December 4, 2011

Handling Tunnel Traps With Motion Cues

Let’s be contrary, and start our discussion with Exercise 2.

dog agility exercise
Exercise 2

Exercise 2 powers your dog straight toward an off course tunnel but requires a very sharp turn away from the tunnel and back to jump #3. Using our motion as the handler, we can decelerate (slow down) at jump #2 to show the dog that a turn is coming, and that the tunnel is not the next obstacle. Exercise 3 is the same as Exercise 2, except jump #2 is 6 feet closer to the tunnel, making it even more difficult for tunnel loving canines.  Save Exercise 3 for the show-offs in your training group.

dog agility exercise
Exercise 1

Likewise, we can accelerate beyond jump #2 to show the dog that the tunnel is the next obstacle, shown in Exercise 1.

The concept of handler acceleration vs. deceleration can be the foundation for a clear and easily taught system of handling for your dog. When you practice these sequences, alternate Exercises 1 and 2 with each dog so they can pick up on the difference in handler body language. For example, if it’s my turn, I may run my dog 4 times straight with no break except for rewarding my dog (tugging or food).  I will do Exercise 1 first, accelerating on to the tunnel. Next, if my dog does Exercise 2 (deceleration) very well, turning tightly when I slam on my brakes, my next repetition will be Exercise 1 again. But if she struggles to turn away from the tunnel, I will repeat the deceleration exercise 1-3 more times depending on her energy level. For dogs that can’t take their eyes off the tunnel, move the tunnel further back.

When you watch the video below, please note that when I accelerate toward the tunnel, I move past jump #2. When I decelerate at jump #2, I do NOT cross the plane of jump #2, and my body appears to be leaning backward, which helps the dog read the cue. Some handlers will cheat by “sending” their dog to the tunnel and hanging out by jump #2, but you will note that standing by jump #2 is our deceleration cue! For these unfortunate handlers, they are using the same cue (slowing down at jump #2) to mean two different behaviors (take the tunnel vs turn at jump #2). These handlers are easily noticed because they often yell “COME!” as their dogs take the off course tunnel, or make a very wide turn.

Videotape your sessions and you will begin to understand how your dog interprets your cues.

Enjoy training your agility dog! Post your comments and questions.

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  • Sorry for entering comments on archives but just found your site. We are just learning to do some distance work with our dogs so sending them on to obstacles ie sending from jump to into the tunnel without needing to go all the way to the tunnel. This then wouldn’t work as could be seen as deceleration. Could you move the decel cue to prior to jump 2 ie send the dog on from jump 1 but hang back prior to jump to to encourage the turn away?

    • We always welcome comments!

      You can decelerate naturally between the jump and tunnel. However, if you decelerate before the jump, this should mean the dog should collect and turn at the jump, avoiding the tunnel trap. So teaching your dog to go forward and take TWO obstacles (jump AND tunnel) as you are decelerating BEFORE THE JUMP would damage the deceleration cue. However, with training your dog can learn to commit to a single obstacle with a very strong decel so that even if you are moving away from a jump OR tunnel, they will “finish their job” and complete that one obstacle. Let me know if that’s not clear.

  • In my opinion, this is one of the top ten foundation exercises for any dog. People always complain that there dogs are tunnel suckers and I wonder if it is because they don’t understand accel/decel. Let’s make it harder. Build up to using 6 jumps before the tunnel to get some great speed on your dog with acceleration, then decal.
    Esteban and Sarah, thank you so much for sharing this site.

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