Introducing Puppies to Barn Hunt

Puppies are incredible little sponges ready to soak up all the experiences of life we have to offer them. I am often asked at what age I start training puppies for Barn Hunt. My answer is always, “It depends.” More specifically, there is no magical age to introduce a puppy to the sport. Each puppy is an individual. I choose not to focus on age and instead on the importance of calm, gentle exposure at a level appropriate to the individual puppy.

In this initial introduction, there are no rules and no expectations. There is no wrong or preferred interaction with the rat. The puppy is always given the choice to interact as little or as much as he chooses. My goal is to end a session before a puppy loses interest, however, if a puppy needs to end the interaction, we will leave and have a party and I will end the session sooner on the next round. If the cage is moved, it will always be away from the puppy to encourage movement toward the cage. If the puppy is moved it will be from side to side, never pushing or pulling toward the cage. I will always end with play. Remember, introducing a youngster to a live animal in a cage is a lot of pressure. Keep it light. Keep it short. Keep it fun.

Now, back to age…I have introduced puppies to the rats as young as four weeks as puppies become mobile and begin to explore their environment. At this age, it’s not uncommon for puppies to have little or no direct interest. In fact, the rats are often far more curious about toddling puppies than toddling puppies are about them. Here is a short video of Romeo at four weeks old. At this age, we want the puppies (and of course the rats at any age!) to have a positive experience. As you can see the, rats really enjoy engaging the dogs. I picked Arya (silver capped) and Jekyll (black) because they have always enjoyed intros with new dogs and aren’t too feisty for youngsters.

Romeo and the Mysterious Tubes

(Click the link to view)

Even at four weeks old, Romeo was very interested in rats. Although he is from working lines, this was very unusual focus and intensity. His littermate, Dice, wasn’t terribly interested and headed off to explore other things. Now a year old, both dogs have very keen interest in finding rats. They simply discovered their love of the game at their own pace.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to record the first introduction of two youngsters to a rat.

Meet Rummy, a 5-month old French Bulldog. Rummy and I haven’t worked together before, but he is quick to engage. I’d like to think it’s my winning personality, but I also have delicious treats and it is puppy lunch time. Timing is everything, especially with young puppies! Rummy’s body language is very typical of dogs of any breed meeting the rats for the first time. He is unsure what this is all about, but is curious and willing to engage. He is off to a great start!

Let’s break it down:

At 0:04, Rummy offers a sit and I simply move past the rat to another spot. I like the sit and he gets a good boy from me, but we’re exploring something new.

At 0:06, he discovers Lorraine the Rat. Yay, Rummy! Cookie for you! Note that I am feeding as close to the cage as he is comfortable. His body language indicates that he is unsure of this new development, but he’s willing to hang around and check it out.

At 0:14, 0:20 and 0:25, watch his ears. He is curious and also shifting his weight towards the rat. During this initial introduction, this is what I am marking.

At 0:32 seconds, Rummy needs a break. I mark late, just as he begins to back up. He’s not eager to move forward to get his cookie and is communicating his need to move away. I end the session. We played the cookie toss game off to the left of the camera, which was a lot of fun. Rummy’s initial response to the rat is by far the most common I encounter with dogs of all ages and across all breeds. It looks a bit like, “What is THAT? Are you crazy, woman? WHAT IS THAT? Oh, cookies! Let me look again.” It was a great start!

Here is another puppy, Ice, at 6.5 weeks. This is an unedited video of a typical introduction of a young puppy.

What did we see? First, a very curious and outgoing puppy who is eager to check out the environment and quite interested in meeting the rat. Ice takes breaks, gets lots of praise and continues to re-engage. The session ends on a high note, just before she wanders off. Off camera there is lots of praise and play. Ice worked far longer than I would expect from a puppy this young. She is also off to a great start.

Let’s break it down:

At 12 seconds, watch the head snap as Ice catches odor and meets Lorraine the Rat for the first time.

At 20 seconds, she begins to lick and wag her tail as Lorraine investigates.

At 26 seconds, I wiggle my fingers near the tube while encouraging Ice.

