Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Sophie learns how to find a rat in a haystack!

This weekend was quite chilly and rainy, thanks to Hurricane Ophelia.  But the brunt of it missed us, so we still managed to have a fun weekend.  This was the weekend that Sophie and I tried Barn Hunt for the first time.  There aren’t any trials being held near us, so I had to drive out of state for Sophie to give it a try.  It sounded like something she would enjoy, as she has always loved our Nosework classes.

The first thing I learned was that we really should have attended a clinic or taken some training classes before entering a trial.  Sophie did great, proving yet again the versatility of the collie breed.  She caught on right away, and found the rats each time.  I was the one who needed the training!  I had read the rule book, and thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t.  There are so many rules to this sport, and some of them are counterintuitive, at least in my opinion.  The first rule, which I repeatedly broke, was to remove the dog’s collar and leash and place them on the ground as soon as you enter the search area.  I got the removing part easily enough, but I couldn’t seem to remember to put them down.  The reason I struggled with this rule is actually an easy explanation.  Sophie is always on leash when we are out in public.  I never let her off leash if we aren’t in our house or yard, I just never want to risk something happening.  So removing both her leash and collar, and letting her run free in a place I am not familiar with, makes me very nervous.  And many of the other activities we do, like the therapy visits, require that I never let go of her leash for even a second.  Even the Nosework classes are typically done on leash.  So it was instinct that kept me gripping the leash and collar, even after reminding myself to put it down.  Once I can get over that compulsion, Sophie should do really well, as all the errors were human errors.

The first class we tried was the instinct test.  They set up three tubes.  One is empty, one has the rat’s litter, and one contains the rat.  The dog is given one minute to correctly identify the tube with the rat inside, and the handler has to pick up on the dog’s individual alert when she finds the rat.  Sophie definitely would have passed the instinct test, she found the rat immediately, but there I was still gripping her leash, causing her to be disqualified!  I was actually really upset with myself, and had to remember that Sophie didn’t know she was disqualified, she was having fun either way.  That’s one of the wonderful things about dogs, it’s not about winning or losing, they just want to spend time with you and have fun!  With that in mind, even when we lost, I praised her like she had just won high in trial.  She was doing her very best, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t spoil it for her.

We were also entered in the Novice A Barn Hunt class in both the first trial and the second trial.  In this class the dog has two minutes to search for the tubes, which are now hidden in the hay bales and loose hay.  And during their search the dogs also have to climb up on a hay bale, and go through a tunnel. The handler can talk to the dog as much as they want, encouraging them and directing them to search different areas or go through a tunnel.  Sophie climbed on the bales, and found the rat, but she wouldn’t go through the tunnel, and we ran out of time.  But it didn’t matter….because I was once again holding her leash!  Fortunately, by the second trial I remembered to put the leash and collar on the ground, Sophie climbed, did the tunnel, and successfully found the rat!  This earned her the first “leg” to her Novice Barn Hunt title, RATN.  She needs to qualify three times to earn the title.  

I’ve found a Barn Hunt clinic that is being held about an hour away from us, and I hope to enter it next month for some practice.  The tunnel is made from stacking hay bales, which is very different from our plastic tunnel at home, which Sophie loves.  I think she needs some more practice with the hay tunnels, and I need more practice with just about everything else. I was really impressed by how incredibly nice and welcoming everyone was, and all the dogs and people were having so much fun.  It’s definitely something I want to try again.  Sophie absolutely loved searching for the rats, and I know she’ll enjoy doing another trial, so if you get the opportunity we both recommend giving Barn Hunt a try.


  1. Congratulations, Sophie! Next time will be even better - for both you and your mom.

  2. Way to go and I know you'll get better each time.

    Have a woof woof day and week. My best to your mom. ♥

  3. Charlee: "Hunting a rat in a barn sounds like a lot of fun! Do they allow cats to participate, by any chance ... ?"

  4. It may have taken a few tries, but your team got it in the end. We're sure with more practice both Sophie and you will do better at your next trial. The important thing is you had fun and tried something new.

  5. I know you'll get the hang of it, that sure takes lots of practice. It's a great way to spend time with your sweetie though, good for you both!

  6. Collies are such pretty dogs. I loved watching Lassie as a kid! I'm glad Sophie is getting the hang of things and did well in this hunt.

    I'm happy for your visit. I'm sure you weren't aware but you linked your post to a music themed hop. That's an easy to fix anytime you wish to join the party, just include any music of your choice (even if there's a theme running) in your post for others to dance to. That's the only real requirement Monday's Music Moves Me asks each link up to follow. Have a boogietastic week! 🐶🐾

  7. I left a comment earlier using my name and URL but it's not showing. You may wish to check your "Pending or Spam" folder to see if it was placed there. TTFN!

  8. I would have hung on the leash as well. Our dogs were never off leash except in the yard. I bet it was a scary feeling having her loose. That said, I think my dogs would have loved a barn hunt. They were so good at finding critters in the yard. So glad Sophie had a good time and I hope you didn't beat yourself up too much. You'll do better next time. The first time is always the hardest when you do something new.