In this installment of our series on dog agility for beginners, we’ll be focusing on teaching your dog how to “tunnel” and demonstrate our favorite dog agility tunnel for different situations. A dog agility tunnel is any enclosed obstacle that a dog can go through or under, typically shaped like a cylinder.
We’ll guide you through teaching the behavior, how to troubleshoot a confused pup, and various options on which dog tunnels work best for specific situations.
Don’t forget to check out our blog for more articles and our guide on creating your own Dog Agility Course for Beginners!
Learning the behavior
The tunnel command involves your dog going through or under an obstacle. Although it may seem like an easy behavior to perform, most dog agility isn’t a normal behavior for your pup. Remember to be patient and keep it fun – that is the whole point of enrichment!
Some notes before getting started
Before we get started with using a dog agility tunnel, let’s review some important information.
We recommend trying to have your obstacle and dog on a rug or carpet instead of vinyl or tile to help keep your dog from slipping. Outside this is less of an issue, but try to stay away from slick surfaces, uneven ground, or any other issues that would make it more difficult to complete the behavior safely.
As always, proceed carefully before starting any physical activity with your dog. If you are unsure if your dog is able to perform an activity, consult a relevant professional, trainer, or vet. This guide is for educational purposes based on our own experiences and what works for most pups, not all pups.
Teaching the behavior
Fortunately, teaching your pup how to perform the behavior for ‘tunnel’ is easy and is really only a few steps. We like the way that Puppr typically suggests for learning new behavior and we model most of our training in a similar way.
First, set up your dog agility tunnel. To start, we recommend using a temporary option because you can make the tunnel as large as you need it for your dog to be comfortable. One of our favorites for larger dogs, like ours, is to use two couches, chairs, ottomans, or similar furniture and cover the gap between them. Most people have access to these types of household items and you can easily raise the top if your pup isn’t comfortable going through/under it.
Second, get your pup to go through the tunnel. If you’re having issues with this step, check out our troubleshooting tips. Don’t use a command for the tunnel, but if you need to, you can try whatever variant of recall command you have, initially.
Finally, introduce the command. We prefer ‘tunnel’, but we’ve seen ‘under’ and ‘through’ and they all work well enough. You can use whatever word you want even something like ‘mouse’ as long as you’re consistent. Puppr, our favorite dog training app, recommends that you wait until your pup is able to complete the behavior 9 out of 10 times before introducing the command. We like this idea as it’s easy to remember and aligns with our philosophy for training.
We recommend starting off with saying the command when they are halfway through the tunnel and then gradually working your way toward saying it as a command for your dog to complete. This will minimize your pup being confused by a command they don’t understand completely, yet. It’s also harder for you to miss the timing this way.
Options for dog agility tunnels
Now on to the exciting part, creating a DIY dog agility tunnel or purchasing your own! Don’t worry, we have options to suit any situation so you can find the tunnel that’s perfect for you and your pup!
We recommend piecing together a tunnel for you to try out with your dog before pulling the trigger on a purchase. If you want, you can always go ahead and buy one (spoiler: the Trixie Dog Agility Tunnel is the best dog agility tunnel, in our opinion) since they aren’t very expensive and don’t take up much room.
For an inside dog agility tunnel, we recommend using some combination of couches, chairs, and an ottoman or coffee table. All you’ll have to do is use a couch and ottoman to create the sides of a tunnel and then place something over it, like a couch cushion, to form the top. If your dog is nervous initially, you can pull the ottoman or chair further from the couch to make the tunnel wider or place something under the edges of the cushion to raise the top.
This gets a little more difficult if you are in a small indoor space, but we can also use the same concept with outdoor items. Deck railings make perfect options for one side, but if you don’t have that option, you can use stairs, yard stakes with a tarp, or dog beds to form a tunnel. Remember to make sure whatever you are using isn’t going to fall on your dog, even if it’s just dog beds because it will make it more challenging to get your dog comfortable with the tunnel.
Beginner option for an agility dog tunnel
We have two different options for a beginner tunnel for your dog but first wanted to mention a best practice. For your first tunnel, we recommend getting one slightly larger than what you think you’d need unless you worked with the DIY/temporary options for a while. It’s a lot easier to train your pup with a slightly larger tunnel.
The first option is to repurpose a children’s play tunnel. They are typically available almost anywhere, tend to be cheap, and are essentially the same thing as a dog agility tunnel, just marketed differently. The wider your tunnel is, the easier it will be to get your dog to go through it.
What we did initially was find a collapsible laundry basket and then cut out the bottom. It’s really easy to do, and they tend to be even cheaper than children’s play tunnels. We specifically liked the short length and wider opening, as we were learning the behavior inside our home.
Either way, we’d recommend looking for one that collapses for ease of storage and moving around. If you don’t know where to start with the size, try different temporary or DIY setups inside and see what size your dog is comfortable with. Even if it’s a little oversized, your dog will still be able to learn the behavior and have fun. After your pup gets the hang of it, you can adjust to a smaller or longer one.