At 39 seconds, there is a play bow followed by a stretch and break. This is quite a lot for a youngster. After some scratches and a little personal play (unfortunately starting off camera), Ice is ready to reengage at 54 seconds.

At 1:06 I engage in a little play with Ice and by 1:08, Ice is back to the quarry. This is a much shorter break and it is the puppy’s choice to return.

At 1:19, we have another stretch. She is a little unsure about this new game. I am scratch her while praising and she starts to investigate again on her own.

At 1:25, she bites the cage. I took a moment to pet her a couple times while praising her brilliance. This puts me in the picture later for not only barn hunt but earthdog/go to ground.

At 1:30, I move the cage away from Ice which encourages her to move toward it. She gets pretty excited about the possibility of movement.

At 1:54, we end with play, pets and praise.

Both Rummy and Ice did very well in their first introduction to a rat. They were both curious and willing to engage. There was a lot of reinforcement as well as play. Although there is naturally pressure in meeting a rat for the first time, it was a positive experience. (It was also a positive experience for Lorraine the Rat, who is new to puppy detail and thoroughly enjoyed partaking in their treats too!) Neither puppy is ready to head off to formal training just yet, but a positive association has been made.

Event Results 10/23/16


Congratulations to Bella TL-I on winning High in Trial for both rounds of Level II!

Congratulations to all the teams who competed in our third NASDA Trailing and Locating trial!  We hope you had as much fun as we did!  Results for this trial are now available by clicking here:  20161023_results

A Tale of Two Indications, Pt 2


Isabella and I competed in a trial last night.  We did not qualify but we had a lovely run on a challenging and complex course.  I am very proud of that run.  I gave her space, let her make decisions, trusted her and took the time to celebrate each live tube.  Isabella in turn checked a few areas when asked, tunneled on her own, partied at each live tube with me and told me it was time to go.  Her final response to each tube was very light.  On a particularly challenging high hide in a narrow area, she lightly bit the straw.  Got it!  On an easier lower hide on the perimeter, she did a wee pounce.  Got it!  And when she said it was time to leave, not because she was clear, but because she needed a break from the people, from the searching, from the pressure, I said, “Yes ma’am!”  We were not clear and I knew that.  We ran outside and had a party chasing down treats and engaged in a silly game of play.  It was a good run.  A very good run.

What just happened here?  What were we partying for?  We didn’t qualify!  No, we didn’t.  But for about two minutes we were a great team and instead of pushing Isabella beyond her limits for the sake for a piece of satin ribbon and a new fancy title, we called it a day.  She trusts me to understand she needs relief from the pressure of competing.  This has been a slow road rebuilding this trust and partnership.  I am grateful for the opportunity.

The afternoon before, I had taken Issie into the ring for a little practice and play.  She leapt on tubes, dug, bit, kicked and scratched.  She was eager to play the game and her final response was a giant neon sign clearly and unequivocally pointing at the live tube.  There was no one in the building.  No judge or stop watch.  Just me, a terrier and a few cookies.  When I stepped into the competition ring last night, I had no expectation of seeing this level of final response during competition.  There would be spectators, three other people in the ring, a nervous handler, a challenging course…  For Isabella, this is a far cry from a quiet ring and having a party with Mom.  All these things in the past became associated with frustration, lack of trust, poor teamwork, pressure, stress and as much as it pains me my own negative emotional state as we chased down that RATCH.  There was the final response I could hope to see and the one that Isabella was going to offer.  Our goal last night was simple:  We were going to be a team.  We each had a job and we trusted each other to do that job.  We were even going to have some fun.

One of the things I love most about this sport is the teamwork.  Our dogs have the nose.  We do not.  We have to trust them and in turn, they have to trust us to make the call and have the party.  It does sound simple but Barn Hunt is a challenging sport.  That is, after all, why we keep coming back for more.  Let’s discuss the common challenges teams face in the ring.


Difficult Scent Challenges

Although Barn Hunt has a reputation as a prey driven sport, at its core, Barn Hunt is scent work.  Dogs are essentially presented with a three dimensional scent puzzles where they can climb over, under or through odor filled bales littered with litter and lingering odor.  Five common types of scent challenges found in Barn Hunt are:

Converging Odor (intersection of odor from two or more hides)

Close proximity hides (two or more hides generally within 6” to 24”)

Pooling of odor in tunnels, wells, basins

Drifting of odor along bales

Linger or residual odor from prior hides

Scent challenges are just that, a challenge.  They may either be deliberately set by the judge or unintentionally occur.

