Rhonda was bred for field trials and scent work. She comes directly from working European bloodlines and has prey drive to spare. No surprise this small Standard Dachshund took to hunting for rats and other small rodents with wild abandon.
When my Dachshund, Rhonda, was about 5 months old, a friend invited me to the local Cook Inlet Kennel Club training facility. They were holding a Barn Hunt practice and my friend Laurie thought Ronni would enjoy it.
Wow. Understatement of the year. Oh, wait … you don’t know what Barn Hunt is? You are in for a treat. Read on …
We arrived at the building, which was already crowded with about a dozen vehicles. I carried Rhonda inside, where I was greeted like an old friend by several people I didn’t [yet] know.
To my right, I couldn’t help but notice a large chain-link fenced area filled with straw bales in an assortment of stacks, piles and tunnels.
There was currently a young Staffie rollicking up and down the bales, over and around them in obvious glee. As I watched in fascination, she quickly pounced on a pile of straw between two bales and I heard her handler call out “RAT!”
The handler then reached down and picked a large, very sturdy plastic tube from its hiding place in the straw, handing it to the rat wrangler (the person in charge of removing the unharmed rat from the search area). The practice supervisor called out “Rat One!”
The Staffie had already moved on in search of another rat. Oh! That looked like fun.
Someone took my name and passed me along to a lady who was in charge of “rat introductions” for newbies to the sport.
Yep – I said sport. Barn Hunt is one of the newer scenting sports available to pretty much any dog who has a desire to play the game and can fit through the various straw bale sized tunnels (a requirement for competition).
But first, we need to discover if our pup is interested in the rat. Please don’t worry – this introduction is totally harm-free to the rat. They actually seem to care less, having done this intro with many, many dogs. The rat knows it’s safe and usually sits there, calmly grooming itself while the dog or puppy sniffs, sometimes barks and even tries to grab hold of the cage.
The intro rat is visible, but securely enclosed in a small, strong, rubber-coated wire cage – completely safe from even the most enthusiastic dog.
I placed my leashed puppy on the big tarp with the caged white rat in the center and waited to see what happened. Ronni noticed the movement immediately, moving forward to investigate. She approached the cage. The rat moved and Ronni jumped backwards a good foot! I bit my lip … being afraid of the rat was not a good sign.
But no, it was only instinctive caution of something new and potentially dangerous – remember, she was still just a puppy. She immediately crept close again, gave a good sniff – and instinct kicked in. RAT! Chase! Catch!
Oh yes, Ronni was going to like this dog sport! After two or three short introductions to the caged rat, Rhonda was allowed to investigate the [empty] straw bale enclosure. I was told that some dogs were unsure of the strange new texture of the straw bales, not liking how the shifting straw felt beneath their feet. It was not uncommon for a new dog to just walk around, sniffing and getting used to it.
Lithe little Rhonda immediately scampered up onto a bale, down the far side, then back up, jumping from bale to bale and having a grand time. No fear – this was a great new playground. 😄
The following weekend, she was turned loose to hunt for her first rat. We had taken a quick moment to visit the Intro rat to give Ronni the scent (she tried to grab and carry off the cage – which was nearly as big as she was), then entered the fenced search pen.
I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it wasn’t a difficult search. There were three rat tubes made of heavy plastic, with lots of breathing holes for the rat. The three tubes looked exactly the same; 1 tube held a live rat, 1 tube held rat bedding and one was totally empty.
It was up to Rhonda to communicate to me which of the three [new to her] tubes held her prey – the live rat. She sniffed all three. I held my breath. She made her decision and nosed one of the tubes … I called out hesitantly, “Rat??”. The practice supervisor said “Yes! Rat!” Ronni was right … and has never looked back.
Practice was tons of fun; sometimes they hid just one rat, other times 2 or even 3. Rhonda had no trouble scrambling up and down straw bales and gleefully bounded through tunnels – sometimes the more complex, advanced tunnels – all great fun!
