April 5, 2012

Tight Turns and Short Chutes

This past weekend, my border collie Rook and I travelled to Reno, Nevada for the 2012 AKC National Agility Championship, where she had some nice runs and made an appearance in the exciting Challenger’s Round! The AKC has recently shortened the length of the chute, and many handler-dog teams struggled with the tight turn after the chute, mapped below.

2012 AKC NAC Challenger’s Round

In the Finals, numerous potential winning runs were ruined when dogs turned wide after the chute, with several dogs running past jump #12 entirely.

2012 AKC NAC Finals

You can create a tight turn at the chute or any straight tunnel by treating it like a jump. This idea came from my friend Debby Quigley, who teaches obedience and agility at Dogwood Dog Training. Now, I use this all the time in courses, and the tight turns give my nearly ten year old border collie a big advantage over younger, faster dogs.

The key to teaching a tight turn after the chute is for the dog to understand when it’s okay to blast through the chute. When I run past the chute, my dog should rocket forward, but if I slow down before the chute, my dog should turn tightly after the chute, knowing a turn is coming even before she has actually entered the chute.

Start with the barrel of the chute without the fabric, and alternate running past the entry of the chute with standing still by the entry of the chute. In my handling world, the ultimate show of deceleration or “slowing down” is to be at a complete stop. After the dog starts to get the idea, you can add in motion deceleration to the picture by running toward the chute and slowing down before the entrance.

If the dog turns wide even when you are doing a great job of decelerating, don’t panic! As seen in the video below, dogs will usually improve with successive repetitions, some more quickly than others. Be sure to use high value reinforcers like a favorite tug toy or juicy treats; your dog won’t waste time shooting forward when there’s a great reward waiting for her! Jackpot the better performances. If your dog blasts forward and takes the jump, simply withhold the reward and try again, moving the jump further away, or taking it away completely. Change the environment by making it easier but don’t change your handling/body language, since this is the physical cue you will use in trials.

You can use this same method with straight tunnels, however, I recommend starting with the tunnel as short as possible, and slowly expanding it over several sessions.

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