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Have you ever watched those small dogs in the agility competitions on TV? Have you watched as they jumped over obstacles, raced through tunnels, and zipped around curves? Have you ever thought that your dog would love to do that, or that he could complete the obstacles just as well? Perhaps your dog just has a lot of energy or is very intelligent and you would love to give him something fun to do. Perhaps you would like to build your dog's confidence or to bond with him.
Agility is a wonderful sport. Not only is it great exercise, but it is also a great way to stimulate your dog mentally, to build his confidence and trust, to meet other dog lovers, and to generally have fun. Whether you are wanting to compete with your dog or just to wear him out at home, there are a lot of fun tasks involved in agility. The open tunnel is a favorite among many dogs, and teaching your dog to do the open tunnel can be a lot of fun.
Whether you are wanting to teach the open tunnel for competition purposes or just for fun at home, there are a lot of benefits to training your dog how to do the open tunnel. Practicing the tunnel can be a great way to build your timid dog's confidence. It can be a great way to bond with your dog and give the two of you something fun to do together. It can even help to build your dog's trust and focus because your dog will have to take direction from you and watch for your signals. The tunnel is also a great way to exercise your dog and, when combined with other obstacles, can be a great way to mentally stimulate him too.
If your dog is unsure about new places and obstacles then go slow to help him to get comfortable with the tunnel. The enclosed space can be hard for some dogs to get used to, and if you choose to practice the tunnel with a curve in it later on, not being able to see the exit can be difficult for your dog the first few times. Keep things fun and positive and allow your dog time to build confidence and trust. He will likely be racing through it before you know it.
Because your dog is small, you might choose to purchase a shorter tunnel. If your tunnel is small and you are using the 'Following' method, you will need the help of a confident small dog that your dog gets along with well. It will also help things to go faster if the dog helping you knows how to go through the tunnel already.
To get started you will need a couple of things. You will need lots of small, tasty treats. Preferably treats that are very easy for your dog to eat while moving. Something very soft such as real meat or cheese or soft freeze dried treats should work well. You will need a positive, fun attitude, and patience. You will need a tunnel wide enough for your dog to fit through without him hitting his head. If you are using the 'Lengthening' method, you will need for your tunnel to be collapsible, so that it can become very short. If you are using the 'Following' method and your tunnel is not large enough for you to crawl through, or you do not wish to crawl through it, you will need another small dog to show your dog how it is done. This dog should be someone that your dog gets along with and preferably one that is already comfortable doing the tunnel.
The Lengthening Method
Flatten your tunnel
To begin, set up your tunnel and make it as thin or short as it will go, then secure it at that size to keep it from opening further. You may need to set it against something to keep it from falling over at this width. If your tunnel is not the type that will flatten onto itself then you will need to use a different method.
With your tunnel thin, place a treat in front of the tunnel and on the other side of the tunnel, so that your dog has to reach through the tunnel or step into the tunnel to eat the second treat.
Once your dog is comfortable going through the short tunnel, increase the tunnel's length by a couple of inches and repeat the process.
Once your dog is comfortable with the tunnel being slightly longer, continue to lengthen the tunnel by a couple of inches at a time. Do this until your dog is comfortable going through the entire tunnel at it's full length in order to receive the treat at the end. Only increase the length more when your dog is comfortable going through the tunnel at the current length.
Send your dog
When your dog is comfortable going through the full tunnel, then you can add a hand signal to send your dog through the tunnel. To do this, remove the treats from the tunnel, then stand a couple of feet away from the entrance of the tunnel with your dog at your side, and toss a couple of treats through the tunnel, making a sweeping arch with your arm as you do so. The arch should look kind of like a softball player is pitching a ball underhand.
Phase out the treats
When your dog will consistently go through the tunnel when you motion with your arm, phase out the treats. To phase out the treats, make the same throwing motion with your arm but do not toss any treats this time. If your dog goes through the tunnel when you do this, give him a treat when he exits. Practice this until your dog will consistently go through when you motion with your arm without tossing any treats.
Now that your dog will go through the tunnel when you motion toward it, your small dog has successfully learned how to do the open tunnel. To improve his skills you can also work on sending him from farther away. You can do this by gradually increasing the distance between your arm and the tunnel. You can work on sending him from a run, by gradually adding running steps in right before you send him. You can even work on teaching him to go through a curved tunnel, by gradually curving a flexible tunnel by a couple of inches at a time. Have fun mastering this fun and versatile sport with your dog!
