I may have found something that Tripp enjoys as much as agility. Of course, at first he thought it WAS agility... LOL
Over the weekend we attended an Intro to Barn Hunt workshop at Fit-N-Trim Dog Training, just over the MA border. Barn Hunt is a fun, new, fast growing sport in which dogs climb and tunnel through a hay bale maze to search for a live rat hidden in a safe, aerated tube. Empty or litter filled tubes are present as well, to test the dog's ability to sniff out the correct one. Training for the sport is relatively easy, and most dogs love the chance to use their natural hunting instincts. Check out the BHA's official site at www.barnhunt.com.
At the seminar, we learned the basic rules of Barn Hunt and how the trials are run, then the dogs got a chance to try out the hay maze. I made the mistake of pointing out to Tripp what was happening, using the word "tunnel" and letting him see a dog go through the bales... of course, he automatically thought it was a unique agility course and started screaming. Ok, back to the crate for you, mister loudmouth! LOL When it was our turn, he was in full on agility mode (dang, it's been 2 years, you'd think he'd forget, but no, that Poodle brain just went nuts - can you say "agility withdrawal"? ;-) After nearly dislocating my arm & tripping me several times we finally made it into the "start box" where Tripp continued his noisemaking. (Seriously, you'd never know this dog had a single obedience title, or training even!) After he eventually shut up for two seconds, I let him go. In Barn Hunt trials, dogs are required to show willingness to go through a hay tunnel as well as put all four feet on a bale. Obviously, no problem for Tripp. He shot through the tunnel and immediately started searching for the next agility obstacle. Soon he spotted the A-Frame against the wall, thankfully well fenced-in, and he ran to that trying to figure out how he was supposed to get on it. LOL I did manage to convince him that jumping on a hay bale would be fun too, so he did that a few times, and offered to repeat the tunnel as well. ;-) Getting Tripp to leave the ring was a little more difficult, but nothing compared to what was to come...
For the next session, dogs were introduced to the rats. The trainers stood behind the ring gating with a securely caged rat, while the handlers brought their dogs up to the other side of the fence to see the rat. Some dogs were unsure, just needing some encouragement, while others were enthusiastic about getting that critter. Can you guess which group Tripp was in? hahaha Yup, he was so enthusiastic that within a few seconds he managed to knock over the fencing into the trainer & rat. (They were fine.) Ok, apparently we have little need for practice in this sport!
After the introductions, an instinct test was set up. In this first level, 3 tubes are placed in a row in plain sight; the dog simply needs to navigate the easy course and indicate which tube contains the rat. The tubes are solid & camouflaged, with only small slits for air, so the rat is not visible to dog or handler, therefore the dog must rely on his nose AND the handler must trust the dog's judgement! Tripp checked them all out, and quickly found the rat. His signal was pretty clear - he stomped the tube. LOL I had to basically drag him out of the ring as he obsessed over the rat tube, which the trainer now held. That will be our biggest hurdle in trials - calling off the hunt.
On the plus side, Tripp was no longer in agility mode - by now he figured out this was a different sport - but just as exciting! :-)
Next they set up a novice course and scattered the tubes in hiding places amidst the hay. This was a very interesting run, as I learned to distinguish between how Tripp indicates a rat vs. a tube with just litter in it (when they aren't right next to each other & easy to compare). First in the course was the empty tube, placed in the same location the rat was last time (to really test the dogs). Tripp checked it out briefly but moved on as I told him to find the rat. By his reaction to the tube, it was pretty obvious that it was empty. After sniffing around for a bit (I think our "find it" games at home have been good priming!) he found another tube wedged between some hay bales. He was very curious about it and soon began pawing at the tube. I wasn't sure if he'd found the rat or not. I don't think he was either. LOL After asking him a few times "did you find the rat?" he moved away, so I figured it must've been the litter tube. Sure enough, after a bit more searching, he found the rat, and starting digging a bit more quickly, plus wagging his tail and generally acting more intense overall. The difference was somewhat subtle, so knowing his "tells" might be a bit tricky when we first start trialing. It definitely demands close attention from the handler.
I think Barn Hunt may be one of those sports that has many unexpected benefits, beyond being a fun new titling venue. Owners may learn more about reading their dog's body language. Dogs may gain confidence by learning to work independently, and navigating the course, which can be scarey for some sensitive dogs. Surely it fosters a stronger bond between dog & handler, as does any activity, but especially ones that requires trust on both ends. And of course it is an outlet for a dog to express natural instincts, which may not be allowed in everyday life (critter chasing, sniffing, digging, etc.). Plus the bonus of nosework sports being surprisingly tiring (despite being low impact, physically) - and a tired dog is a good dog! And a happy dog!
I wished I had brought my camera... Not just to capture Tripp showing yet more versatility (are we really surprised? haha), but if only to get a photo of his smiling face. He was SOOOO HAPPY! Obviously, he adores Barn Hunt, so of course we will be getting into trialing soon. Like I said when we started agility, Tripp is a natural, and loves it so much, how can we NOT? :-)