It seemed (and was!) no time at all before a Barn Hunt trial was imminent. Should I enter Rhonda? She was still so new to the sport. Well, what the heck. It would be good experience, and she only needed to find one rat, climb a straw bale and go through a straight, novice tunnel. No expectations in a busy trial environment – just to have fun and gain experience.
There were three trials planned for that weekend in April, 2019. One on Saturday, then two trials, back to back, on Sunday. The team could earn one “Q” (qualified run) per trial. It took three Q’s in order to title. Below is one of Ronni’s 3 Novice trial runs that weekend, under Judge Dan Mata. In Novice, the dog has 2 minutes to find one rat, while ignoring the bedding tube and the empty tube.
One of the most humorous moments of that first trial weekend came on Sunday afternoon when Ronni, with two successful searches under her belt, faced her final Novice search – with her Novice title at stake.
Poor Ronni … she entered the search area sporting PANTIES – a size too large to boot. She had literally (and very suddenly) gone into her first heat cycle during the lunch break. Yikes. There wasn’t even time to set her down to see if she would WALK in the weird, constrictive (borrowed) attire before her run.
I sent up a quick prayer, set Ronni on the ground and turned her loose. Zoom! She raced (with a distinct waddle, but it didn’t slow her down much) through the tunnel, made it up onto a straw bale on the second try and then wiggled nose down into a pile of straw, tail wagging fiercely out the back of her baggy panties. “RAT!” I called. “Congratulations!” the judge chimed in. “That’s your Novice title!”
Only a few short months later, with only a few more fun Barn Hunt practices behind us, Ronni and I found ourselves at our 2nd Barn Hunt trial weekend. This time, both days were back-to-back trials.
Saturday went great; we didn’t earn the quickest times ever, but running now in Open Division, Ronni found her two rats in both searches, consistently ignoring the bedding-filled tubes. Good girl, Rhonda!
On Sunday morning, we found ourselves again facing a possible Title run. I was strangely relaxed – Ronni was having so much FUN, I felt we were already winners whether we Q’d or not. Besides, there was still another chance later in the afternoon. Here’s Rhonda’s 3rd ever Open Division run. 😄 Boy, does that gal thrives on climbing straw bales!
Needless to say, Rhonda now has her Open Division Title and got to try her hand at [Gasp!] Senior Div. at the ripe old age of 15 months. She found 3 of the required 4 rats. Great job for my sleek little ratter.
Barn Hunt is a FUN sport and Ronni adores it, so we will, I’m sure, have more stories to share. But be forewarned; this little firecracker of a dachshund is also actively pursuing a career in K9 Nose Work and AKC Scent Work (she has her Novice title in both), is learning Agility and Rally, and has her Trick Dog Novice title. I wish we had the opportunity to try Field Trials, but they just aren’t readily available here in AK. I think they offer 1-2 per year in the state, but with no way to train, I’m not sure how to even begin.
“Goodwood Help Me Rhonda B Good” is already well on her way to being exactly what her breeder led me to expect. Thank you, Claire!
Still, from day one, when my sweet, social butterfly, Ronni, came into my life – my number 1 priority was welcoming the much wanted 2nd DACHSHUND I’d been dreaming of. I wanted to share my life with a PAIR of Dachshunds, whatever else happened. Baxter, my older Dachshund, was seven years old. It seemed like the perfect time to bring his new little sister home.
Sure, I was hoping Ronni would grow to love at least some of the dog sports I already enjoyed with Baxter – but I would love her just as much if she’d turned out to be no more than a loving companion dog.
I have long been a strong proponent of this valuable caution (para-phrased); “Don’t get a dog FOR the SPORT. Get the DOG you want, and embrace the sports that dog wants to play.”
So … tally-ho! Off to Barn Hunt we go!
Have FUN with your dog(s), whatever you do, and Happy Sniffing!