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The new dog sport of Barn Hunt is spreading across the country like wildfire, and the dogs are burning with excitement about another way “to get the rats!” While this sport is for all dogs, the go-to-ground terriers (like the Aussie) are naturals.

Barn Hunt Association founder Robin Nuttall has taken it to a whole new level by developing rules, a sanctioning organization, and a title structure. Barn Hunt Association LLC,, is an independent organization, whose titles are recognized by the AKC.

Despite its name, Barn Hunt is not necessarily held in a barn. It can be inside or outside. The course is constructed of hay/straw bales with the rat (or multiple rats in the advanced levels) hidden in PVC tubes. To add challenge, other tubes are hidden on the course – these are empty or contain soiled bedding but no rat.

There are 5 levels – Instinct, Novice, Open, Senior and Master. Dogs are divided into three height groups: small for 13 inches and under, medium for over 13 to18 inches, and large for over 18 inches. Placements (1st through 4th) are awarded in each size based on time to course completion.

Unlike Earthdog where the outcome is based mostly on the dog’s performance, Barn Hunt also tests the ability of the handler to ‘read’ the dog when they have found the rat tube.  This ranges from the seemingly very ‘obvious’ action of vigorous digging and scratching to more subtle indications of a slight wag of a tail or the perk of ears or prolonged sniff and look.

In the Rat Instinct class (RATI), the course is constructed to encourage the dog to go through the tunnel and climb a bale, though these actions aren’t required to pass Instinct. Three tubes are openly displayed – one empty, one with soiled bedding, and one with a rat.  The handler has 1 minute to correctly identify the live rat tube based on the dog’s actions. If successful, one pass results in the RATI title.

The Novice, Open, Senior and Master classes require the dog to go through the designated tunnel(s), climb atop a bale and indicate the rat(s). These required elements can be performed in any order but must be completed within the course time.

The Novice Barn Hunt class requires 3 passes to earn the RATN title. This course has 3 hidden tubes – one empty, one with soiled bedding, and one with a rat. These are tucked into the nooks and crannies between or on top of the bales and covered so they are not apparent to the handler. Completions of all elements – tunnel, climb, find the rat – within 2 minutes – is required to pass this course.

The Open Barn Hunt class requires 3 passes to earn the RATO title. This course layout is more complex and has 5 tubes – one empty, two with soiled bedding, two with rats. ‘Climb’ and ‘tunnel’ are also required as well as finding the 2 ‘live’ rat tubes. Course time: Two minutes, 30 seconds.

Senior Barn Hunt class requires 3 passes to earn the RATS title. The course contains 8 tubes – four with rats, three with soiled litter, one empty. Course time: Three minutes 30 seconds.

Master Barn Hunt class requires 5 passes under at least 2 judges to earn the RATM title. There are 10 tubes – all contain soiled litter. One to five tubes will have rats. The handler declares to the judge when the dog has completed the search and indicated all rats on the course. Couse time: 4 minutes, 30 seconds.

This is a sport for all breeds.  For information on rules, registration and scheduled events, go to


Excellent Barn Hunt article in the 2021 Issue 2 Talkabout pages 38-40


See more Barn Hunt videos on the ATCA YouTube Channel:




Aussies were bred as a type of hunting dog, in which they would pursue the prey into ground, locate the prey in its natural den and bark underground to let the handler know where the prey is located. The handler then would dig down to capture the prey.

If you have an Aussie who likes to bark at critters that invade your backyard and possibly even chase those critters, chances are your Aussie may have some natural instinct that needs to be developed. If your Aussie is given a chance to bark and chase those critters, a natural hunter may emerge. 

When to Start Training? 

Some Aussie breeders will start a form of underground or tunnel work when their pups are starting to become active and playful. Aussie pups love to play games like running and chasing and even hide and seek. A large cardboard shoe box with a hole cut out on either side will allow the pups to start to get familiar with being in semi-dark enclosed areas as well as allow them to crawl through the box or even hide inside. A piece of PVC pipe that is 6 inches in diameter by about 12 or 15 inches in length will allow the pups to learn to run through. Make sure the PVC pipe is securely fastened to the side of the pen so that it does not roll around. When the Aussie pups start to grow, a piece of 6 to 8 inch diameter by 3 to 10 feet in length plastic corrugated drain pipe (found at most plumbing supply stores) can be used as an above ground back yard tunnel. Aussies love to play chase and run through the tunnel.

AKC Earthdog Tests

If your Aussie has exhibited any natural hunting instinct, you can enter an AKC Earthdog Test. The purpose for these tests is to offer breeders and owners of small Terriers and Dachshunds a gauge to measure their dog’s natural and trained hunting abilities when exposed to a simulated hunting situation. Earthdog Tests are not only fun for dogs, but you will have an opportunity to observe an exciting dog performance event and if you give your Aussie a chance to “get down dirty”, and you might be surprised.

Earthdog tests (the term terrier comes from the Latin word terra, meaning earth) are one of the most relaxed and enjoyable activities you can do with your Aussie. The tests are meant to test the dog’s ability to hunt. Aussies were originally bred to help farmers and miners in the Australian outback hunt and kill rodents and other vermin such as snakes and lizards that were a threat to their humans. The success of Aussies at earthdog tests demonstrates that this ability is still natural for them.

The AKC states in its regulations that “The purpose of non-competitive earthdog tests is to offer breeders and owners of small Terriers and Dachshunds a standardized gauge to measure their dogs natural abilities when exposed to a hunting situation. The non-competitive program begins with a basic introduction to den work and quarry and progresses through gradual steps to require the dog to demonstrate that it is capable of being trained to follow game to ground and work its quarry.”

“Going to ground” at an earthdog test means that a dog enters and navigates the “artificial earth” – a man-made tunnel meant to simulate an animal’s den. The tunnels are made from three 9″ wide boards fastened together to create a top and two sides, which is then buried in sections to create the various configurations of tunnels needed for the tests. At the end of the tunnel there is a cage with rats in it, which the dogs can see but not reach. The tunnel and the entrance to it are scented as an animal’s natural lair would be. The dog is released near the entrance to the tunnel, and must enter the tunnel, follow it to the end, and then “work” the quarry (scratch, bark or dig at the cage).

There are three levels of titles you can pursue at AKC tests: Junior Earthdog (JE), Senior Earthdog (SE), and Master Earthdog (ME). There is also an Introduction to Quarry class at tests, which is meant to introduce the dog and handler to going to ground. In this class, you do not compete for a title; instead, handlers and judges assist young or inexperienced dogs to enter the tunnel, follow it to the end, and begin to work the quarry.

Sources of Information

The best way to understand the tests is to go and observe one. Locations and dates for AKC earthdog tests are listed in the back of the Events section of the AKC Gazette, or on the AKC web page.  Also see AKC rules and regulations for additional information on earthdog tests.

Article on Earthdog or “Natural Hunting” in the Talkabout, Issue 2 2021 pages 18-19

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