Rat hunt skills tested at Michigan Winter Dog Classic

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jan 14, 2015 in Rat News | Subscribe

Eric Madsen and his dog, Shirley, love rats.

Shirley loves to find them, and Madsen loves to cheer her on — even help guide her search.

The Canton man and his four-pawed companion, an Australian shepherd, are top competitors in barn hunt, a relatively new canine sport in which dogs uncover live rats encased in protective tubes from stacked hay bales.

“I remember the first day we gathered around and they brought the cage,” said Madsen, recounting Shirley’s initial training session. “When Shirley saw the rat inside, it was love at first sight. She is passionate about rats. Absolutely passionate.”

Since achieving her first title in March last year, Shirley has soared in the sport and is the top titled dog in the country. She and Eric became the first barn hunt team to earn champion RatchX-2 and X-3 level titles last year. They are the only competitors to reach the RatchX-4 level. They’ll work toward their next champion title at the Michigan Winter Dog Classic, Thursday-Sunday, Jan. 15-18, at Suburban Collection Showplace, 461000 Grand River Ave., Novi.

The annual dog show, presented by the Oakland County Kennel Club and Livonia Kennel Club, brings together more than 7,000 dogs and their owners for conformation, agility, rally, obedience and weight-pull competitions. The event also includes breed seminars, educational demonstrations, duck herding shows, vendors and rescue groups. New competitions this year are diving and barn hunt.

Follow your nose

Betsy Bernock, who owns Great American Dogs, a dog training center in Garden City, holds barn hunt classes and events throughout the year, in addition to teaching agility, conformation, rally, obedience and nose work. She is coordinating the barn hunt trials at the Michigan Winter Dog Classic, where more than 700 dogs will participate in the four-day competition.

Any breed or size dog may compete in barn hunt. Bernock owns Labrador retrievers who enjoy the hunt.

“If they are interested in the scent of a rat, that’s all it takes,” she said. “When the dog gets into the ring, the basic requirement is three-fold. They have to go through a tunnel made out of straw bales. They have to jump on and off of straw bales. The pyramids of straw bales are designed by judges to allow for (rat) hiding locations.”

Tunnels and straw bale pyramids become more complex as competitors advance through titles. When the dog finds a rat, he signals his owner, who in turn alerts the judges. If the tube is empty or contains only rat bedding, rather than a live rat, the run ends. If the dog finds a live rat, he can continue to look for more.

Pet rats

“It’s fun to watch. Some dogs will dig in the spot. Some bark at it. Some sit and say, ‘there is is.’ The rats are hidden in pvc tubes (with litter) for comfort and management,” she said. “No harm is intended for the rats and there are strict rat management rules.

“You would have never convinced me that someday I would have pet rats. But I have pet rats at home.”

Bernock rescued four female rats that were offered on Internet postings as snake food, and named them Thelma, Louise, Cupcake and Snowflake.

“They have a great life and home,” said Bernock, who keeps her dogs away from the rats’ housing. “During the trials we give them plenty of litter and treats. They are conditioned to it.”

Madsen, who owns his own consulting firm, doesn’t keep rats because he and Shirley are on the road a lot. They practice at Zodiac Ranch in Milford, which offers barn hunt training, practice and trials.

“She ping pongs around the course. I try to remember where she hasn’t been and then work as a team and send her to those places,” he explained his role in the game.

He’s having more fun with barn hunt, than he had as a handler in other canine sports. He and Shirley tried herding, but Shirley was “too powerful” and he was slow to signal her. They tried teibbal, another herding sport that uses balls rather than sheep. He also trained Shirley as a therapy dog and the pair worked in hospitals together.

He was at a treibbal training class in Wisconsin when he first heard about barn hunt.

“Barn hunt is the only sport I know of where the training is more fun than the games,” Madsen said. When the pair visits Zodiac Ranch, Shirley hunts rats “for 20 minutes straight.” The competitive trials are timed and dogs must complete their hunt in under 4 1/2 minutes.

“Once we got to the championship level, there is no formal training. We’re just out there to have fun. If it weren’t for my ego, we’d just practice. She doesn’t care if she gets ribbons or not. She just wants rats.”

Michigan Winter Dog Classic

When: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Sunday, Jan. 16-18

Where: The Suburban Collection Showplace, 461000 Grand River Ave., Novi

Details: Sponsored by the Livonia Kennel Club and Oakland County Kennel Club, the event will bring more than 7,000 dogs together for conformation, agility, rally, obedience, diving, barn hunt and other competitions. The show also will include vendors, educational demonstrations, breed seminars, duck herding, and rescue organizations. Visitors may bring their dogs to the show for the “My Dog Can Do That!”program, 1-5 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, A professional trainer will introduce them to the agility course. Dogs must be at least 6 months old and have proof of rabies shots. Guests also can test their dogs’ manners at the AKC Canine Good Citizen test

Admission: $10 for adults; $8 for children, 7-12; and free for children, 6 and under. Family admission for two adults and two children is $35

Contact: themichiganwinterdogclassic.com

Article source: http://www.hometownlife.com/story/entertainment/2015/01/14/rat-hunt-skills-tested-michigan-winter-dog-classic/21703601/

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