The Treat Luring Method
Introduce the tunnel
To begin, set up your tunnel and let your dog sniff it and explore around it.
Next, place several small treats at the opening of the tunnel and right inside the tunnel, allow your dog to eat the treats.
When your dog is comfortable sticking his head into the tunnel to eat the treats, then create a line of treats going all the way through the tunnel. Allow your dog to eat the treats and go through the tunnel if he chooses. If he only goes partially through the tunnel, replace the treats that he ate and repeat the process until he becomes comfortable enough to go the entire way through
Decrease the treats and practice
Once your dog goes all the way through, repeat having him go all the way through until he is completely comfortable. After he is comfortable, gradually reduce the number of treats. To do this, first practice having him go all the way through several times, with the line of treats in place. When he is successful at that, then place the treats only in the second half of the tunnel and practice again. When he will do that, then place only a couple of treats at the end of the tunnel and practice again.
When your dog is successfully going through the tunnel with only a couple of treats placed at the end, then it is time to practice sending him. To send him, first place two treats at the end of the tunnel, then go stand a few feet back from the tunnel opening, with your dog at your side. Have him face the tunnel entrance head on. Excitedly call his name in a very enthusiastic voice and run toward the tunnel. With him following you, right before you reach the tunnel, motion toward the tunnel with the hand that is above his head, in a large sweep. If he goes into the tunnel then continue to run alongside the tunnel until you meet up with him on the other side. When you meet up with him then give him a treat.
If your dog does not go in the tunnel when you run toward it, then stop and go back to where you started from and try again. Repeat this until he enters the tunnel. If he still will not enter the tunnel, you will need to practice with the treats for longer to get him more comfortable with the tunnel, before trying to send him again.
Send from further
When your dog successfully goes through the tunnel when you run toward it with him, then continue to practice sending him and remove any treats inside the tunnel at that point. After he is consistently succeeding, then gradually increase the distance between your hand signal and the tunnel when you send him. That way you can send him from further and further distances. Do this a few inches at a time, practicing the new distance until he is consistently succeeding.
Practice and continue to improve
Congratulations! Your dog can now do the open tunnel. Continue to practice and to make this activity lots of fun. If your tunnel is flexible then you can also gradually curve your tunnel and practice sending your dog into the curved tunnel.
The Following Method
Set up the tunnel
To begin, set up your tunnel. If your tunnel is portable you can start by setting it up in your home, inside a door frame to encourage your dog to go through it rather than around. If your tunnel is not portable enough, then setting it up outside will be fine.
Show your dog how
Once your tunnel is set up, then either you or your dog assistant should go through the tunnel to show your dog how it is done. If you are the one going through, then you can lure your dog through the tunnel by holding a toy or showing him a treat. Tell him "Through!" in an excited voice while you do this. If you are using another dog, then excitedly call the dog to go through the tunnel multiple times, and reward the other dog each time that he goes through. Do this while your dog watches.
If your dog follows you or the other dog through the tunnel, praise him enthusiastically and offer him a treat or toy when he comes out the other end. If your dog will not go all the way through, but attempts to go partially in, toss a treat at his feet while he is in the tunnel.
Continue to practice enticing your dog through the tunnel and rewarding him whenever he makes an attempt to go through. The first time that your dog goes all the way through make a big deal out of it. Praise him enthusiastically, reward him with multiple treats, one at a time, and encourage him to repeat it while he is still feeling confident. Have him practice this until he is comfortable passing through the tunnel every time. Take breaks from practicing if he seems overwhelmed.
Send him through
When your dog is comfortable going through the tunnel, practice sending him through it. To do this, stand several feet back from the tunnel and get your dog excited about playing with you. When your dog is excited, run towards the tunnel with your dog at your side, and facing the tunnel entrance. When you reach the tunnel, motion your hand towards the tunnel opening to send your dog through. If your dog goes into the tunnel then continue to run alongside the tunnel until you come to the second opening and rejoin your dog at the other end. Praise your dog enthusiastically and reward him when you meet up on the other side.
Repeat running toward the tunnel until your dog successfully runs all the way through. After your dog runs all the way through, practice sending your dog into the tunnel with your hand motion from farther and farther away. Gradually increase the distance between your hand and the tunnel by a few inches at a time. Only adding more distance when your dog has mastered the current distance. If your tunnel flexes, you can also gradually bend it and practice getting your dog used to going through a curved tunnel, where he cannot see the end.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 01/23/2018, edited: 01/08/2021