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I don't know about the rest of you, but I read training articles in several different magazines and I always come across the same thing:  it all works perfectly for the person writing the article.  Sometimes I feel like the only person in the whole world that has problems while going through the carefully described steps.  This article is NOT about how it all happens in a picture perfect world; it is about how it can all fall apart.

For starters I must say that I train alone in my backyard.  I am sure many of you out there do this.  We all know how helpful a second pair of hands can be when training a young dog. Unfortunately, that second pair of hands is not always available when you have the time to train.

This is a story about Bess (Kachina Mtn's Whiteout), my two-year old, entirely too smart, black tri Aussie.  Bess is a thinking dog - she does NOT just do something because I ask her too.  She wants to know what the purpose is and how exactly this is all supposed to work.  Sometimes I feel like the parent of a child-genius as she happily works out a new way to do things that, while still getting the job done, doesn't quite match the picture in my head, for example, training the chute.

I have a giant hole in my training:  I forget about the chute ALL THE TIME.  I cannot tell you how many times I have realized (usually a week before a dog's first show) that they have never seen a collapsed tunnel.  This is probably because I do not have a "real" chute:  it is a collapsible nylon thing with an 18 foot chute that is a total pain in rear to set up.  So I conveniently forget about it in favor of sturdier tunnels. 

In the past, this forgetfulness has never been a real issue.  My last young dog, Gale (Kachina Mtn's Perfect Storm) learned the chute in under 10 minutes from start to finish.  It helped a lot that she is ball crazy so a couple judicious tosses of the ball and, voila! - a dog who happily does the chute.

So, it is now Wednesday and Bess is in a trial on Saturday.  I remember that "Oh dear, Bess has never seen the chute!" and hastily rummage through my training shed for the bag that holds the chute from hell.  I spend 20 minutes swearing at the thing to set it up (while Bess watches from the sidelines) and finally we are ready to train!  A side note about this chute:  it does not lend itself easily to being shortened so all my poor dogs have had to learn all 18 feet of collapsed tunnel from the get-go.  Hasn't been a problem yet so I am quite confident we will have another successful train-the-chute-at-the-last-possible-minute session.

I get my training treats, my ball, my clicker and my dog.  I am ready to go.  Hopefully Bess is as well.  As I mentioned before, she watched the entire set-up procedure quite quizzically from the porch.  I could see her little brain going "What in heck is mom up to now?" 

Step One:  Put Bess through several normal tunnels to get her excited and remind her about tunnels.
Step Two:  Sit Bess in front of the entrance of the collapsed tunnel and tell her to wait.
Step Three:  Run around to end so I can lift the 18 foot train and (after much struggling) get it lifted enough that I can see Bess's cute little face at the other end. 
Step Four:  (And remember, this HAS worked with four other dogs!) Recall Bess through the tunnel and feed her and tell her she is the best dog in the world.


The whole system broke down at Step Four.  There I am:  crouched over, under this heavy nylon chute (that, once I was inside, realized that SOMEONE in the past has peed in it because it stinks to high heaven), and Bess quite happily runs around the entrance of the tunnel (because I called her, so she should come right?) and pounces on me from behind.  OK - so I disengage, reset the chute, reset the dog, and start all over again. 

Sit the dog in front of the tunnel, get back to the other end, crawl inside the last portion of the heavy, stinky chute, and try again.  Bess, meanwhile, is looking quite amused.  I see her cute, foxy little face in the tunnel entrance, make sure we have eye contact, and call her.  She runs around again.  This is a fun new game!  Once again I disentangle.  I will not tell you how many times we tried this, it is embarrassing. 

Have you ever heard the old saying "Doing the same thing over and over and hoping for a different result is insanity"?  Yup, that's me- insane agility trainer.  I must say I finally came up with a new plan.  (My idea of having her chase the border collie through the chute didn't work either.  Bess caught the BC and the BC got miffed.  You don't really want to know anymore except that the BC came out the correct end and Bess came back out the entrance.  End of story.  I put the BC away.) So, on to Plan C.

Step One:  Fix the chute; make sure it is anchored correctly.
Step Two:  Fill pocket with dried liver treats
Step Three:  Put sunglasses on top of head so they are out of the way
Step Four:  Go through tunnel WITH Bess. 


If someone had been filming this part of the session, they would have made a ton of money on American's Funniest Videos.  Not one of my brighter moments but I was getting desperate.  So, I park Bess in front of the chute, I get right behind her, and I toss in a liver treat to the end of the barrel part of the chute.  As Bess pounces on the treat, I get on hands and knees and follow her in.  Bess is not a small dog, and this is not a large chute nor am I petite.  (Just to add to your visual of this whole experience.)

The first couple of feet went quite well.  Bess was in front of me and I was half in the entrance of the tunnel which meant Bess was about to enter the 18 feet of collapsed material.  I threw another piece of liver ahead of Bess about a foot and at the same time, lifted as much of the chute as I could so she could even see it.  She lunged for the treat, I shimmied up behind her and we repeated the whole process again. I learned a couple of lessons about 6 feet in:

1. Sunglasses on the top of your head are a real bother when you are crouched in a collapsed tunnel that is barely wide/tall enough to hold you.
2. IF you are insane enough to try this method (and I DO NOT recommend it) have enough treats in your hand before you begin.  I started with one treat in my hand so I had to shimmy around to try and reach my pocket to get another treat.  And did I pull out a handful?  Oh no, not that bright- just one at a time.  (I told you this was embarrassing.)
3. Keep your dog going FORWARD.  Getting her turned back around the correct direction was instructional all by itself.  Stuck in a limited space - you get the picture.
4. DO NOT LET YOUR MALE DOGS NEAR YOUR TUNNEL UNATTENDED. 

Bess and I got through the tunnel eventually.  18 feet is a long way when you are on your belly in a stinky chute.  Bess wasn't sure what had happened but I sure wasn't going to do it again.  This had definitely not gone as planned.  So I asked Bess to go through several regular tunnels (to make sure I hadn't totally ruined her) and we quit for the day.  Then I got on the phone and called my friend Lynette.  She is coming over today to help me train Bess on the collapsed tunnel.  I can hardly wait to see what new things Bess will do with two of us there!  But first, I am going to hose down the chute. 

 
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