Difficult or Challenging Hides

Someone once told me Barn Hunt was such an easy sport.  All the dog has to do is find a rat.  How hard can it be?  Clearly they had never seen some of the incredibly inventive courses judges have designed for us.  The teamwork involved in successfully completing each challenge is, after all, what keeps us coming back for more.  Here are just a few challenges of the actual hide aside from odor:

Distance Challenges:  Tubes hidden on large or deep structures which are not easily accessible to handlers result in a distance challenge where the dog must comfortably work with far less physical direction than a handler may normally present.

Proximity of live tubes to rat wranglers:  Recently I studied the impact of wrangler proximity to live tubes and found that dogs were often polite, worried or fearful of moving toward even wranglers they knew and loved.  The radius around a wrangler could be as small as 12” or in the case of one dog, nearly 6’.  There are a number of contributing factors to this particular challenge.  For safety, most dogs are taught to give wranglers space when a rat is present.  Although the intention is that the dog should ignore a rat wrangler carrying a live tube, dogs are often called out of odor as they begin to source near rat wranglers.  Over time, a new rule of the game is established:  do not approach rats near humans.

To our dogs, and often times to we handlers as well, rat wranglers also behave erratically, including transitioning from statue to cheetah to run across the ring; leaping, jumping or climbing up structures; intense staring; quick darting or hesitant movements to remove tubes, etc.  This unpredictability is a challenging prospect for even the most confident of dogs.  Add to it the fact that the presence of rat wranglers signifies that the beloved live tube will most certainly be taken away, along with any chance of further reward.  My own two-year-old Parson Russell Terrier, EV, refers to rat wranglers at the Joy Stealers.

Perimeter and corner hides:  Most hides in competition are found in or around the primary course structures.  As a results, structures develop an almost magical gravitational pull for both handlers and dogs alike – leaving the vast possibilities of hides along fences and tucked in corners largely unexplored.

High hides:  It is not uncommon to see a change in the final response of high hides, where surface area for dogs to move and complete the behavior are limited.  This surface may also move depending on bale stability even on the most well-constructed course, presenting a physical challenge to the dog.

Similar to scent challenges, the level of difficult may either be deliberately set by the judge or unintentionally occur.

Weather and Air Flow

As in all scent sports, handler awareness of weather conditions and their impact on scent and an individual dog’s ability to work scent is important.  Factors such as extreme temperatures, direction of wind and humidity levels will play an important role in a successful search.  Odor functions differently in warmer or cooler temperatures as well as in wetter or dryer conditions.  Additionally, while some dogs prefer hot to cold, other dogs prefer cold to hot and their performance will be affected by extremes at either end.  Even indoors, opening and closing of exterior doors, sunlight coming through closed windows, heating and air conditioning units, ceiling fan and such play an important part as to how odor moves.  Although not always readily visible, weather and air flow impact a dog’s ability to work scent.

Environmental Factors

Doors opening and closing.  Children or bicyclists ring side.  Birds landing in or around the ring.  Barking.  Silence.  Hot dogs on the grill.  Large crowds.  Shadows.  Dropped crate.  Human laughing.  Human crying.  Excited human.  Angry human.  Disappointed human.  Frustrated human.  These things and many more comprise common environmental factors which may impact a dog’s ability to work confidently and efficiently in the ring.  Any one of these may not be an issue, but two, three or four over the course of the day or weekend result in a type of trigger stacking where even a confident, so called “bomb proof” dog may be unable to work effectively.

The Human Element

Before you power down your computer and never speak to me again (or head for the nearest bottle of whiskey to pre-emptively drown your sorrows), take a breath.  Remember, we are only human.  We are capable of so many great things, but we also make mistakes and we are capable of learning from them. Yes, we are flawed and yes, we owe it to our dogs to be the very best we can be – not one single human is perfect.  Handlers are susceptible to many of the same types of stressors listed above.  We also come with many of our own unique stressors as well.  There are times where our own stress and emotional investment affects our ability to handle confidently, effectively and supportively.  Fortunately for us, our canine teammates are often very forgiving and love us in spite of ourselves.  I am offering this with the frankness and humility of a flawed human who also happens to have worked with hundreds of teams.

