Find-that-rat dog games catch on

by Jeff Pederson
for The Beacon

OH RATS! DOG TRAINING owners Bernadette Stahlkopf (left, with dog Siren) and Sue Kendall (right, with dog Neumann) are pictured in one of the barn hunt rings at the new Oh Rats! Dog Training facility at 5504 County V in Sheboygan Falls. Beacon photo by Jeff Pederson

With a sparkling new 5,000-square-foot facility to call home, Oh Rats! Dog Training owners Bernadette Stahlkopf and Sue Kendall are poised to take their dog obedience training, Barn Hunt and Rat Games competitive trial efforts to the next level.

Educators by trade, Stahlkopf, an English teacher at Sheboygan Falls High School, and Kendall, a fourth-grade band teacher at St. Francis Xavier Catholic School in Appleton, formed a friendship through their mutual love of dogs.

Their canine bond led then to purchase Oh Rats! Dog Training in August 2019 and the steady climb of their dog-based entrepreneurial endeavor has led them to move to a brand new heated facility at 5504 County V in Sheboygan Falls.

“We had been running Oh Rats! Dog Training for someone else and then we bought it in August 2019,” Kendall said. “When we bought it, Oh Rats! was located in rental space in Plymouth behind 3 Hounds off of Highway 23. It grew fast over that short time.

“It was difficult for us to host classes in winter because the space was not heated, space was limited and we didn’t have much parking,” she said. “We moved into the new facility on County V in Sheboygan Falls on November 15, 2020.”

According to Stahlkopf, the new 5,000-square-foot heated facility allows ample space for year-round dog obedience classes, Barn Hunt and Rat Games competitions.

“The new facility offers much more space for training and our barn hunt events, including three rings for Barn Hunt and Rat Games trials,” Stahlkopf said. “We have a large parking lot, so parking is not an issue and we can do year-round events in the heated space, which is a big key for us. It is really the perfect location for us and provides everything we were looking for in a facility.

Kendall is quick to point out that the rats used for barn hunt training and competitive trails at Oh Rats! are safe for all involved.

“The rats we use are safe for the dogs and the people handling them,” Kendall said. “The rats are first and foremost our pets and they all have names. They all receive vet care when needed and live the high life inside our heated and air-conditioned facility.”

For training and competition, the rats are placed in PVC tubes of varying difficulty levels based on the ability levels of the dogs involved.

“The straw bales are set up with tunnels with long straights and turns,” she said. “It is fun to watch the dogs climb on the straw bales to find the rats.”

According to Kendall, Oh Rats! breeds its own rats with 30 to 50 housed in its facility at any given time.

“We breed our rats ourselves,” Kendall said. “We get most of our rats from the genetics class at Chilton High School. We can’t do the Barn Hunt and Rat Games without the rats, so we put a lot of effort into taking care of them. It is an ongoing process as rats only have a two-year lifespan. Right now, we have 38 rats housed on site at our facility.”“The demand for classes throughout the year was very high and we weren’t able to meet that demand at our Plymouth location,” she said. “We are one of the few places that offers training for barn hunt, which helps us draw people from all over, including Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay and even Michigan.”

Kendall is equally thrilled with the new home of Oh Rats! Dog Training.

“This location is brand new and we were so happy to find out about it and to learn that it was open and available,” Kendall said. “The timing was just perfect for us.”

As one of the centerpieces of Oh Rats! Dog Training selection of training and competition offerings, the sport of barn hunt has been building momentum over the past several years in the dog community.

“Barn Hunt is a dog team sport that tests agility for all breeds,” Kendall said. “It basically involves dogs finding live rats in bales of straw.

“It is a fun, exciting and relatively new sport that has only been around for the past 10-12 years and it is starting to sweep the country now,” she said. “Barn hunt is based on the traditional role of many dog breeds in ridding farms, barns, crop storage areas and homes of destructive vermin. Barn hunt provides the first true opportunity for responsible breeders to test proper working traits for their dogs. It is also open to any dog of any breed or mix.”

According to Stahlkopf, the competitive sports of Barn Hunt and Rat Games are very similar, yet a bit different.

“Barn Hunt and its association was first in creating the dog sport of hunting rats with their noses and offer instinct, novice, open, senior, master and master/rat champion levels in trials where dogs/handlers can earn titles in those categories,” Stahlkopf said. “The Barn Hunt Association offers one additional event competition called crazy 8s where the dog and handler can find up to eight rats, climb and tunnel within a two minute time allotment.  Points are earned and built up toward bronze, silver, gold, and platinum title levels in 500 point increments.

