Everyone with a pup at home can confirm that they have the best noses around. Whether you have a Labrador, Chihuahua, or terrier, you’ve probably noticed that they are always sniffing at something.

But while pups do love sniffing, gone are the days when they used to spend more time outdoors, where there are so many new smells to explore. For people with dogs living in urban areas, there’s a new sport called ‘Barn Hunt’ that’s bound to make our lives even more interesting.

Learn what the barn hunt is all about, including why it might be the best activity you can enjoy with your favorite pup.

What is Barn Hunt or Barn Hunting?

The Barn Hunt is a sport that aims to test and improve a dog’s ability to smell in a safe barn-like setting. In a barn hunt, a dog goes through various challenges where it’s expected to ‘sniff out’ the presence of rats. But wait, the rat’s safety is ensured throughout the entire process as they are enclosed in an aerated container.

In the barn hunt, the rats are placed inside tubes to protect them from dogs. Every time a dog finds the canister with a rat, and alerts their handler, they yell out 'Rat!' and get the point scored. So, no rats are harmed in dog sport, making it an appropriate activity for active dogs.

According to the Barn Hunt Association, the sport draws its inspiration from the long traditions of breeding dogs for controlling destructive vermin in farms and crop storage areas. While the Barn Hunt is not as common around the world, it’s slowly catching on as an independent sport that’s recognized by various kennel clubs in North America.

A Little More About Barn Hunting

For pet owners, the Barn Hunt is a new addition to the range of amazing activities that various breeds can enjoy for fun outings. As a sport, it’s open to any dog breed or mix who wishes to play and, through its various levels of difficulty, challenges them to become better.

The logic behind the barn hunt is that with dogs as home and farm pets, they can help their owners get rid of pet infestations by sniffing out their locations. Specifically, the barn hunt tests the talents and skills of dogs as rat catchers, taking them through various levels.

In a typical barn hunt, the dog’s speed and accuracy in identifying the canisters containing a live rat determine their progression up the levels. To make things interesting, barn hunt organizers place various decoy canisters that increase the odds of failure for less experienced dogs. When the dogs get their selections right, their skills are confirmed, and when they fail, they have a reason to try again next time.

In North America, titles won in Bun Hunt championships are recognized by the American Kennel Club (AKC), the Canadian Kennel Club (CKC), and the United Kennel Club (UCK). These associations recognize the game’s potential to test valuable traits in dogs and provide an opportunity for pets and their owners to try something new.

How do you prepare for a Barn Hunt with your dog?

Participating in sports is every pup’s dream outdoor event, and if you’re like us, you know that most dogs just love going outside for walks or long drives. Equally, preparation for a barn hunt requires both you and your dog to be ready and willing to try something new.

My dog.

Some major steps to follow when preparing for a barn hunt with your dog include:

Be Fit

As with all sports and social events, preparation for a barn hunt starts with ensuring that your dog is mentally and physically fit. The Barn Hunt requires your dog to be excited and calm because they’ll be required to listen to instructions, locate rat canisters, and identify them to proceed across the levels. So, when planning to go on a barn hunt, it’s important to confirm that your dog is not injured or undergoing treatment that affects its mood.

On physical fitness, the barn hunt is open to all dogs and pet owners, both old and young. The Barn Hunt Association confirms that tripod dogs, wheeled dogs, and blind dogs can compete. To learn more about the exceptions and regulations of the game, read the barn hunt rulebook, which can be downloaded on any device.

Familiarize yourself with equipment and terrain

Another vital element of your preparation for the barn hunt is getting familiar with the hunt’s equipment and terrain. In the competition, both you and your dog might be seeing the competition route and gear for the first time. To avoid frustration, you can learn more about them before D-day.

For starters, it’s important to know that the barn hunt can be organized indoors or outdoors, in a securely fenced area. The setting makes it possible for all dogs, regardless of breed and size, to participate. The only major exception is that the dog should fit through an 18-inch-wide tunnel made with straw bale.

To prepare your pup, you can build a similar setting on your farm to make the terrain familiar during the competition. Still, even without prior exposure, an excited pup can learn on the fly and impress everyone watching.

Sniff and point

Finally, the main goal of the barn hunt is to challenge the dog in sniffing out and spotting the presence of a rat. You can prepare your pup by showing them how to sniff out rats and showing them where they are placed. Remember that when doing this on your own, conduct your training safely and humanely.

A Weimaraner pointing at prey

How to Train Your Dog for Scent Work?

Different dog breeds have different abilities to identify and follow a scent. Even when your pup is not a natural at catching scents, you can take comfort in the fact that a dog’s sense of smell is estimated to be between 10,000 and 100,000 times more accurate than ours. The reason why they can do this is that they have a wide range of scent receptors, which makes them natural at scent work.

To train your dog at home, start by introducing them to a range of scents. You can do this by creating or replicating natural and safe inorganic chemicals and encouraging them to find and indicate the sources of scent. Remember to reward your pup every time they identify a scent to enforce the habit of doing scent work.

You’ll be surprised by how well your dog can do the activity and as your dog becomes better, increase the task difficulty. With time, most dogs can excel at identifying scents, and when they enter the barn hunt competition, they can emerge as champions.

Best Breeds for Scent Work and Barn Hunt?

All dogs are natural at scent work, but it’s also true that some breeds can be better at it than others. While the barn hunt is open for all breeds and mixes to participate, the following breeds are bound to emerge as easy favorites.


These mild-mannered and gentle pups are best known as scent hounds, usually used by hunters. In the Middle Ages, they were used to track deer, wild boar, and even tracking lost persons.

Basset hound

These short-statured pups might look like pint-sized bloodhounds, but when they catch scents, they’ll do anything to track and find.


The petite pups are incredible at sniffing scents and have been used to track explosives and other substances. In a study by LECOM and BioScentDX, beagles were able to identify cancer samples with a 97% accuracy, credit to their natural olfactory abilities.

German Shepherds

These dogs require no introduction and, among many talents, are perfect for scent work. The German shepherd is a great military and herding dog where they are used to point out substances hidden in creative places.

Labrador Retriever

Labs are great family dogs and, as one of the most popular breeds in the US, can perform many service activities. They are natural at sniffing and have been used to locate survivors in collapsed structures and disaster areas.

Other breeds that can be perfect for barn hunting include the Jack Russell Terrier, Bluetick Coonhound, Golden Retriever, Dachshund, German Shorthaired Pointer, English Foxhound, Redbone Coonhound, and Scottish Terriers.

If you haven't seen your dog on the list, this doesn’t mean they can’t excel in barn hunts and scent competitions. With enough preparation, encouragement, and training, most dogs can get ready and perform greatly at scent competitions.


After learning more about the barn hunt, I’m sure you’re wondering where you need to start. There are many associations organizing barn hunts in North America, and the best place to start is with your search for local canine associations. You can also try searching online to discover the nearest organizers and get started.

Barn hunts are a great idea for an extracurricular activity for both you and your pup. Remember that you don’t need to fear whether any pets or rats will be hurt in the activity because everything is up to standard. Preparing yourself and your pup for the sport can be an incredible experience that can help you discover a new hobby. Of course, always know that every pup is special, and with enough encouragement and training, all dogs can be stars.

Get more expert advice on pet-parenting by visiting the Off Leash blog at TryFi.com.

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