Excessive Directed Handling

Directed handling occurs when the handler asks the dog to check a specific location or series of locations on the course.  There is a time and place for the use of directed handling.  Excessive directed handling can and will result in pulling dogs out of odor or worse, directly off a live tube.  At worst, in one run the handler is giving very mixed signals to the dog regarding the task at hand (“Am I finding rats or do I need to pay attention to you?”) and at the very least is likely to result in leaving a live tube on the course or weak final response.  If it happens often enough, it can have very negative long term results both in and out of the barn hunt ring.  Remember, this is a team sport.  Let the dog do his part.

Significant Delay in Praise and Reward

This is a challenging one.  Dogs do need a moment to think and settle on a live tube.  However, waiting to make the call so long that the dog has begun to give up results in a conflicting message to the dog.  What behavior did the handler praise and reward for?  Finding and staying with the rat OR finding the rat and leaving?  Unfortunately, it is often the latter, which leads to a systemic breakdown in the final response behavior.  Remember, dogs are likely to offer behaviors they have been rewarded for.  How long is too long?  This largely depends on the individual dog and if you handle multiple dogs, it is likely to be different for each one.

Lack of Praise and Reward

In the heat of the moment when under a time crunch, whether or real or perceived, the very first human behavior to go is praise and reward.  My philosophy is that it is better to time out working as a team than to miss the opportunity to celebrate a successful find.  Take the moment allowed you and praise your teammate!  Reward every single rat on the course like it is the very last rat your dog will ever meet.

Lack of Support

Typically lack of support occurs when a dog is really working through a difficult challenge.  This is the opposite of excessive directed handling where the handler just watches the dog struggle.  And struggle.  And struggle.  A simple “Nice check!” or direction (see, I am not opposed to direction!) to another portion of the structure or area to aid in solving the puzzle can go a long way.   Be a good teammate to your good teammate.

Travel Stress and Fatigue

New places, late night drives, yet another hotel room or even simply traveling and competing for weeks on end.  It wears on dog and human alike.  Rest.  Relax.  Some dogs do best competing close to home or if traveling, may need an extra day to acclimate prior to competing while other dogs immediately see the straw and are ready to get to work, even after 3 days of continuous driving.  Know your limits.  Know your dog’s limits.  Work with them.


This can be the handler.  This can be the dog.  Attitude is everything.  Bad things happen when one or both members of a team are frustrated.  It is all too easy to fall down a rabbit hole of self-doubt, particularly during difficult periods where qualifying scores seem so few and far between.   Every non-qualifying run is an opportunity for learning.  Making radical, knee jerk reaction changes to handling for a quick fix, however, are not the answer.

One of the most common ways I see frustration emerge in exhibitors is what transpires directly after the conclusion of a difficult run.  The human reaction is to march our dogs off to their crates and immediately verbally and physically expel our frustration by engaging in immediate analyzation and self-loathing with other exhibitors.  This becomes a post run routine, focusing all energy on the negative.  The run isn’t over when a team exits the ring.  Everything that happens on that death march back to camp becomes part of the competition experience for both you and your dog.

Remember, your canine teammate needs your attention and YOU need your attention.    Take a deep breath, go for a walk, decompress and then calmly and objectively watch the video.  For each negative thing you remember, look for at least one positive.  Yes, you called a litter tube but did your dog with tunnel troubles immediately perform the tunnel on cue?  Yes?  Excellent!  What else was good?  Frustration can and will have long lasting effects on both you and your dog.

Be fair to yourself.  Be fair to your dog.  Be KIND to yourself.  Be kind to your dog.

