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  • Writer's pictureKathy Rumsey

I smell a rat.

Updated: Oct 10, 2018

My two cavaliers, I discovered a couple of years ago, are natural-born killers. Well, maybe not killers but definitely hunters. It started one spring day when my husband was doing a cleanup outside the house and picked up a hose reel that had been outside all winter. The cavs were right at his side (as they always are) when he picked up the hose and the mice who had made their home under it scattered. Apparently the dogs picked up their scent and chased after them. They didn’t catch the mice, but they caught the bug. The bug for hunting mice, and the doggy adrenaline kick that goes along with it. 

Since that day, these two have alerted us to countless mice nests around our house (thankfully, all have been outside the house). Once they get on the scent, both dig relentlessly until we call them off. Honestly, it gets to be a bit of a nuisance because they don’t want to come inside or do anything really, except let us know they found some critters that need to be taken care of.

I’ve told a couple of friends about their scenting ability, and one of them mentioned to me that I should get them involved in Barnhunt. I wasn’t familiar with this particular dog sport, but looked into it and was intrigued. Basically, Barnhunt is a sport for dogs where they sniff out rats that are kept in protective tubes that are hidden among bales of hay.

Yeah, I know. It seems inhumane. I resisted even looking into it because I was thinking “the poor rats”. But then I spoke with some people familiar with the sport, and learned that the rats are very well cared for and are never in danger of being harmed. At first, I thought, well yes of course that would be given that we shouldn’t have a sport where it would even be considered that the rats could potentially be harmed, but what do the rats think? Have they consented to being used as bait for dogs? While I’m not sure I can guarantee that they have consented, it does appear that the rats are not averse to being used in the sport, and it seems, some really enjoy it. Because they know they can’t get hurt, they seem to enjoy being part of the game (I’ve heard of some rats who enjoy taunting the dogs), and they enjoy the human interaction they get before and after as well.

So it’s a win-win? I’m not 100% on it yet, but today I took the first step as my cavaliers and I attended our first Barnhunt class. We showed up to class, and the woman who was teaching it brought her two pet rats with us out to the field. We started off having the dogs (one at a time) sniff at the rats in a see-through plastic container. Fenway immediately alerted by digging at the container and bark/whining. He got it. Phoebe, not so much. She saw them, and sniffed, but didn’t seem to care much. 

And that’s pretty much how the rest of the hour went. Fenway moved into the course area, and found the rat when it was in it’s normal plastic tube which is not see-through, and basically you can’t see any of the rat, he had to have found it by smelling it. Then we stepped it up and put in decoy tubes (one empty and one with just litter in it) along with the tube that contained the rat. He was able to alert to the one that had the actual rat in it on the first try.

And he was out of his mind happy. Happier, I think, than I’ve ever seen him. Phoebe never made it past the “hey, there’s a rat in here, do you want to smell it” phase. I haven’t talked with her about it yet, but I’m thinking that perhaps she saw his beady little rat eyes, and had a change of heart. She seemed happy to just be sitting next to the rats, not hunting them down. I can’t say it really bothers me.

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