“Rat Games is a different organization that is meant to emphasize the fun a dog/handler team can have hunting for rats,” she said. “Barn hunt trials can be extremely competitive. For each skill that a dog and handler team must have for hunting, tunneling, working closely to/with the handler, as well as working at a distance and working difficult rat hides beneath several straw bales, Rat Games offers rat hunting games that help to hone the skills of the dog and handler, as well as build the bond between them. Rat Games also offers ‘course’ levels like barn hunt The organizations are not affiliated with each other, but oftentimes a judge for one is also certified to judge the other. The American Kennel Club [AKC] recognizes barn hunt titles and will add them to a dog’s registered name for a small fee. Rat Games is currently working with AKC for the same title recognition.

In addition to Barn Hunt and Rat Games competitive trials, Oh Rats! also offering Barn Hunt, Rat Games and BHA trials training for dogs aiming to hone their skills for competition.

“We offer barn hunt training for dogs competing at all levels,” Stahlkopf said. “Every dog is a little bit different, as all breeds hunt differently.

“We strive to help with confidence building and gaining independence for the dogs that come to us for barn hunt training,” she said. “Our goal is to help the dogs go through the tunnels better and help them in locating the rats easier.”

In addition to barn hunt training classes, Oh Rats! offers dog obedience, puppy-adult training, scent work, private training, mini seminars, canine good citizen and trick dog training and evaluation ring rentals.

“Our puppy classes teach basic manners through positive reinforcement,” Kendall said. “We don’t use negative training tactics like shock collars or choke chains. Our goal is to build relationships between the dog and handler.

“All our classes are taught using a clicker and positive reinforcement,” she said. “Flat buckle collars and six-foot leashes are required.”

Shortly after taking her first dog to a trainer in 1996, Stahlkopf learned that the positive route was the best way to go for training.

“There are so many training tools to use, we want to show people that you don’t have be rough to do effective dog training,” Stahlkopf said. “I took my first dog to a local training place in 1996 and they used choke chains. I made the choice then to seek out training with other views and approaches to training.

“That has led to our emphasis on positive rewards and giving dogs the option of making the correct choice, rather than through the use of negative methods,” she said.

Along with Kendall and Stahlkopf, Oh Rats! features a large network of dog trainers, barn hunt judgers, rat games judges and certified vet technicians.

“We all share a little niche sharing what we all love to do involving training and competing with our dogs,” she said. “The competitive trials have become very popular because people are looking for things to do with their dogs. We now have a trial committee with 11 barn hunt and rat games trails scheduled at Oh Rats! this year. The committee is comprised of people that come to train with us and then decide to stay longer and help out to make bigger decisions regarding what we do.”

Both Stahlkopf and Kendall admit their dog hobby has grown into a significant time commitment.

“We are at the facility every night Monday through Thursday from 6-8 p.m. for training classes,” Kendall said. “We also have office hours on Thursdays and Fridays. On weekends, we also have trails and competitions.”

“It is a big time commitment,” Stahlkopf said. “I work full-time as a teacher at Sheboygan Falls High School and also part time at a vet clinic, as well as doing this. It’s a lot, but I certainly love it.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic still impacting gatherings of all sizes, Oh Rats! Dog Training continues to take precautions to ensure safety during classes and trials.

“We have a lot of rules to follow during training classes and trials,” Kendall said. “Some of our trials draw up to 100 people at a time, so it is important to us to make every effort to keep people safe, including wearing face masks, social distancing when possible and cleaning often.”

To celebrate its new Oh Rat’s Dog Training facility, Stahlkopf and Kendall will be hosting an open house and grand opening on Saturday, Feb. 27 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The event will feature rat hunting demonstrations every half hour starting at 9:15 a.m., obedience dog training demos, puppy training demos, clicker training and tricks training demos, scent work demos and raffle baskets.

In addition, Oh Rats! trainers will be available to answer questions.

“We are asking people to leave their dogs at home for the open house and grand opening,” Kendall said.

“People will be able to sign up to Meet a Rat at a later date as well.”

For more information on Oh Rats! Dog Training, call Bernadette Stahlkopf at 920-918-6150, call Sue Kendall at 920-203-6731, email or visit

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