When you stepped into the start box for you first novice run, you may not have been thinking about air flow in the ring and how it may affect your dog’s ability to find the live tube, proximity of rat wranglers near tubes and their impact on your dog’s comfort level and how important that time in the blind was.  In fact, you are probably thinking right now that there is no way you are ever going to be able to remember all of this and that suddenly this sports sounds terribly over complicated.  No, you won’t remember all of this in the heat of the moment, but over time with practice, persistence and teamwork much of this will become second nature.  It will become part of the flow of your teamwork.  Yes, you will suddenly find yourself saying, “Wow!  That was a great converging odor puzzle!” or “The wind is really blowing to the east today, I need to remember that.”  More often than not, you will find yourself enjoying your dog’s work and enjoying being their partner.


But how does that all come together?  Next time in part three, my dears.  Next time.

Written by Liz Carter

Copyright 2016.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may be shared in its entirety with credit given to the author and Northern Nevada Canine

The Monday After

This cell phone snapshot...

Hey, buddy!  I miss you every day, but I am so grateful for the time we had together.

It is true that a picture speaks a thousand words. A single image can bring back a beautiful memory of a beloved companion but with that memory comes a price: the pain of a loss so deep and still so fresh no matter how many years have passed. It never ceases to startle me, that visceral physical pain of loss. You are gone. You are no longer here to guide me, to love me, to be loved by me. But are they?

Spring is a busy time around here. Training is in full swing and so is the dog sport competition season. This past weekend, we hosted a barn hunt trial and two flyball tournaments. So many wonderful dogs. So many lucky people to share their lives with them. And lucky me for having the best seat to take it all in. This morning, shuffling through results and emails, calendars and student video submissions, I was unexpectedly visited by the memory of one of those truly special dogs in the form of a single photo that popped up in Facebook Memories. My first reaction was to say aloud, “Thanks, Facebook. I needed that,” with a tone that conveyed both pure sarcasm and hatred. And then after many difficult moments of reflections and yes, tears, more genuinely, “Thanks, I needed that.”

For most of us, dog sports have become a way of life. We have our own culture and community. With that comes so many human elements, because we are, after all, human. We invest our heart and soul into each activity we undertake with our beloved companion. And yes, we invest our time and our wallets into equipment, training, veterinary care, training, entry fees, travel and more. Why? For love of the dog. For love of the game.


It is easy, however, to lose our perspective in the next big run or in the heat of the moment. We are human. It can be difficult to separate feelings of self-worth with the fact that these incredible creatures are so willing to do whatever crazy thing we ask of them, simply because they love us. They believe in us. They trust us.

Still, a dropped bar, a missed call, that tenth non-qualifying run despite hours of training and work weigh on us heavily. We have invested so much of ourselves in the sport. In those moments, it is exceedingly difficult to see the good in a run, the partnership between dog and human, the glimmer of brilliance no matter how bright. All too often, handlers give up on the sport. Worse, they give up on their dog and on themselves. But yet, no matter what happened in the ring, each of us will go home with the very best dog in the world.

How others remember Corrigan.

How others remember Corrigan:  Intensely focused and eager to work.

Corrigan was born here on Mother’s Day in 2006 and despite my insistence to the contrary at the time, destined to stay here. He was both silly and serious. He knew me inside and out. He loved me unconditionally and forgave me for being human. When I was down, he brought me joy. When I was very ill, he sought help. He was my shadow, my familiar, my partner in crime. He was THAT dog. He was also a fantastic athlete and a willing teammate. In short, he was everything to me.  He was the best dog in the world.

Near the end of his life, Corrigan had suffered a severe spinal injury. Our bright competition career slowly and painfully came to an end. For so much of our time together, we had been a competitive team. We were a great team. But I learned quickly after his injury that our relationship and our life together was never defined by the qualifying scores, rosettes and titles.

As I reflect on our time together, I remember all those moments of brilliance. I also remember specific challenging times as a team. What I remember most, however, is that he loved to have his nails painted. At the smell of nail polish for my own toes, with a silly smile on his face he would put his paw on my foot repeatedly until his were done too.  It’s a silly memory, but the one I cherish most because it was just so Corrigan.

How I remember Corrigan.

How I remember Corrigan:  “Catch me lady or I bite your thigh!”  

