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Barn Hunt 101: Stepping outside your comfort zone


In addition to a marketing manager at Filament, I am a fairly involved dog owner.

My dog Sweeney is an Entlebucher Mountain Dog, a rare breed from Switzerland bred for herding cattle in the Swiss Alps. Being a working breed, I’m always looking for opportunities to give her a job. And I recently discovered the dog sport of Barn Hunt; talk about stepping outside of one’s comfort zone to try something new.

A relatively simple sport, Barn Hunt consists of a course created with straw bales, and always includes a tunnel of some sort. The complexity of the course depends on the class or level. The number of rats also depends on the class. Yes, they use live rats! The rats are enclosed safely in PVC tubes with holes drilled in them.

All courses include a combination of tubes with live rats, tubes with just rat litter, and empty tubes. At the Novice level three tubes are hidden throughout the course: one rat tube, one litter tube and one empty tube.

To qualify at Novice, the dog must execute a climb, (which means all four feet must touch the top of a bale), execute a straight tunnel and correctly identify the tube with the rat in under two minutes. After Novice, the complexity increases with more complex tunnels and more rats to find. It also takes a significant amount of communication with your dog to know when they’re telling you they found a rat.

We’re still new to the sport, so I am by no means an expert. But like many other dog sports, the Barn Hunt community is extremely welcoming to newcomers. The rulebook is extensive, so the best way to get a feel for the sport is to go out and try it.

Before our first trial, we scheduled a practice with a local coach, to see if Sweeney had the instinct for hunting. Turns out she has a nose for rats! This is important, because some dogs just don’t.

Sweeney loves Barn Hunt. She loves to work, and of course, she loves the praise when she finds the rats. In a sport dominated by terriers and other vermin hunters, it’s fun to be the “different” breed at the trial. As an ambassador for the Entlebucher, it’s certainly been an excellent opportunity to introduce the breed to more people.

When I discovered Barn Hunt, I scoured the internet, learning as much as I could. Even after all of my reading, nothing really prepared me for what that first trial was like. So, my advice when starting something new is to do your research, but know that the best way to learn something might be to dive in with both feet (or all four paws in this case)!

For more information on Entlebucher Mountain Dogs, visit

For more information on Barn Hunt, visit