When teaching your dog to go through a tunnel, you want him to enter the tunnel without hesitating and quickly drive through the tunnel. Make the tunnel a fun and rewarding obstacle for your dog using positive reinforcement, and he will enjoy and master this obstacle. Your dog must know how to maneuver through both straight and curved tunnels if you plan on entering agility trials. Most agility courses include one or two tunnels, while the Tunnelers Class competition consists only of tunnels.
The easiest tunnel to teach your dog is the straight tunnel. Begin training the tunnel by closing up the tunnel to its shortest length. Have another person hold your dog on a leash at the entrance of the tunnel. Position yourself at the other end of the tunnel and look through the tunnel, so your dog can see you through the opening. Call your dog to you, treat him and praise him when he comes through the tunnel. Most dogs will enter the tunnel as long as they can see you through the other end.
Continue practicing this method until your dog is coming to you through the tunnel without balking. Gradually increase the length of the tunnel, calling your dog through and rewarding him when he reaches you. When your dog reliably enters the tunnel and comes to you, go to the tunnel entrance with your dog and send him through the tunnel, running to the end to meet him. You can add the cue “tunnel” as you send him through.
Teaching your dog to enter curved tunnels is more difficult because your dog cannot see the end of the tunnel. He does not know if there is a way to get out of the tunnel once he enters. If your dog masters the straight tunnel first, he will be more confident entering the curved tunnel. Begin training by curving the tunnel slightly and following the same procedure as training straight tunnels. Gradually bend the tunnel into more of an angle until your dog enters the tunnel without seeing the opening at the end. Be patient and make sure your dog is successful entering the slightly curved tunnel before adding more of an angle to the tunnel.
Make training the tunnel fun for your dog by playing games that build his confidence and speed through the tunnel. Choose one of your dog’s favorite toys that really motivates him and play tug with him as you run toward the tunnel. When you reach the tunnel entrance, toss the toy through the tunnel, saying your cue word. Your dog will happily chase the toy through the tunnel.
You can also place your dog’s favorite toy outside the end of the tunnel and hold your dog at the entrance. Get him excited about the toy by saying the toy’s name or a word that excites your dog, like “ready.” Let him go when you think he is excited and he will blaze through the tunnel after the toy. Run to the other end of the tunnel, treat and play with him.
An effective method for helping dogs that go around the tunnel, stop in the tunnel or refuse to enter the tunnel is to crawl into the tunnel and meet your dog. This helps the most wary dogs feel more at ease entering the tunnel. Crawl all the way to the entrance if you have to and lure your dog through the tunnel with his favorite treat or toy. Gradually move further away from the entrance, calling your dog until he will go through the tunnel with you at the end. When he comes through the tunnel, give him a jackpot of treats and party with him.
Karen Curley has more than 18 years experience in health and nutrition, specializing in healthy food choices for families. She received USDA certification in food components, nutrient sources, food groups and infant/child nutrition, and holds a B.A. in English from the University of Massachusetts. Curley is also an avid gardener, home renovator, Collie breeder, dog groomer and dog trainer.