It’s a Monday morning after a long dog sport weekend. Everyone is exhausted, physically and emotionally. There will be celebrations and complaints, great joy and sadly, moments of despair. This is the dog sport lifestyle.  Monday’s are the day we over analyze.  There will be moments where we focus on what we should have done or how we could have handled something better.  We will focus in on a training plan.  We will commiserate and celebrate with other humans and with our dogs too.  We will feel confident or we will struggle.  It’s a Monday after a long dog sport weekend.

But in a week, a month, a year, a decade how will you remember this time?  

Our dogs never truly leave us.  These memories are painful because of loss but also filled with so much love, joy and humor.  How I will I remember this time?  I will be honest.  It won’t be the titles we earned.  For me, it will be the simple joy of a dorky terrier smile with neon green toe nails who woke up every morning and said, “What are we doing today, lady?  Let’s go have some fun.”

Such a dork, but MY dork.

Such a dork, but MY dork.

Thanks for the reminder this Monday after, Corrigan.  And thank you to all the incredible dogs I have loved and lost.  I learned so much from each of you and am so incredibly fortunate to have had the opportunity to share the adventure with you.  

Written by Liz Carter

Copyright 2016.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may be shared in its entirety with credit given to the author and Northern Nevada Canine

It’s a Blind, Not a Cocktail Party


Ah, the Barn Hunt blind. One hundred square feet of restless nerves and unbridled tension. Five chairs filled with aspirations of glory and humble hope for just one Q this time. For many it is a tea party, rave and/or book club and for many, it is a small box of hell in which one waits with their beloved companion surrounded by loud conversation, barking jostling dogs and the threat of man eating pterodactyls before heading out into a straw jungle in search of magical yet elusive tubes filled with hope and dreams and hardworking rats.

Is your dog reactive? Sensitive? Exuberant? Reserved? Shy? Loud? Quiet? Nervous? Excited? Toy or food obsessed? Is your dog a DOG? Are you a human? Are you an introvert? Extrovert? Do you like gory stories of non-qualifying runs, sports injuries and that one time Thelma backed into Josephine in the parking lot at that trial in Timbuctoo? Do you prefer to meditate, silent reflection and peaceful moments of prayer to the dog sport gods? Then this, fellow ratter, is for you.

When presenting handling seminars, the first question I like to ask is, “When does your run start?” Most folks will chime in with “When they call our name to go to the ring!”, “When we enter the ring!”, “When the judge says we can go!”, “When the leash comes off!” All very good answers. Really, your run starts as soon as you decided to enter that trial and arguably even before that. But for the sake of brevity and refraining from long philosophical musings on training and teamwork, a single competition run actually starts in the blind.

It's a chair.

It’s just a chair.  In a small space.  With five people.  And five dogs.

What transpires during a team’s time in the blind almost certainly has a profound effect on competition performance. A sound sensitive dog may be stressed by an excited dog barking infrequently. An excited dog may become over aroused by a short game of tug for another team where tugging is part of their focus routine. A handler maybe unsettled after twenty minutes of maneuvering their reactive dog around the blind to avoid a potential incident with unrestrained dogs who “just want to say hello.” And let’s not forget that one piece of gossip or silly story from some trial months ago that one forgets is really about that fellow sitting in the corner.

These are just a few examples. There are many, many more. In fact, as a trainer, judge, trial secretary and exhibitor I am often regaled with blind horror stories. Here are a few of my favorites:



What Joe thinks Fred sounds like.

How Joe thinks his beloved Fluffy behaves in the blind.

What a

How Mindy thinks Fluffy behaves in the blind.

“Fred really likes fish so of course we were stuck in the blind with Frida and Merle. Frida feeds Merle seared ahi tuna THE ENTIRE TIME! We couldn’t focus on our pre-run ritual at all!”

“Gonzo needs a lot of space. I mean A LOT of space. He is 200 lbs and doesn’t like other dogs. We’ve trained and worked really hard to maintain calm. I sit in the corner with my back to everyone but Tootie lets her cocker spaniel Blaire stand at the end of her leash and stare at him while she talks to Judy and Claire EVERY TIME. Gonzo explodes out of the blind and runs around a maniac in the ring after. I know he is stressed and that makes me so upset!”

“Fuzzy is such a good boy, but he gets so excited to play he won’t stop barking. I hate being in the blind with Fuzzy. I can’t think and my dog gets agitated by it. She wants to bark too and I have to constantly tell her to be quiet.”

