Keep Your Agility Dog Safe in The Collapsed Tunnel
The collapsed tunnel or chute can prove a challenge if not properly trained and handled. And it’s not just the tiny breeds that can suffer the consequences of getting tangled in the chute. Yes, it tends to be tougher for the smaller breeds, but many medium and large dogs have taken a spill or gotten a good scare when they get stuck in the chute. When dealing with the collapsed tunnel, prevention really is worth a pound of cure. There are some great training and handling guidelines you can follow to keep you and your dog loving this obstacle. Here are just a few ideas to keep your dog confident.
When introducing the collapsed tunnel you will want to develop a straight drive into and out of the tunnel from the start. The best way to start is with just the barrel portion of the collapsed tunnel. If your dog is food driven you would place a target well past the exit of the barrel for the dog to run to. If the dog is play driven you can toss the toy out in front of the dog as he commits to the barrel, however, you need to be sure you toss it well out and in a straight line from the exit.
If you do not have a removable chute, you can roll the chute up to a short length so it is easy for the dog to push through, but in the beginning you will want to hold it open so the dog can see out the other side. If you are working alone you place your target reward in a container the dog cannot open to ensure he does not get his reward should he choose to run around instead of through the tunnel. If you are using a toy you can show it to him through the tunnel and toss it as he commits to it. Be sure you do not talk to him once he has entered the chute or on exit so he learns to run straight and clear of the exit.
Once he is confident running through the barrel you can start adding the chute. If you have a removable chute you will want to start with the step above with the permanent chute. Once the dog is confident running through the barrel and the opened chute you can start lowering the chute making the opening smaller so your dog has to start pushing through the chute. At this point you want to be sure the reward is low so your dog keeps his head down while going through the chute.
When your dog is confidently pushing through the shortened chute, you can slowly lengthen it to it’s full length. At any time during your training your dog hesitates, go back to the previous step and build his confidence. Remember, it is that hesitation that can cause him to get caught up when the tunnel is full length, especially the little dogs.
Speaking of the little dogs, you can start your dogs with a light weight “practice” chute until they are confidently pushing through the tunnel, but it is important you also get them accustomed to pushing through a heavier chute as well. When you get to competition the chute will be heavier and you don’t want that to be your dog’s first exposure to the standard weight chute. Even worse, if it has rained or the chute gets damp it will be even harder for your dog to push through making a tangle even easier.
To help your dog learn how to push through the heavier weight and you don’t have access to a training facility that uses a competition chute, you can wet down your light weight chute or add a sheet or towels to it to add weight. Remember to shorten the chute again and reteach your dog with the heavier weight. You never want your dog to get scared in the chute as it will set up a pattern of hesitation that could lead to future tangles.
So what happens when you have done all this practice and you enter the competition ring only to have your dog get stuck for some reason? Can you touch the chute and help your dog out? Yes, you can. Unfortunately, it will lead to an Elimination. Relax if it happens to you, everyone is on the same team and while the judge cannot forgo the penalty, most will allow you to finish your run. No one wants your dog to get hurt on course. Simply and quietly help your dog find the right way out and continue on. If you make a big fuss the dog may get more fearful and tangled worse. They feed off your emotions so keep your head so they learn it’s no big deal.
The smallest dog in National level of competition, Puzzle the Papillon, weighs a mere 2.5kg and he is able to master the chute, so can your dog. It’s not the size of the dog it is the drive that gets them through. So get out there and enjoy the game.