Tunnel Wrap to A-frame

You know, to tell you the truth one of the real difficulties of the tunnel wrap to A-frame is the implicit handler’s riddle: Does the handler know how to make the performance of the A-frame safe for his dog. And I’m always surprised at how many handlers are completely unconscious in their role as “architect” of the dog’s path.

The problem is so universal that the new raft of AKC rules seeks to forbid judges from using a tunnel wrap back up and over the A-frame (when the tunnel is under the A-frame) in their course designs. I teach the “skill” to my own students who might compete in other venues where there is no such restriction.

Bad Handling


Out of the performance of the tunnel the dog’s first vision of the handler is mashing back towards the A-frame (and tunnel, frankly) in such a way that the dog gets no support for any kind of path that might have made the performance safe and fair.

I show the consequential dog’s path as dumping off the side of the A‑frame; but that’s probably unrealistic. Few dogs will have sufficient impetus coming out of the tunnel to actually dump. More likely they will scratch and claw in an effort to get up and over the apex of the A-frame… not having sufficient oomph to stride up and over in a run.

To tell you the truth, some handlers get away with this terrible handling all the time. They are covered by a dog who comes barreling out of the tunnel so that by simple dint of their momentum they’ll find enough room for an approach that allows them to get back up to speed. Or, the dog is powerful enough in his back leg to gather and frog jump up onto the ramp… though there is a real possibility of a missed up contact when the dog is asked to frog-jump into the performance (for those venues that account for the up-contact).

Good Handling

All handling should really begin with a visualization of the dog’s path. The handler is the architect of the dog’s path and must understand his own discipline in order to conduct his dog upon that path.


In the tunnel wrap to the A-frame the handler must visualize a corner of approach to the A-frame that a) gives the dog sufficient approach to get up steam to get up and over and b) is square enough that the dog’s forward impulsion doesn’t dump him over the side. I’ve put an “X” out on the field so that you can see what I’ve visualized for the dog. Some dog’s might require a bit less of an approach; and some, more of an approach. Know thy dog.

You’ll note that the corner of the approach was not perfectly square. Indeed, I’ve drawn the line inside-corner to opposite-corner. Note that for small dogs the diagonal line actually reduces the slope of the ramp (This is a mathematical consideration. You can take my word for it, or do the math yourself.)

Supporting the dog to the corner is important. The dog tends to move in a path parallel to the handlers path. The dog gets his directional cues from the set of the handler’s shoulders hips and toes.

Note the picture of the handler as the dog emerges from the pipe tunnel. The handler is moving and facing in the direction of the “X” corner on the flat; supporting the dog’s movement in that direction.


When the dog arrives at the corner of approach… the handler will conduct a Front Cross. You’ll note that I have the handler leading back towards the A‑frame with his inside shoulder without changing lead hands. I know this is contrary to the way many handlers do a Front Cross. There’s a hidden lesson in sublime movement here.

The dog turns when the handler turns; and so, when the dog gets to the corner of approach and only when he gets to the corner, the handler will conduct the Cross.


Note that the handler’s opposite lead comes up only after completing the rotation of the Cross.

I try to teach my own students that the handler should accelerate out of the Front Cross. A dog gets his speed cue from the handler’s speed cue. So especially on the approach to the A-frame the handler will want to give a terrific speed cue with his movement… moving with intent and determination. You’ve got everything lined up… attack the A-frame.

Dare to Double

Dare to Double is an interesting dog’s choice game in which winning the game is a matter of multiple performances of the A-frame. Dare to Double is a popular TDAA titling game; so I should like to contain this discussion to the performance of the teacup A-frame.

Some will say that this is an arduous game for small dogs. I’ve heard the observation that the poor little guys will be “clawing and struggling to the top” on their fifth and sixth performance of the A-frame in this class.

I’m hoping that my discussion above helps to shed some light on why small dogs will struggle on the A-frame. Frankly the problem with performance is about 95% of the time complete handler error.

One of the philosophical questions we should ask ourselves in agility is whether testing to see if the handler knows how to keep the game safe and fair for his dog is the kind of riddle the course designer should be posing. The real problem with this philosophical question is that we would have to ban dog’s choice games altogether if we believe that we should never challenge the handler to be a savvy conductor of the dog.

On the other hand, if all of our games were “follow the numbers” so that safe and square were entirely the purview of the course designer then handlers would never learn. You’ll note that some of the best handlers in our game come from venues like the TDAA and the USDAA in which an implicit foundation of dog’s choice games have trained a wicked smart handler who has come to understand his or role as the architect of the dog’s path.

Dear handler: Do you want the course to be safe and square for your dog? Good! Just remember that it’s your job.

Used drawing, new text, by Jess.



Questions comments & impassioned speeches to Bud Houston: BudHouston@hughes.net. And Check out my latest publication the Just For Fun Agility Notebook #30 available at www.dogagility.org/store.

4 Responses to “Tunnel Wrap to A-frame”

  1. Maggie Says:

    I am often suprised at how little approach some people, even the “experts” give their dogs to the aframe out of a tunnel.

    I am one of those people who dislikes DtD because of how many times my dog has to go over the a-frame. I am constantly looking for the safest approach (though don’t always execute well 🙂 ) but there sheer numbers of times we are asking them to climb it I believe puts unneccesary joints stress on. This is a game that here in the Central Ohio area we played over and over again…. thankfully because of that many of us are keeping it out of our trials!

    • budhouston Says:

      Hey Maggie! We missed you at the Petit Prix.

      You know, I’ve always been of the opinion that dogs aren’t “crippled” by what they do in competition. More likely they are beat up by what goes on in practice [repeating a thing over and over and over again]. So trainers who are OC in their demands on the dog are likely to cause “unnecessary joint stress” to a much greater degree than the demands of competition.

      Remember that the TDAA has a very gentle slope to the A-frame. I do not see it as as an arduous and dangerous obstacle to my dog’s continued health. My point, if you’ll reread is that most of the challenge is more usually a problem of handling.

      If it becomes a matter of whether the dog is physically fit enough to do dog agility… then it’s a whole ‘nother question. And I will not open that bag of worms here and now..


  2. Kathleen Truesdell Says:

    Besides TDAA, we also do a lot of CPE and a little NADAC. While I don’t usually compare one venue to another, one of the things I’ve learned from CPE, is how to set a course for my dog that builds on her strengths, and avoids her weaknesses, especially as she ages. One of the the things I’ve learned from NADAC is how to set a smooth, flowing course. A tunnel to an A-frame is not allowed in NADAC because too many handlers don’t pull their dog out far enough to give a safe entry. I always do that, even if it means we’re overtime. I happen to like Dare to Double, but will only enter it if it is the shortest A-frame. I won’t send my dog over a taller A-frame too many times in any one game. I’ve seen too many dogs have to claw their way up. With a tunnel to a dogwalk, I once saw a basset slip off the dogwalk because the handler didn’t give that long dog enough room to turn. The approach is of utmost importance.

  3. Chris MOsley Says:

    Bud, I agree. Maggie MOSLEY would not have done the Aframes in DtoD if she didn’t have a good approach. I am always aware of that, and have been known to scratch a run in CPE if the design forces an unfair approach, or I’ve let the extra seconds happen to get us into a square approach. And we don’t practice them much, only to work on tunnel/contact discriminations these days. But I do hate to see it at a trial….
    Maggie, we all missed you!
    Chris in MN

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