“Bertha always has Tiger doing tricks. I understand she is trying to keep Tiger from eating me because he doesn’t like women in glasses and hats, but Papi, my Chihuahua, gets over stimulated by all the activity. He was barking and spinning the entire way to the ring and then hits on bedding!”

“Why does Frank have to tell such horrible stories about all his failures in senior? I try and try and try to focus on positive things but when I leave the blind, all I can think about is that one time a pterodactyl flew into the ring and stole rat 4!”

And then...

“And then a pterodactyl flew in and POOF, Rat 4 was gone!”

Alright. I may have exaggerated for dramatic effect, but only a little. There is only one conclusion here:

The behavior and actions of others directly affect us.
And equally important, our behavior and actions directly affect others.

Here are a few tips for a better blind experience:

  1. Treat others as you would like you and your dog to be treated.

Yes, it is that simple. But allow me to elaborate:

We are all special. We all have needs. I know you and Fred are an incredible team. You’ve worked through many challenges. You both have needs and those needs are important. I love you both, respect you both and value you both. Please take a moment to consider that other teams are equally incredible. They have also worked through many challenges. They also have needs and they are equally important. Love them, respect them, value them.

Words have power. Use them wisely. Save the pterodactyl stories for post-trial margaritas. Gossip, complaints, bitter regrets and horror stories have no place in the blind. The blind shouldn’t be a cocktail party or a scene out of “Mean Girls.” Build each other up and remember that famous quote from “Bambi”: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Have a plan. What will your blind behavior be? This should be a routine that helps you and your dog get into the right mind set for a spectacular run. This should be something that works best for you and your dog. When developing that behavior, consider how that behavior may potentially affect others. For an excited, enthusiastic, stressed or sensitive dog, consider training a relaxation protocol or mat training. I highly recommend Fired Up, Frantic, and Freaked Out by Laura VanArendong Baugh as an excellent place to start.

Be respectful of space. One hundred square feet isn’t a lot of room. When practicing that routine, make sure you and your dog can comfortably and unobtrusively conduct your routine in about 16 square feet or less without disrupting others.

And finally, if you have an issue in the blind please communicate your concerns clearly, calmly and respectfully with the specific person you have issues with. If that fails, please immediately see a member of the trial committee or judge for assistance. Lack of communication or choosing to communicate with individuals not directly involved are the most common reasons of interpersonal conflicts, escalating tension at trials or in the blind, misunderstandings, anger, frustration and fear. This affects your run more than pterodactyls and seared ahi tuna.


The blind need not be a place of stress and turmoil. It can be a place for happy socializing with other humans, relaxation or relationship building with your amazing canine teammate prior to your run. Be kind to each other. Be kind to your dog. Be kind to yourself. Your dog isn’t a machine and neither are you. Are you going to end world hunger with a qualifying score and a slip of satin ribbon? Are you and your doing to become millionaires with that very next Q? Remember, if you and your dog are not having fun, it’s time to re-evaluate the game plan. At the end of the day, you will go home with your best friend. We don’t get nearly enough time with them. Enjoy every minute of it. And I swear, Rat 4 has NEVER been stolen by a pterodactyl.

Written by Liz Carter

Copyright 2016.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may be shared in its entirety with credit given to the author and Northern Nevada Canine

A Tale of Two Indications, Part 1


Although there are many intricacies and challenges in the sport, handler focus in Barn Hunt is largely on the dog’s final response to a live tube. After all, the goal is to find all live tubes hidden in the course. And since the handler must signal to the judge when and where a hide has been found, they are dependent on the canine half of the team to clearly communicate the location of said hide to them. How does the dog communicate? Through the final response.

The challenge for many handlers it that a dog typically has two final responses:

1. The final response the handler expects to see.
2. The second is the final response the dog actually offers.

Oh look! It's a neon sign!

Oh look! It’s a neon sign!  

The first is typically very easy to read, a neon sign of sorts that pops up flashing with arrows over the dog that say, “It’s here!” Exactly what the final response is depends largely on the team. It may be digging, barking, freezing, looking back at the handler, laying down, sitting, etc. These behaviors are naturally offered or specifically taught during training. They are heavily rewarded and very much praised. They are, in fact, exactly what the handler expects to see each time they walk into the barn hunt ring.

