Playful Tunnels

For some time I’ve admired the playful use of tunnels in South African agility course work and have incorporated this playful spirit into my own course designs. This past weekend I was judge for the Agiledogs USDAA trial in Stephentown, NY. I’d like to share and discuss the use of tunnels in several of my courses over the weekend.

Grand Prix


A straight pipe tunnel is sometimes called a “puppy cannon”. If you have a highly obstacle focused dog the dog will likely tag the obstacle at which the cannon takes aim. If, OTOH, you have a pure for motion dog he’ll need to feel the handler’s haste near the exit at the moment of the dismount to realize the puppy cannon effect. In the transition from #3 through #5 I wanted to test the handler’s ability to cue the more efficient turn after jump #4 so that the dog’s inertia doesn’t carry him wrong course to the #14 jump.

My original design had no #6 jump. But my course reviewer advised that the blind approach to the pipe tunnel constituted a “backside” performance, which is not allowed in Grand Prix play. The jump turned out to be a complete disaster, managing to NQ like 25% of the class. Without the jump the handler might send the dog down to get in the tunnel and be in grand position to slide past the exit (while the dog is in the tunnel), demonstrating to the dog the acute change of direction on the dismount.

I’m not actually taking issue with the course reviewer. A disaster for the exhibitor isn’t really a design problem… it’s a handling problem. Though, I’m thinking I’ll reserve this particular challenge for a “Masters Challenge” course in the future… maybe even rotate the transition jump into a “refusal” jump.

Why, you might ask, was this jump such a booger? Mostly it was a mental thing. The handler is so completely occupied with the technical bit following the jump that he may fail to adequately support the jump itself, a problem of premature articulation.

And too many handlers who did support the jump inexplicably rear crossed their dogs on the presentation of the tunnel… a handling strategy with about a 50% success rate. As I told one handler later in the day “It’s good to have a rear cross for the emergency. But every single emergency should not be of your own invention.

Many of the successful handlers at this juncture had a beautiful “rolling” Front Cross (one of the seven different types of Front Crosses.) And, of course, I admired those who did as I would do, sending the dog ahead to the jump and so be in position to slide past the exit to demonstrate the turn to the dog.

[Caution: The successful cannoneer doesn’t spend a lot of time loitering on the business end of the unspent cannon.]

There are other elements of this course worthy of discussion. The dismount of the A-frame had an unusually high occurrence of missed down contacts. I truly was surprised by this and struggled to understand the cause. I figure it had all to do with the looming pipe tunnel bit causing the handler to release before the dog had finished his work. It might also have been the simple opening of jump/A-frame with the handler taking the usual over-long lead-out, compelling the dog to race through the opening (which should be performed under collection, rather than in racing mode.) The very nature of an “I figure” conclusion just means it’s all just a wild ass guess.

The closing serpentine from the weave poles through the end of the course was an interesting bit. In this roller coaster finish the sharp smooth and cool USDAA handlers and their well-trained dogs pretty much made simple work of it. And they reminded me of why I love this game.

More playful tunnels, tomorrow.

70’s Hair

I had hair in the 70’s that was dead-on the same as singer Ray Dorset. He had a one-hit-wonder In the Summertime []. The name of his group Mungo Jerry comes from a children’s book by T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats . And, of course this was the basis of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway hit Cats. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteaser have a pretty cool bit in the play [].

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