Once your pup is comfortable with a dog agility tunnel, or your temporary setup, we highly recommend the Trixie dog tunnel. Most importantly for us, it collapses and comes with a bag for easy storage. It’s lightweight, a medium length (6 ft), and 16 inches wide, which works for our 80 lb dog, Prim. It also comes with both saddlebags and stakes, if you need options for holding it in place.
When we use the Trixie dog agility tunnel outside, we use the saddlebags to hold it down. We used sand, but anything that fits in the bag is fine as a weight. It helps keep the wind from moving the tunnel and helps prevent accidental movement when your pup is going through it.
When we use the dog tunnel inside, we don’t generally use the saddlebags. We shove something against the entrance to prevent it from moving and let the other end move a little. As long as you have an 8-10 ft open area (hallways are perfect for this) it’s completely capable of being used inside.
As a final note, the Trixie agility tunnel is much cheaper (usually around $30) than most other dog agility course equipment, as agility tunnels tend to be over $100. So with this option, you can get a good deal on a piece of equipment that your dog will be able to use for years!
Creating systems of tunnels
This is more of a bonus section than something you need to do, but with a little string or careful placement, you can create a system of tunnels for your pup to use!
We ended up with multiple dog tunnels because we upgraded from our beginner option to our quality option and awkwardly ended up with a hamper that had the bottom cut out. Prim absolutely loves going through the tunnels so we put both of ours close together for her to see which one she liked better.
It turns out she likes them both! She would take off through one tunnel and then immediately go through the other without a cue. If you have the space, your dog may enjoy the tunnel system, too!
If your dog is visibly sore from performing an activity, give your pup rest for a few days and evaluate how he or she is doing at that point. The primary goal is to have fun. We’re trying to avoid any negative associations with the activity.
If your dog has no real activity level at the moment, we’d recommend not doing any of the higher-impact activities (such as agility jumps for your dog) for a while until he or she is used to being more active. Imagine how your muscles & joints would feel if you hadn’t run in years and tried to do hurdles. It’s the same for your dog.
A dog agility tunnel is one of the recommended obstacles to start off with due to the low impact on your dog’s joints. The behavior is either a crouch walk or crawl, depending on your particular dog. It’s much cheaper and is a safer place to start off with for an older or less active dog.
Again, we recommend consulting with an expert (vet, trainer, or other professional) if you’re not sure if your dog’s able to handle a new activity.
Dog hesitant to go through the tunnel
Although the command is different, the techniques for helping your dog understand a dog agility tunnel are similar to the techniques for troubleshooting a jump in our dog agility jump article.
Initially, we recommend removing other options for your dog when you’re trying to teach a new behavior to your dog. Block off the sides of the tunnel if your dog is trying to go around. If you have an ambitious pup who tries to jump over the entire tunnel (Prim did this for us), block above the tunnel, too. If your pup gets distracted easily outside, we recommend learning the behavior inside.
If your dog is still having issues with the tunnel behavior, make sure your tunnel is large enough for your pup. If you don’t want to buy a new dog agility tunnel before you know if your dog will do it, use an example from our temporary options and modify it so there’s a lot of room for your pup to start.
If that doesn’t work, block the sides off and grab a friend. Have them flail your dog’s favorite treat/toy on the other side of the tunnel so they can see it through the tunnel and bribe them through. If no one else is available to help, you can also have your dog stay in a sit or down while you go to the other end of the tunnel and perform the same method by yourself.
If you’re getting frustrated, stop for this session and work on a basic command your dog knows well. This will help your pup boost their confidence and not end your dog agility tunnel work on a sour note.
We recommend combining blocking the sides and using a bribe, initially. These can be removed easily after your pup gets the idea and make it easier and more fun for your pup to learn.
The tunnel moves too much
Is your dog’s agility tunnel rotating when your dog goes through it? This can happen for a few different reasons, but they’re all relatively easy to address.
We’ll use our dogs as an example. One of our pups, Goomba, has issues if we use a tunnel that is too small for him. Generally, it’s amusing since it’ll get stuck on his back half, travel a few feet on him, and then end up thrown in a different location. Luckily he isn’t scared by this behavior, but he doesn’t enjoy having it stuck on him. Typically, the next few attempts he is a bit more hesitant to go through it.
Preventing this from happening is an easy fix. Either stick something through it to hold it in place or wedge it between two things. Our temporary setup has handles, so we can simply stick stakes or legs of chairs through it outside. If you’re inside or your dog’s agility tunnel doesn’t have that option, bags to hold sand come with the Trixie dog agility tunnel. Problem solved!
Teaching your pup how to use a dog agility tunnel can be easy and rewarding for both you and your pup! We recommend trying the temporary methods first to make sure you and your dog enjoy practicing agility before building or buying equipment. You can always purchase a tunnel later or create a more permanent setup.
We love to see your success with dog agility equipment or any other type of enrichment! Share photos of your dog trying out your dog agility tunnel with us on Instagram by tagging @therulybully.