Bedding or rat? Isn't she supposed to dig or bite it?

Me:  “Is she checking out litter or a rat? Isn’t she supposed to dig?  I’ll just wait until she does something bigger to show me.  Show me!  Show me!” (Photo courtesy of Terri Hymer)

The second response ranges from a more subdued version of the first to seemingly non-existent to the handler. It may be a brief glance, a head snap and light sniffing or it could even be standing 10’ away staring in a specific direction. It may change from hide to hide or continue to decrease over the course of a trial weekend. This type of final response can be confusing or frustrating to the handler, which in turn becomes confusing, stressful or frustrating to the dog. Although this weaker final response may occur rarely, for many teams it increases in frequency, eventually becoming the “new normal.” The cycle then begins again, progressively moving to progressively less reliable alerts.

This presents a very real and very difficult challenge for teams.

It is also the most common reason I see teams leave the sport.

What causes the alert to change?
How can we recover from it?
How can we prevent it?

I hope to answer each of these questions in this series, but first, a story.


Comet finishing his Master title in Tennessee, May 2014

In May of 2014, I traveled 2,500 miles with my buddy Comet in pursuit of a second judge and a fifth leg to finish our Master Barn Hunt title. At the age of ten years old, Comet because the first Parson Russell Terrier and only the twenty fourth dog in the country to earn the title. Comet was a very easy dog to handle. He loved the game, had no fear and never thought twice. He was a rat seeking machine. We had our ups and downs, but usually ups. Lots and lots of ups. And a lot of very loud cross communication. Handling him through his RATCHX was an incredible experience. There was honestly very little training involved with Comet. We worked out some kinks here and there, but he was in the driver’s seat and I was just there to make the calls.

It is Comet’s much younger sister Isabella, however, who made me a better trainer, better handler and better teammate. I couldn’t break Comet through poor handling. I did break Isabella. She wasn’t a fragile dog. She has the heart of a lion, resilient and always up for any adventure. It didn’t happen in one run or even two or three. It took a long time and many, many runs – some qualifying, some not. It wasn’t overt or even obvious until the moment it happened. Less than six months after the exhilaration of earning that first Master title and several shortly thereafter, I knew I had failed Isabella.


Isabella earning her Master title in Tennessee the week after Comet, May 2014

I still remember that exact moment. It was after 10:00 PM, in covered outdoor livestock pavilion under yellow fluorescent lights. I hate yellow. It was cold. I was hungry. It was that last leg needed for her RATCH. She had waited all day to finally play. She enjoyed cheese in the blind, but when we crossed the threshold in the ring, she tensed up, looked away and my last thought as I let her go was, “For the love of dog, please just let this be it.” She vaulted to the top of the tunnel and we spent 4 minutes and 30 seconds staring at each other, Issie on top of the tunnel, ears back, tail slowly wagging, a pile of straw behind her. Me, hands on my hips somewhere between begging and demanding. I finally called “Rat!” right before time. She had been right. She had spent 4:30 waiting for me to call it and reward her. I had spent 4:30 wait for her to show me what I wanted to see.  I had failed her.  We were broken.


It is never easy to accept we have failed our dogs.  Here, I had and I realized it the moment we left the ring.  (Photo courtesy of Terri Hymer)

Why am I sharing this? To prove that we are human. We all make mistakes but we are capable of learning from them. Most importantly, I shared this because there is hope. Isabella and I did finish that RATCH. And now, we are pursuing on our RATCHX…as a team.


A much happier Isabella.  “This is a game we play to have fun with our dogs.  We are not going to end world hunger by whether or not we Q.  We each will go home with the best dog in the world.  They are our companions, our friends.  We don’t get nearly enough time with them.  Enjoy every minute of it.”  If you wonder why I say this at every single handler’s meeting, it is because of Isabella.  (Photo courtesy of Terri Hymer)

Written by Liz CarterCopyright 2016.  All Rights Reserved.  This article may be shared in its entirety with credit given to the author and Northern Nevada Canine