In an agility course, your dog must go through an open tunnel, also called a pipe tunnel, of about 24 inches in diameter. Tunnel lengths range from 10 to 20 feet and are generally constructed of coated flexible ducting material.
Most agility dogs love open tunnels and perform them readily. This is a mixed blessing in competition, as it is not uncommon for the dog to prefer the open tunnel and enter it even when the handler is trying to direct him to a different agility obstacle nearby. Advanced competition agility courses usually include an open tunnel next to the A-frame or dogwalk for this reason. These types of setups are called “traps.” Choosing the wrong obstacle constitutes an off-course, which results in a fault or elimination.
Your dog can begin open tunnel training right away, perhaps with a hula hoop if he is afraid to go through an opening. After a thorough investigation by the dog, the hoop can be tilted over his body and the dog encouraged to walk through, preferably with a treat to his nose in order to minimize stress. Once the hoop presents no threat, introduce a smaller aperture.
Anything from cardboard boxes with the top and bottom open to Styrofoam swim rings can be used to give your dog the concept of putting his body through something. Then it’s time for an open tunnel.
Open Tunnel Progression:
Step 1: The open tunnel should be compressed to a short length. Your assistant holds the dog while you go to the other side. Coax your dog through and reward him. As soon as your dog enjoys the shortened open tunnel, give it a name, such as “tunnel,” “go-through” or “get in.”
Step 2: Gradually lengthen the open tunnel. Using your assistant and tunnel word, coax your dog through and reward him.
Step 3: Send your dog yourself. As you approach the open tunnel, give your dog a signal and the tunnel word, then run around to greet him at the other end. Click your clicker as your dog’s nose exits the open tunnel.
Step 4: Gradually extend the open tunnel to its full length. Begin by calling your dog through as in step 1, then send your dog.
Step 5: Use a full-length regulation open tunnel. Send your dog, gradually introducing tunnel bends. Add a pick-up finger cue with a change of direction, and let your dog catch you. Click finger touch and then reward your dog.
Excerpt from the book Enjoying Dog Agility by Julie Daniels with permission from its publisher, Kennel Club Books, an imprint of BowTie Press. Purchase Enjoying Dog Agility here.