What seems simple and logical to us may be entirely different to a dog. Tunnels are obstacles that initially do not seem like a good idea to your dog. Why would your dog want to take his eyes off of you in a new environment with a lot of strange dogs and people around?
Take the time to think about your dog’s perspective. His vision is very different from ours and that can make objects appear as a potential threat. Dogs see like autistic people; they see the world in pictures. If you would like a better understanding of how animals view the world, rent the Temple Grandin Movie.
Typically in the first class, owners think their dogs will just go blazing through the tunnel. They start out running at it and try to shove their dog into the tunnel. That crazy behavior alarms the dog because his owner never runs through the house asking him to enter a tube, not too mention the dog has no idea that there is an exit at the other end. Get the point?
Ultimately, dogs learn to love the tunnel because they can run fast through them. Some dogs run through so fast they bank off the side of the tunnel. Training the tunnel is very easy and moves along quicker then any piece of agility equipment. However, in the beginning take it slow. Move to the tunnel slow enough to let your dog get a clear picture of the opening and to see that there is an exit. Make sure the tunnel is scrunched up to initially limit the distance from start to finish to the minimum. Be sure to reward at the exit so you don’t inadvertently train your dog to enter the tunnel only when a treat is thrown into it. Throwing the treat in first can become the signal (cue) for the dog to enter the tunnel. Therefore, without the cue they will not enter the tunnel. I have seen that happen and it is a tough one to retrain.
For the initial training session(s) you might want to enlist a friend to hold the leash at one end while you go to the exit and call your dog to you. Make sure you look into the tunnel right at the dog so he can hear your voice and see your eyes. That will let the dog know there is an exit and you are waiting for him. When he bravely gets to you, reward with treats or a toy and a lot of praise. Repeat this step a few times before you ask your dog to enter the tunnel with you at his side. Once your dog will enter the scrunched tunnel with you at his side and then meet you at the other end, you can begin to lengthen the tunnel one to two feet at a time until your dog can successfully run through the full-size tunnel.
Often times when you begin to lengthen the tunnel, you have to go back to calling your dog to you at the exit while an assistant holds the leash at the entrance. In most cases you may only have to repeat this step one or two times until your dog feels comfortable enough to enter the tunnel with you at his side once again.
When the dog can run through a straight tunnel with enthusiasm rather than fear, we will begin to bend the tunnel. With a bend in the tunnel, the dog can no longer see the exit so he may hesitate initially, but with a little coaxing he will typically give it a try. When he exits his first curved tunnel, have a party and let him know how brave he is! With proper training the tunnel trap fear will be history.