Lately, Lord Queso von Taco has been really into Barn Hunt. Lord Queso von Taco is a Boston Terrier who lives in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, with two other Boston Terriers and their owner, a graphic designer named Ashley Peterson. I know about Queso’s existence because I own his mother, Briar, a retired and celebrated show dog in her own right. So we follow Queso’s athletic exploits quite closely. He’s been a champion “dock diver” for a few years now, which brought him to a talent scout’s attention, which led to several TV commercials, including, most prominently, a recent Christmas advert for Takis. Nothing will keep LQ off the docks. But he loves Barn Hunt, too.
Barn Hunt is a sport that involves dogs finding live rats inside pneumatic tubes, which are then hidden among an obstacle course within bales of hay. Lest you think this sounds strange and obscure, it might be a little strange, but it’s not that obscure. According to Robin Nuttall, founder of Barn Hunt International, more than 57,000 dogs are registered to do Barn Hunt in the US and Canada, and they’ve conducted close to a million Barn Hunt runs. Dogs in the UK are training for the first Barn Hunt events there this year.
Nuttall, who lives in western Kentucky, conceived of Barn Hunt in 2006 when she acquired a miniature pinscher named Zipper. People first bred “min pins,” as they’re called, to hunt household vermin, not as consistent a problem now as it was in, say, the 1700s. But Zipper still had the drive. “I wanted to give him something to do,” Nuttall says. “Even dogs that seem sedentary really turn on if you make them feel useful.”
Some Barn Hunt trials take place on artificial indoor courses, some of them take place outdoors, and some of them take place in actual barns. And Barn Hunt uses actual rats, who, everyone involved in Barn Hunt is quick to point out, don’t come to harm, even if the dogs shake their tubes a bit. “They are some of the best taken-care-of rats I’ve ever seen,” says LQ’s owner Peterson. “The rats are pets to their owners like the dogs are to us.”
LQ didn’t take to Barn Hunt immediately. “He didn’t have a natural prey drive,” Peterson says. “In the intro class, he was scared of the rat at first. Now he gets excited when he finds it.” Novices just have to find one rat, run through a tunnel, and climb over some hay bales. Currently, LQ has to climb, tunnel, and find four rats in three and a half minutes. Lord Queso von Taco is a very good boy, with a lot of Barn Hunt potential. He’s advanced to the senior level.
“He loves the rats,” says Peterson. “In Barn Hunt, he barks so much. He never barked before we started. He gets so excited. Everyone adores him because he bounces all over the ring. I actually had a judge tell me, ‘Queso ran out of time ten seconds ago. But I just love watching him hunt.’”
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s March 2023 World edition.