The first sequence I introduce to young dogs is the tunnel-jump, shown below. I begin with a recall through both obstacles and then alternate repetitions of acceleration with deceleration. Prior to this, a puppy has already done at least one session of accel/decel work on a single jump, so when you add the tunnel, it’s simply an extra (and easy) step your puppy takes on her way to the accel/decel work at the jump. This creates a fluid sequence and avoids the trap of handling “one obstacle at a time” that many handlers fall into when transitioning from one obstacle to sequencing.
The video below shows every repetition of my first session with my 9 month old border collie Miriya. Helpful tips:
1. Keep the session short. This one took about 6 minutes.
2. Plan your repetitions before you start. For example, the first rep will be a recall. If she succeeds, the second rep will be an acceleration. If she succeeds, the third rep will be an acceleration from the other side. The next rep will be a deceleration. If she fails a rep, I plan to repeat that rep. I keep most sessions between 4-10 reps, including failures.
3. Use a high value reward. I like a tug toy because it can be thrown ahead of the dog. If your dog doesn’t tug, or you can’t tug due to physical reasons (injured back or shoulders, etc), use food. When I use food, I use it like a toy. I throw it on the ground ahead of the dog on accelerations and feed from my hand on decelerations. Try using a wad of bil-jac or a treat that is visible against the grass and won’t break apart.
4. Have someone restrain your puppy at the startline, even if your puppy has pretty good stays. Stays are a completely different behavior and I want my puppy free to concentrate on learning this new task without the stress of maintaining a startline. I want an eager, explosive dog. Of course, if you train by yourself, a helper will not be available. Consider using a crate or table as a starting point as this will provide you and your puppy with a clear, easy to see criteria that doesn’t mess up your startline behavior.
5. Ignore mistakes. Simply withhold the reward. As soon as the dog errs, the repetition is over. If they take the tunnel but bypass the jump, DO NOT bring them around your body to take the jump. They have failed that repetition. Instead, quickly reset the dog at the beginning and try again. I like to ask for another behavior (eye contact, hand touch, or collar grab) after a failed rep that I can reward.
6. After a failed rep, make the set up easier for the dog, but DO NOT alter your handling or body language. Move your dog closer to the tunnel, move your reward closer, add wings to the jump, lower the jump height, shorten the tunnel, move the jump closer to the tunnel, but DO NOT change your handling. The entire point of the exercise (and of all agility handling) is to teach your dog that specific cues (handler running vs stopping) require different behaviors (dog’s extension vs collection) to quickly arrive at the reward (thrown ahead of the dog or kept on the handler).
7. Videotape your sessions. Later, when you watch your video and see your dog improving with each repetition, you will enjoy a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.