Brian Lowney: Barn hunting an interesting pursuit for pooches

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Jun 1, 2014 in Rat Answers | Subscribe

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Who would have imagined that one day a dog could earn a degree by successfully locating a tiny white rat in a barn?

The sport of purebred dogs has certainly evolved during the past few years, with dozens of new breeds now eligible for competition in the conformation ring, mixed breeds now eligible to compete in some performance activities, and countless new titles that most any dog can earn.

The latest activity is the Barn Hunt, a sport in which a dog demonstrates its vermin hunting ability by finding and marking tiny white pet rats in a barn-like setting, using hay bales to introduce climbing and tunneling obstacles. The course resembles a site probably found by itinerant “rat catchers” who once traveled the countryside in Britain centuries ago to rid barns of pesky rodents that destroyed food supplies and spread disease.

According to the Barn Hunt Association, the governing body that established and oversees the national program, the sport was created for any dog, purebred or mixed-breed, that loves to hunt and that can fit through an 18″ wide gap between two bales of hay. The exercise tests speed (dogs are timed), agility and surefootedness, and emphasizes the strong bond that a canine has with its owner.

It should be noted that a movement developed within the sport of purebred dogs a few decades ago to promote activities that encourage various breeds to “return to their roots” and use their instinct to perform the work for which their ancestors were bred. At the time, several prominent dog fanciers questioned, for example, whether a cocker spaniel in show condition, with its heavily trimmed and hair sprayed furnishings, could actually flush game birds from the brush.

Similar questions led to the creation of many new activities and evaluation programs.

Westport resident and Pharaoh hound fancier Phil Dimor says his dog, Dual Champion Kamaraj Kamosett Zabells Sirocco, was the second member of its breed to earn a Barn Dog title since the program became available last year. The dog has already completed its conformation and lure coursing titles.

“She’s very good at it,” Dimor says, adding that the intelligent 11-year-old hound never misses an opportunity to follow an intoxicating scent.

“She has her nose in the pantry all night long,” he continues.

Dimor and his wife Darleen learned about the vermin hunting test from Bruce and Moira McIntosh of Mansfield, who own Grand Champion Kamosett’s Kebi of Abydos, a six-year-old female that was bred by the Dimors.

Noting that Kebi was the first Pharaoh hound to earn a barn hunt title in the United States, Dimor says the younger dog likes to hunt just as much as her mother. He adds that these dogs of ancient lineage were once used on Malta to hunt rabbits at night.

The longtime Pharaoh hound fancier emphasizes that despite being classified by the AKC as sight hounds, these dogs also have a keen sense of smell and are very versatile.

Dimor notes that while short-legged terriers, such as the Russell, Cairn, West Highland white, Norfolk, Norfolk, Australian, Sealyham and Jack Russell excel in chasing vermin, many other breeds, including dachshunds, are also expert ratters.

At a recent barn test sponsored by the New England Terrier Club, held on Memorial Day on the Brockton Fair Grounds, participants included many different terrier breeds, Siberian huskies, dachshunds, and much of many folks’ amazement, a Havanese, a member of the toy group developed in Cuba from imported bichon frise stock and whose ancestors were developed to serve as family companions and to herd poultry.

According to the national organization responsible for organizing the Barn Hunt program, the dogs participating in the tests never hunt the rats to kill the rodents. Rather, the canines “hunt” rats that are safely enclosed in aerated tubes that can’t be bitten, chewed or crushed by a dog. The tubes are large enough for the rodents to turn around, and contain some litter so the rodent will be comfortable and clean.

Three tubes are placed on the course, and the dog must find the one containing the tiny white rat.

While the AKC does not sponsor these events, the registration body has formed a partnership with Barn Hunt LLC, which organizes the hunt tests. For a fee, the AKC will note successful completion of a Barn Hunt title on pedigrees.

“Most breeds and mixed breeds can do it,” Dimor says, adding that it’s interesting to watch various breeds shoot off across the course in search of the rat. “They can all do it.”

For more information on the Barn Hunt test, call Mitern Farm, Raynham, at (508) 824-1490.

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