Starting Right With the Dog Agility Tunnel

dog agility tunnelWe like to joke around about tunnel suck dogs, but in the beginning many dogs don’t enjoy the tunnel as it presents a problem for the dog. They cannot see their handler and this can spook a dog and knock his confidence down. When these dogs finally learn they wont lose their human during their time in the tunnel, most become tunnel loving maniacs.

So what do you do if your dog won’t finish the tunnel? We have some great ideas to get your dog confident and loving the tunnel as much as any other dog.

If it is a sudden change in performance and you are sure your dog is not getting hurt in the tunnel, you should go back to basics. Have someone hold your dog at the entrance of the tunnel while you look through the other end and call your dog through from the other side. If this is too much scrunch up the tunnel to make it as short as possible and try again. Be sure you use a very happy voice with loads of praise and treats when your dog exits the tunnel.

As soon as your dog is confident in a short tunnel, slowly extend the tunnel keeping it straight. Then you can try throwing a ball or toy through the tunnel (as long as it goes out of the tunnel) and letting your dog run after it. Be sure you hold your dog at the entrance when you toss the toy and release them so they will not try to run around the tunnel to get it. You can also put a target and treat out if your dog is food motivated then graduate to throwing it in a food tube as he enters the tunnel.

When you dog will drive through after a toy/treat you are ready to work on running next to them and throwing the toy/treat as they exit the tunnel to keep them driving out to the next obstacle. You can cheer them on as you run next to the tunnel and if need be you can shorten the tunnel again as they learn to drive through on their own. Then add a jump or other obstacle for them to execute while driving to their reward.

When you are ready to add an obstacle before the tunnel be sure to check how you are cuing the tunnel. Make sure you are pointing into the tunnel and not over it as you don’t want your dog to think you want them to jump onto the tunnel. And don’t use a treat in your signal hand or your dog may be drawn to follow the treat back out of the tunnel and not go into the tunnel.

When you start running into the tunnel be sure your dog is committed to the entry before you run down the tunnel and don’t stop at the entry either as your dog may hesitate and back out as well.

Once you have built your dog’s confidence on a straight tunnel and gotten to full extension you can start adding angled entries. Keep them soft and build the angle slowly. You can also start adding a slight bend in the tunnel, keeping the exit visible and slowly increasing the bend until the exit is unseen.

As always, in your training if your dog hesitates or shows aversion, go back to a place they are comfortable and do more proofing and practice before taking the next step.


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Should You Punish an Agility Dog

praise worksWe had the question raised about correcting a dog while training in dog agility. They understood how to reward their dog for doing good, but didn’t know what to do when they did something wrong. Things like breaking a wait, jumping off a contact, missing a weave entry or popping out of the weave.

The answer may seem easy to experienced handlers and trainers, mistakes are inevitable and an important part of the learning process and every level of dog makes mistakes. But, for the new handler it can be hard to know what to do when those things happen.

Here are guidelines you can follow then we have ideas from those that commented on the question.

Ignore it. Keep moving or go back and give it another try. It just might be that your dog does not fully understand the request.

Stop training and ignore your dog. Withdrawing your attention cuts a dog right to the heart.

Mark the mistake with a phrase like ‘oh dear’ or ‘wrong’ so that Blaze will learn where he went wrong. Withhold his praise and rewards. Don’t give Blaze a treat or throw his toy if he gets it wrong. Try again and if Blaze gets it right, he gets his goodies.

Halt the game. This would be a serious correction in our mind. If your dog is just out of his mind, not taking direction and doing his own thing, go to the end of the line in class or leave the building.

Praise. Be sure your praise/reward is of more value than what your dog is entertaining in their mind. Most dogs learn much faster when your timing of praise gets better and the praise/reward is of high value.

Drastic Steps. Crating your dog, leaving the ring or the entire event would be drastic in our books saved for those moments when your dog is totally checked out. This too could be a result of nerves and pushing your dog too far too fast. Do more proofing work and build more value into your rewards. Maybe take a step back and try some low key fun matches to build confidence in your dog before trying another trial.

Here are some great pearls of wisdom from other handlers.

Jeannekins says:

Where I train, there are no corrections. It’s all positive. If a dog does something wrong, it’s ‘oh, good try’ and it’s done again. When it’s done right, there is immediately a treat and lots of verbal reinforcement, pets, that sort of thing. It’s all about the dogs having fun and learning to like agility and the obstacles and let me tell you, the dogs love it and learn quickly.

Laura McClary says:

I believe the amount of correction (or lack thereof) should be based on the dog. If the dog is “soft”, then too much correction could shut the dog down, causing them to stress because they got it wrong. However, on the other hand, if the dog is not soft, then a stronger correction would be warranted. At class last night, a friend’s JRT left her owner’s command of “wait” on the contact,and went sniffing and exploring, totally indifferent to her owner’s call of “come.” The friend finally got her dog under control, and placed the dog back in her crate. The dog was not allowed to play if she didn’t listen to her owner/handle. On the dog’s next turn, she listened to her owner’s commands.

Ellen says:

I vote for not letting the dog get it wrong in the first place and reinforcing only correct performances. I see a lot of agility training that doesn’t follow that principle and have to think it takes those poor dogs a lot longer to figure out what they’re supposed to be doing.

My other observation is about reinforcing behavior. With “trainable” dogs (Duddley Do-Rights), this is easy – yes is yes and no is no. With some of my dogs, yes is boring, no is a win for them, human hysteria is a bigger win and laughter is the ultimate reinforcer. So in class, with these dogs, everyone rolls on the floor over “mistakes” and in no time, they aren’t mistakes any more, their reinforced repeating behavior. One of my boys learned to make eye contact with the instructor, then leap into her arms off the dog walk just for the fun of seeing her hysterical efforts to catch him. I have a horse that operates on these same principles too. Real pranksters.

So not reacting except to repeat it correctly asap seems to work better with these guys than any kind of response.

Ellen says:

Oh, my prankster is a very soft dog, if you define soft as devastated by criticism. He can only deal with positive reinforcement. And staying one jump ahead of his creativity.

With some of the dogs I’ve owned, in some circumstances it takes a lot more than a shout or a command to get their attention and usually those situations are pretty urgent (like they’re seriously trying to kill each other, or the cat, or one of the horses – my dogs are not pc!). I’ve also noticed that for the worst offenses, the ones we really want to never see repeated, some time spent “in jail” is the most effective punishment once we have the behavior stopped, and if we can pick up on the dog’s intention to offend and put them in jail before they do, that really impresses them.

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Dog Agility Travel Crate

dog travel crateThe experience of others can save you a pile of heartbreak, especially when talking about dog agility. From how to start your dog to tricks of the trade in competing, you should always be open to suggestions from the “pro.” One of those tips is what to take to contain your dog at the trial.

If you are going to be at the trial for any amount of time, it will do you good to have either an x-pen or a crate. And this is where experience comes into play. Toting around a heavy or awkward crate while holding your dog(s) can prove to be highly stressful. The alternative sometimes being holding your dog for the entire time.

When you are a tiny person with a large, strong and active dog, this isn’t a great option. Some kennels are far to costly for the dog agility new comer and that’s where we have bridged the gap with our light weight, durable, and affordable Popup kennel.

The popup kennel will keep your dog secure and many times add to their confidence knowing they are secure. Be sure you introduce your dog to the kennel at home and make it a fun and inviting place for your dog. Then when you go away from home, it will be a little piece of home for your dog.

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