Friday, July 22, 2011

Agility Training 101- Tunnels

Not all dogs naturally love to run through tunnels.   And if your dog has any “issues” they may hate the tunnel.  But just because your dog isn’t keen on running through every tunnel that he sees, doesn’t mean you can’t train him to be.   
Angie Valdez, from Anaheim, had to take it slow with her two Terrier mixes, Bruiser and Bella. “Bella was a rescue who came from an abusive home,” Angie says.  “She doesn’t like enclosed areas and she can be very skittish.  I only enrolled Bruiser in an agility class because I didn’t know how Bella would react.  I thought I would have no problems with Bruiser until we went up to the tunnel, which he was very reluctant to go through.  So I decided we needed some work at home and I would try to teach these skills to Bella too and hopefully it would give her a little more confidence.”
Preparation:  Angie recalls, “I got my tunnel from Ikea for a very reasonable price (compared to agility equipment or large kids tunnels at toy stores).”  When using a tunnel for practice, it does not by any means have to be a “certified” agility tunnel.   You can find tunnels in the pet stores, or children’s toy section, or online.  You can even make a tunnel out of cardboard boxes or by draping sheets over furniture (like you did as a kid).  There are no rules for your in-home tunnel; a tunnel is a tunnel, so get creative.  Once you have your tunnel be sure to have high value treats or your dog’s favorite toy on hand.
·         Introduce your dog to the tunnel and let him become familiar with it.  If your dog is scared of the tunnel, you may need to leave it out for a day or two, until he doesn’t think anything of it.  He may even be curious enough to go through it on his own while it’s out.
·         There are a couple of ways you can start training your dog to walk through the tunnel.  You can throw a reward into the tunnel and ask your dog to retrieve it.  Once that is no problem, have your dog sit and stay until you reach the other end of the tunnel.  Call your dog to you, encouraging him with treats and praise to go through the tunnel to reach you. You can start with this technique first if your dog is comfortable with the tunnel.  Otherwise, you will have to work up to it.
·         Once he starts going through in the tunnel, you can start using a verbal command that will trigger the activity without you guiding him through.  
·         Continue this exercise until your dog can go through the tunnel without a reward in there, only by command.  Just remember to reward him with his favorite treat and praise once he greets you at the other end of the tunnel.   
 Angie shares her mixed experience training her two dogs to go through the tunnel.  “I opened the tunnel up one day and just left it there for my dogs to sniff and get use to.  About two days later I started playing fetch with Bruiser and I threw his toy into the tunnel.  He was a little hesitant at first but eventually he tiptoed in there and got his toy.  Bella on the other hand doesn’t play fetch so I had to train her with her favorite dog treats.  I started slowly by placing one treat at the very opening of the tunnel.  Once she took that I placed the treats further and further inward.  I continued to do this every day for almost two and a half weeks before Bella finally went through the tunnel with only one treat and my direction.  Bruiser caught on pretty quickly and now he loves to play inside the tunnel and he even sleeps in there when I leave it out.”
*Has your dog mastered the jump and the tunnel? Try combining the two and creating your own little agility course in your home, backyard, or by going to the Carlson Dog Park.

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