The Australian Terrier Club of America logo

The Australian Terrier Club of America, Inc.

Dedicated to the Advancement of Quality, Purebred Australian Terriers

AKC Parent Club Member 1977
Founded 1958


Performance Dog of May 2023

Performance interview:  Spotlight on Barn Hunt

Featuring Penny and Virgil 

GCH CH Rybas Precious Penelope, FDC RATCHX4 CZ8P2 CGC TKI

  • Heather Rife (HR) How did you get started in Aussies? Did you have a mentor?

Virgil Silver (VS) Oh my. Our mixed breed dog passed away, and my wife and I decided to get a purebred dog. She wanted a yorkie, so we went to one of the bench shows held in San Francisco. We came across the Ryba bench area and it was love at first sight for me. We began a conversation with Petie and Sue, and we told them when we were ready for another dog we would contact them. They called us first and had a dog that needed a home. The dog’s name was Alligator! She was our first Aussie.  When Alligator (Callie) passed away, Darlene Evans called and asked us to foster a ten-year-old Aussie just for a few weeks, until her forever home was found.  Molly was with us for 5 years. She passed away and Petie sent a picture of a little puppy. My wife said yes, and I said no, but of course we went and visited and came home with Penny.

  • (HR) How did you come to pick this activity for her?

(VS) We were invited to Thanksgiving dinner with Theresa Schreeder and Sue Bachman, and of course we brought Penny. Petie and Sue decided Penny should be shown in conformation. On her first show Penny took Best of Winners! She was well on her way to her championship.  Eventually I learned to handle her and got her Grand Champion title. But we all realized that Penny was really, really bored in the ring.  At one of the shows, they had Barn Hunt close by, so we tried her in that, and her attitude changed from bored to fired up. She had found her calling.

  • (HR) When did you know she was really going to excel in Barn Hunt?

(VS) It was when I found a place to train with her. She took to it immediately. She went from bored to very enthusiastic, and it was just so fun to see her so excited about this activity.  When that happened, I realized Penny and I were going to be doing this for quite some time.

(HR) I tell my dogs, you don’t have to do something specific, but you do have to do something.  And it’s fun to discover what really turns them on.

(VS) Pamela Levy and I have talked a little bit about this. You must learn to listen to your dog.

  • (HR) How do you motivate her? Is she always ready to go?

(VS) Yes, she’s always ready. She pulls me into the ring. Before Barn Hunt, while walking in the park, I noticed she had great interest in squirrels. She had already begun to tell me what she wanted to do.

  • (HR) Have you run into a difficult problem in training? Quite a few people have trouble getting them to go through the tunnel.

(VS) (laughing) Oh yes, the tunnel was our bugaboo. Christine our trainer would have Ben, her son, crawl into the tunnel with a tube. We taught Penny that sometimes there was a rat in the tunnel. It took a few times and she learned that sometimes there’s a rat in the tunnel and sometimes not.

  • (HR) What was one of the funniest things that has happened to you and Penny?

(VS) Oh my goodness…a love affair with an Irish Wolfhound! His head was bigger than Penny. I won’t go into further details.

  • (HR) How are you received by competitors and or judges who’ve not seen an Aussie before?

(VS) Most don’t know what breed she is. They will ask about her breed, and when they see her in action, their jaws drop. She has quite a following now. We have referred a couple of people to the ATCA website to investigate the breed. Barn Hunt competitors love to watch her hunt. Someone will say” Pennys in the ring “and they come running to watch. Sometimes Margy, my wife, must work her way to the front to video us.

  • (HR) Describe the most exciting win for you.

(VS) Oh, double Qs for sure, where she qualifies in trial one and trial two on the same day.  And a good weekend will have 2 double Qs. We call that a double double. To get a Masters title you need 5 Qs. You need 10 more Qs for a Champion title. ChampionX is an additional 10 Qs. Each subsequent level is 10 more Qs.  I enjoy watching Penny hunt so much that sometimes I forget to pay attention. I need to know how many rats she’s found, what paths she’s taken and where I might need to direct her to cover the entire area.  I really enjoy the challenge of Masters.

(HR) So you’re not just in the ring walking around with her. I know there is a time limit in the ring, I believe it is 4 minutes. How does she indicate she has found all the rats?

(VS) We have 4 ½ minutes to hunt and you cannot time yourself, you need to have an internal clock. That makes it difficult for a lot of competitors. When Penny is done, her behavior usually changes. We call it “going flat”, which means her body posture relaxes, and her level of excitement goes down. Fortunately for me, Penny also comes down and barks(talks) at me to let me know she’s done.

(HR) Any words of wisdom for someone just starting out in Barn Hunt?

(VS) Just walk them in the park and watch to see if they are prey driven. Find an experienced instructor to help you. Get them interested in the rats first and the tunnel will follow.

(HR) What other activities are you doing with Penny?

(VS) We’ve tried Nose work, but Penny seemed to be bored, so we’ve moved onto Tricks, which she loves. We also have done Urban Locating and Trailing Locating, where the caged rat(s) are hidden in a building or a field. NASDA ( )  is the organization for Urban Locating, Trailing Locating, and other activities.

(HR) Are you willing to mentor others interested in Barn Hunt?

(VS) Absolutely. There are people interested in the UK (barn hunt clubs) are forming) and South Africa, as well as here in the US and Canada. For more information check with the Barn Hunt website at, or send me an email at  

(HR) Is there anything else we haven’t covered?

(VS) Yes! There is a recent study investigating risk factors for cranial cruciate ligament ruptures in dogs participating in canine agility

“Activities associated with decreased odds ratio included involvement in dock diving, Barn Hunt, Nose work or lure coursing/racing activities and participation in core balance and strength exercises at least weekly”.

So, Barn Hunt is not only fun but keeps your dog in good shape, as well.

Barn Hunt has over 60,000 dogs registered and only 158 Australian Terriers, putting us in 80 th place for all dog breeds registered with Barn Hunt. We need more Aussies doing Barn Hunt. There are quite a few clubs and trainers throughout the country, so I would urge others to at least try it. Go to for more information and to register your dog.

(HR) Our 2024 national specialty is being held in Perry Georgia. In addition to conformation, they will offer barn hunt, as well as dock diving, agility, obedience, and rally. Plenty of time to start your Aussies now!

Verified by MonsterInsights