to the sport and she loved it and got her RATI is about ½ a second.  The only problem with Lindy was she wasn’t keen on climbing the bales.  Lindy has always been a bit of a lead butt where jumping was concerned.  She had no problem with the Rat or the tunnel but just didn’t want to climb.  As I moved Bailey into Open she started refusing the tunnel so now we had to train. 

How do you train without rats?  Since I couldn’t make class often (work, distance etc.)  I went to the Home Depot and got 5 bales of straw.  Why 5? Because it was what Fit in my Honda Fit!  I set up a 2 bale high opening anchored around my agility tunnel and started climb and tunnel work.  I treated for climbs and tunnels and it must have worked because Bailey quickly finished her Open Title (RATO) and became the first Cardigan to earn a Senior Barnhunt title (RATS).  

The girls have done their own Barnhunting this summer in the form of Yardhunting, no rodent is safe from them.  They let me know there was a rat in the fig tree and Bailey caught a chipmunk the other day.  I guess they are telling me it is time to get back to the hunt!  

Lindy is going back to Barnhunt this fall to see if she has learned to do the climb in competition not just the backyard.  Bailey will be starting out her quest for the Master title, sadly she is handicapped with me as a handler but I’m hoping I can do her justice.

Lots about Barnhunting hinges on instinct and prey drive but when you get to Senior and even more so the Master level it requires teamwork and communication.  I’m looking forward to seeing how we do later on in September.

Barnhunt is a growing sport and there are more and more clubs holding trial and training.  I hope there is one near you so you and your cardigan enjoy the hunt.  As a traditional “all-purpose farm dog” Cardigans can excel in this sport.  Currently there are 54 Cardigans with the Instinct title (RATI), 36 Novice (RATN), 14 Open (RATO) and 2 Senior (RATS) titles.  You should come and join us.    

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