A number of dog breeds were originally created specifically to be vermin hunters. Of those, there was a subset of dogs who were bred to go to ground (go underground) and eliminate or pull prey from their dens. These traditional go-to-ground earthdog breeds included Jack and Parson Russell Terriers, Cairn Terriers, Border Terriers, Dachshunds, and many others. Because they had to go down underground in animal burrows, those dogs were necessarily small.
At the same time, other breeds and mixes of dogs were being used extensively above ground to eradicate vermin. Wild rats did, and do, spread disease (including plague and leptospirosis) and cause damage to homes, farm buildings grain and crops. Above ground ratting dogs could be almost any size but most were medium to small and very quick. Itenerant rat catchers would go from town to town (and farm to farm) with packs of dogs and sell their skills in ridding the area of rats. Dogs also were used in the trenches in WWI to help control trench rats who were a real danger to troops. Today, dogs still help farmers rid their crop stores and barns of rats. There's even a group of dedicated volunteers who patrol the alleys of New York City. Using dogs to deal with rat infestations is quick, humane, and avoids putting toxins and poisons into the environment.
Purebred breeds created specifically for above ground vermin eradication include (among many others) Rat Terriers, Miniature Pinschers, German Pinschers, Standard Schnauzers, and Manchester Terriers. Other breeds such as Australian Shepherds, Border Collies, etc. were expected to handle vermin eradication as part of their all-around-farm-dog tasks.
Responsible breeders always want to make sure any dogs they plan to breed have the correct working temperament for that breed. Until Barn Hunt, there was no easy way for breeders to test the working instinct of their dogs. Now they can use Barn Hunt to gain valuable information about their dogs' working drives.
UAG2 URO1 Ch Regatta It's About Time BN RE MX MXJ MXB MJG ME SCN, RATS, Zipper. Photo © Debbie Christoff, Pawsitive Impressions
Barn Hunt really was invented as a sport because of one dog. Robin Nuttall had been part of the dog world for over 20 years when she got her first Min Pin, a very nice dog named Zipper. Because her first breed, Doberman Pinschers, had a strong history and culture of testing working ability as an important part of breeding decisions, Robin was very curious about what the Min Pin was bred for.
Research revealed that Min Pins were bred to hunt mice and rats, probably mostly in the home. But Min Pins were not at that time accepted into AKC Earthdog competitions, which are restricted by breed. Robin started working on trying to get them accepted and ran into some road blocks and frustration. And she started practicing with Zipper, who immediately showed he had a very strong instinct for the work his breed was created to do.
Robin knew there were informal "Brush/Barn Hunt" type fun events happening at various earthdog and terrier venues. But those were mostly open to only Earthdog breeds, were few in number, and hard to find. So Robin decided to write a set of rules for a national, titling, progressive sport. And though the sport was created for, and has as its core principle, the real work of vermin hunting dogs and breeds, the sport welcomes any and all dogs of any size, breed, or mix who can fit through an 18" wide by bale-height tall tunnel.
On September 1, 2014, Min Pins were allowed in AKC Earthdog events. If Min Pins had been accepted in Earthdog when Robin got Zipper, Barn Hunt would not exist as a sport. So all things turn out for the best in the end.
Today Barn Hunt is the fastest growing dog sport in the U.S.* The popularity of the sport has exploded because the dogs and the people have so much fun. We welcome everyone, from seasoned dog sport competitors to people who have never even been to a dog show before. Our titles are recognized by the American Kennel Club, United Kennel Club, and Canadian Kennel Club.
*This claim is made based purely on the exponential and explosive growth of the sport. I have not done any research on it, but believe it to be true.
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