Using the Food Tube in Agility Training
Have you ever watched an Agility class and wondered exactly how a dog has learned a certain skill, such as to accelerate in certain areas of the course? It is no surprise that Agility handlers have many tricks up their sleeve, with one being the food tube, described below.
What is the Food Tube Like the name suggests, a food tube is a flexible, cylindrical container that contains dog food. The tube can be rigid and contain bits of kibble, with a slotted opening that only releases the treats if squeezed properly; or the tube can be soft (i.e. a toothpaste container) and contain soft foods, like a peanut butter mixture. The main requirements for a food tube are that it be durable and spill-proof while providing the owner an easy way to reward the dog.
When to Use the Food Tube The food tube is a great tool when throwing an object for the dog to chase is beneficial. For instance, if teaching speed on the Agility course the food tube can be thrown ahead of the dog to provide a high-value reward to chase, especially over jumping obstacles. This is useful for dogs that have strong prey drives and can indeed be a valuable tool for training. In other instances, the food tube is useful when a stationary target is necessary to train the dog to follow a course or to aim for a certain area of an obstacle.
Benefits of the Food Tube The benefits of the food tube are diverse. Many dogs are highly food-motivated, but throwing single treats to chase is not always convenient in training scenarios. In addition, while the dog can easily interact with the food tube, the construction ensures that the reward can only be administered by the owner, making this option great for intermittent reward. Food tubes are also inexpensive, and can even be made at home. A food tube can hold treats that a dog finds more motivating than simple kibble or training treats, such as cheese, liverwurst, or pureed foods. If your dog becomes too excited at the prospect of receiving a treat, a food tube is also a good way to safeguard your fingers, as the dog receives the treat from the dispensing end of the tube.
Making a Food Tube at Home There are many ways to make a food tube at home, as opposed to purchasing one online or at a pet store. Common construction materials include an empty condiment bottle (such as the type that contains ketchup or mustard and can be bought cheaply at a dollar store), or an empty travel-sized soap or lotion dispenser. Next, create your food tube filling using anything your dog would enjoy, such as cream cheese, canned dog food, baby food, mashed potatoes, cottage cheese, or canned pumpkin. To thicken a filling that is too thin, guar gum, tapioca flour, or rice flour can be used. Additionally, broth, yogurt, applesauce, or thin baby food can be used to create a thinner consistency.