Barn Hunt
Curly-Coated Retrievers


By now you have probably heard rumors of a “new” dog sport sweeping the nation, involving barns, straw, rats and PVC tubes. With THAT combination most people are immediately intrigued. Does Barn Hunt use wild rats? Are the rats scared? Do the dogs hurt the rats? In this article I’ll explain what Barn Hunt is and is not, how it came to be and why you should give it a try with your dog! Barn Hunt is the fastest growing dog sport to hit North America and is growing in leaps and bounds- daily. It is really no wonder- it is great fun for people and dogs! It takes a dog’s natural instinct to find quarry, builds in a requirement of teamwork and offers plenty of challenge and strategy for both dog and human!


“Barn Hunts” are not new in concept. Built on the age old canine job of vermin hunting… barn hunts were developed to showcase ratting instinct without risk to people, dogs or rats. Barn Hunts were often a side event to some Earthdog and Terrier trials and were purely for fun or as a special attraction. Enter Robin Nuttall- the founder of Barn Hunt Association or BHA, Inc. Robin has Doberman Pinschers and Miniature Pinschers and hastried for years to have her Min Pins allowed in AKC Earthdog events. The parent club denied the requests so Robin took the sport she had seen at terrier trials (Barn Hunt) and created the venue “formally” so her Min Pins could employ their instincts. Robin left the event open to all breeds regardless of size and so begins the craze…

Barn Hunt is open to all breeds and mixes, age 6 months and up as long as they can safely navigate a course and fit through an 18” wide tunnel that is about 22” tall. Deaf and three legged dogs can participate. The venue is excellent for retired older dogs, people and dogs that have physical limitations and for anyone looking to enjoy a mock hunt in a fun environment. While overall the sport can be less demanding on teams, upper levels can be a very active and demanding sport. Runs are timed and can be QUITE challenging and competitive for human and dog alike.

For those that enjoy a good healthy competition… Barn Hunt offers titles from the instinct certificate (RATI) all the way up to a Championship (RATCH) with lots of titles in between.

The rats used are domesticated pet rats and are fully contained in a 4” diameter PVC tube with lots and lots of ventilation holes. Rat safety is of primary concern and rats are swapped out and given breaks periodically. There is a person in the ring called a “rat wrangler”, who is the rats’ advocate and assists in moving tubes out of play once found. Rat safety rules include prevention of rolling, skittering and picking up tubes. Dogs NEVER come in direct contact with the rats. Often these rats are household pets, as mine are, and have been doing this for most of their life. People laugh when they hear that my rats are clicker trained to go into the tubes but ensuring the rats are not stressed is a priority to BHA as a sport and the people that embrace the sport. Rats are incredibly intelligent creatures and they know they are safe in the tubes often to the point of challenging the dogs through the tube or stealing treats from the owners that set them on the tube during training.

In addition to the ever important “RAT TUBE”- there are two additional and identical PVC tubes out there on each course to add to the challenge. One tube contains nothing “EMPTY TUBE” and the other contains a cup of bedding/litter which the rat slept on the night before “LITTER TUBE”. Often dogs that are looking for rat scent in general will indicate on these tubes- especially the litter tube. One of the great misconceptions is that this sport requires no training, and perhaps at the lower levels it may not. However upper levels require a very keen dog and lots of time and training to find ONLY live rat tubes in the time frame required. The difference between finding a general scent and differentiating between a hot scent and cold scent is vastly different for a dog. Many feel this sport has more in common with nose work than with terrier events because the dog has to differentiate to be successful. As dogs graduate into the next level they are challenged with an increasing number of tubes and a change in the ratio of empty:litter:rat tubes. So with all these tubes and up to 120 runs/day/judge. How do we make things more efficient yet still challenging? At a trial, dogs are grouped together in things called “blinds”. Blinds are five teams of dogs and their handlers and they DO actually sit in a “blind”. This blinding area prevents handlers from knowing where the tubes are hidden on the course. The same tube locations will be used for all dogs in that blind group. Once everyone has run out, a new blind is assembled and new tube hiding spots are planted.

Judging is based on the handler calling the rat tube(s) to the judge based on observing their dog’s behavior. That canine behavior is called “the indication”. The indications are irrelevant to the judge but are the key signal the handler uses to know the dog found a rat and not a litter tube. Indications most commonly are barking, scratching and biting but I have seen pointing, staring and even dogs backing up with a disgusted look on their face. As long as the handler can read the dog, the team can be successful. Once the rat is confirmed by the judge the tube can be left in play or removed, it’s the handlers call. If the call was incorrect, the run ends as a NQ. Other NQ’s include overtime, touching bales/tubes or dogs, elimination in the ring, inability to get a climb or a tunnel.


So what classes do you enter at your first Fun Test or Trial? Most dogs generally start at the INSTINCT level, which is the ONLY specified BH course layout. The “Instinct Fork”, as it is sometimes called, is laid out with the three tube types (empty, litter, rat) sitting out in the open. Teams leave a start box and head to the tubes. If they call the correct rat tube within 1 minute- they get a RATI title! Instinct is NOT a prerequisite for Novice, so you can enter Instinct AND Novice at any trial. Once you finish the RATN title- you can’t go back to Instinct.

