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The Agility Tunnel: How to Train

Many people look at this exercise and think; this is so easy my dog will just breeze through this. Unfortunately, your dog may not see things that way. Some dogs first look at the tunnel has convinced themselves that the tunnel is nothing but a big dog eating tube, and what dog would want to go into a death tube?

I have witnessed people trying all kinds of ways to get their dog through the tunnel.

Picture this, owner and dog jumping and running about, both of them just having the best time. Then owner runs up to the tunnel opening, stops cold, right there dead in her tracks, looking down at Queenie, thinking that Queenie should somehow instinctively know that she is supposed to run through and come out the other end. Since Queenie is not picking up on any mental vibes, her owner gets down on all fours, trying to push Queenie’s hind end through the tunnel. (That scene is funny enough for a spot on “America’s Home Videos.”)

Training the tunnel is not tough. It just takes some thought, some patience, a clicker, and some high value treats. (If you don’t know about clickers and treats, please take a look at my featured content page entitled Operant Conditioning .)

Start out with the tunnel collapsed to a nice short tube. This way, when Queenie is at the opening she can easily see you. (Remember, she is a dog and has no idea that there is an exit to this thing.)

Now with the aid of a friend holding Queenie on lead at one end of the tube, you run to the other end, bend down, and looking straight through the tube, call Queenie. Now, the moment Queenie displays her bravery by taking that leap of faith, and moves through the tunnel when she gets to you, click, treat, and praise like crazy. Okay, we now have one down. Let’s repeat the whole process again. When Queenie runs the tunnel, you click, treat, and praise. Once she is bounding through, let’s start asking her to enter the tunnel with you at her side. When she is comfortable entering the tunnel, knowing that you will be with her at the exit point, treats in hand, start to lengthen it. Nothing big, just a foot or two, and when she is comfortable with that, repeat it again and again until you have reached the full length of the tunnel.

If you are going to have problems with the tunnel, this is where they will arise. Sometimes as you lengthen the tunnel, your dog will look at the new length and balk at going through. No problem for you. Just start over. Get your trusty friend and hold Queenie, just like you did when you began training the tunnel. If you did your homework and went nice and slow in the previous steps, this will not take long at all to overcome. When you can see that the very existence of a tunnel opening makes Queenie want to charge through, it’s time to start to bend the tunnel.

Once again, we may come across some resistance from Queenie with the bend. Since Queenie cannot see the exit, to her mind it is a solid wall. Again, with your praise and persuasion, you should get Queenie to once again display her bravery and take that leap of faith. When she does, it is your job to of course click, treat maybe even a jackpot, with lots of praise.

One thing I would like to caution, I have been told that some people are teaching the tunnel by using treats in a totally inappropriate way. Never throw the treat into the tunnel as an incentive for Queenie to go through. This may produce two wrong behaviors. First potential problem; Queenie may decide to start to sniff around inside the tunnel, just to see if anything is there. Why shouldn’t she? It has paid off before. Second potential problem, the act of throwing the treat into the tunnel becomes the cue for Queenie to enter the tunnel. Dogs are way more visual learners than auditory. So once you have conditioned her to that physical signal of throwing that treat, you are going to have to go back to step number one, and retrain the whole thing. Remember, it is much easier to train then to re-train.




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