The Agility Closed Tunnel: How to Train
Before you start working on the closed tunnel, make sure you have the prerequisite training, that is, both you and puppy are very well versed the regular tunnel.
Before someone calls me out on that statement, yes I am aware that you can train the closed tunnel (a/k/a collapsed tunnel or chute tunnel) without any prior training; but I am also aware that if you train the tunnel first, the training of the closed tunnel, will proceed so much quicker and smoother, most often without any unpleasant drama or training glitches.
Training this tunnel starts out exactly as training the regular tunnel. Have puppy hold a sit-stay at the opening (or have a partner hold him) while you run to the exit end of the tunnel, kneeling at the opening and looking at him through the tunnel. Call puppy, when he gets there of course you click, treat, and praise. (If you don’t know clicker training a/k/a operant conditioning, please see my article under Featured Content, on this site.)
Now fold the chute onto itself so that in the middle there is a belly slack of material dropping somewhere between halfway and three quarters to the ground. Then proceed as before, calling him (see below regarding call words/commands) to you from the exit end of the tunnel. As he clears the tunnel, don’t forget the click, treat, and praise. If that is no challenge to puppy, let the material at the end of the tunnel graze across his back as he gets close to the exit of the tunnel, and of course click, treat, and praise.
If you are still with me and there have been no problems, let’s start to add some additional criteria. As you call him, start to drop a little additional material on his back and drop the material a bit prior to his exiting the tunnel, and then in slow increments, each time you send him through, begin to drop more and more of the material earlier to his exit until it is totally out of your hands and all the material is resting on the ground. Please do bear in mind that puppy is literally running blind, (it’s dark in there) so don’t forget to praise while he is moving through the chute. Hearing your voice will help with his confidence and keep him moving. Of course each time his little nose pops out of the chute, you are there with your click, treat and praise.
There you have it, but there are a couple of points of consideration.
1) If puppy likes to retrieve, mix up the reinforcement by throwing a retrieve item as he exits the chute. This has an added benefit of getting him moving when coming out of the chute.
2) As soon as he is fluent with the full length of the chute, start to add some angled approaches.
3) Puppy is a strict creature of habit, so if the material feels different to him, he may spook a bit. So do some of your practices in the rain. This way, if he ever needs to experience the material wet, it will not come as a shock to him.
4) Lastly, of course you need a call word or command, when you start to send him through the closed tunnel. Some people believe in using the same word as they do for the regular tunnel, since to the dog it looks the same. (I don’t think it really matters what you say, but there are enough trainers who believe they should have separate words for both tunnels.) Whatever feels the best to you is always the right thing.