The first “titling” level is the NOVICE level and is a course developed by the judge -- just like an agility course. Teams need to identify the correct rat tube of the three (1 litter, 1 empty and 1 rat) as in Instinct except NOW the three tubes are hidden amongst up to 30 bales of straw. In addition to the handler calling ONLY the rat tube, the dog must complete a tunnel and climb on the bales in 2 minutes. Three passes at Novice earns the RATN title.

Levels such as OPEN (2 rats), SENIOR (4 rats) have multiple numbers of all the different tube types. The quantity of bales on course gets bigger, the courses gets taller and the tunnels get deeper! The highest level is MASTERS and 5 passes earns the RATM. Continued passes in masters beyond the RATM can earn the coveted Barn Hunt Championship or RATCH.

A master’s course has 10 tubes on a course of more than 50 bales and piled up to 3 high. In other words its BIG! The tunnel is BIG too, with numerous turns making it dark and VERY intimidating! A master’s team has 4 min 30 sec to find an unknown number of rat tubes between 1 and 5 and yes, there are a bunch of litter tubes out there to confuse the dog as well. The team has to “clear the course” and determine when they have found them all in the time limit! One wrong call and you NQ! A RATCH takes an additional 10 passes beyond the RATM at under 4 minutes. It is a title that should be esteemed, as 80% of teams won’t ever make it past the senior level. The difficulty and level of precision needed makes getting a RATCH a great honor. It makes it all the more exciting that one of the first RATCHs was a Curly-Coated Retriever! Marian Morris and Selkie were the 14th RATCH in the nation!

tessbarnhunt AKC also has partnered with BHA to allow for Barn Hunt titles to be reflected on AKC registrations, so you may be seeing a RAT title on the pedigrees of some curlies! Since teaching and judging barn hunt, I have found it to be an extremely rewarding venue for people and dogs of all types. I find it a challenge to teams because it contains strategy as well as an instinctual element. Barn Hunt fits nicely with a breed that can be used on fur as well as feather and I hope to see more Curlies out there with their people enjoying a sport that is as addictive as it is fun!

Questions about getting into Barn Hunt? Go to for rules and events. Want to see what it looks like? Search for Barn Hunt videos. There are plenty of examples out there! Still curious or want to come to my facility? I can always be reached at

Eva Raczka has been involved in dog sports since 8 years of age. She has trained and titled dogs in Obedience, Rally, Agility, Herding, Retriever Hunt Tests and more and utilizes her diverse training in teaching barn hunt and developing drills to proof and develop teams. Barn Hunt is her passion and she has introduced over 500 dogs and their owners to Barn Hunt through seminars, classes, lessons and more. Eva has won high scoring awards at every class level of Barn Hunt as well as being an A level Barn Hunt Judge. Eva and her Belgian Tervuren “Pi” (in addition to being the first RATCH X Terv) were Gold Medalists in Versatility and Bronze Medalists in Games at the 2015 BHA National earning the coveted Grand National Champion status. Eva is available for questions, club/event consultation and judging via info@central –



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Avery in the Novice ring 



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Emmett RATN, Dana RATO, Reilly RATN 

RATI Barn Hunt Title
Softmaple's Stand and Be Liver to Flyway
Softmaple's Sexy and I Know It

Beltane's Bodacious Blue (Co-bred)
Skywatcher's Dee Liver Me to Softmaple
SoftMaple's Fly By Night
SoftMaple Green River
SoftMaple's Liver Alone Shez Mine
Skywatcher N SoftMaple's Silver Streak To DESE
Skywatcher's texas rose of Cimaron

RATN Barn Hunt Title
Softmaple's Stand and Be Liver to Flyway
Softmaple's Sexy and I Know It
Softmaple Green River
Skywatcher's Dee Liver Me to Softmaple
Softmaple's Fly By Night

RATO Barn Hunt title
SoftMaple's Sexy And I Know It
Softmaple Green River

Skywatcher's Dee Liver Me To SoftMaple 


Senior Legs
SoftMaple's Sexy And I Know It (2 legs)
Softmaple Green River (2 legs)

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Dana running Senior

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                                                                              Lodi at the Halloween  trial    ~     Avery earning her RATN

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Emmett being Emmett! 

Reilly running Open at a Central Bark trial


1907881_10152511656032986_2705999166471305539_nBarn Hunt is the new and quickly growing dog sport catching fire across the country! Barn Hunt is based on the traditional roles of many breeds in ridding farms, barns, crop storage areas, and homes of destructive vermin. Some breeds were specifically created to fill this role, and for many of those breeds, Barn Hunt provides their first true opportunity for responsible breeders to test proper working traits in their dogs. Barn Hunt is also open to any dog of any breed or mix who wishes to play the game and can fit through an 18" wide by bale-height tall tunnel. Barn Hunt has titles, levels of increasing difficulty, and championships. Barn Hunt is an independent sport, but titles are recognized by both the American Kennel Club (AKC) and United Kennel Club (UKC).

Barn Hunt is committed to creating a safe and fun sport for dogs, that also holds rat care at the highest level of consideration. The rats used in Barn Hunt are often beloved family pets. They jump eagerly into their safe, comfortable aerated tubes and truly enjoy interacting with the dogs.


Tess and Megan

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Tippi RATI