Jake and Tunnels

Last summer, the first obstacle of the standard course at an AKC trial was a C-shaped tunnel.  I set Jake up about 5′ away, facing straight-on and directly in front of the correct tunnel entrance, which happened to be on the right side.  I positioned myself on the inside curve and Jake was looking at the correct tunnel entrance when I released him but much to my surprise he ran around the tunnel and when he came back around the other side, I tried again to send him to the correct entrance.  Yet he chose to take the off-course entrance, even though I thought I was clearly indicating the other entrance.

At the time, I thought the problem was that Jake had never seen a C-shaped tunnel as the first obstacle on a course so I figured all I needed to do was to expose him to that scenario.  So I set up a short sequence starting with a C-shaped tunnel.  I was surprised to see what Jake did the first time I sent him to the right-side entrance (the same entrance he avoided at the trial).  He ducked behind me and dashed into the left entrance.   Yet when I sent him to the left entrance, he took it fast and without any hesitation every time.   It became apparent that Jake had developed a strong preference for left-side tunnel entrances.  Once I thought about it for a while, it made sense because Jake also has a preference for running on his right lead which is the lead dogs use when running through the left side of a curved tunnel.

Once I knew what was going on, I wanted to make it very easy for Jake to be right/ hard to be wrong so that I could heavily reinforce right-side entries to build value.  I started by setting him close to the right-side tunnel entrance and rewarded a bunch of successful repetitions. I slowly added distance and different angles over the course of many short sessions.  After a few days, I could see him getting the idea that both sides of the tunnel were worth taking, not just the left one.   I will continue to keep my eye on Jake’s speed and drive towards both tunnel entrances to make sure I am reinforcing enough right-side entrances to keep the value balanced with the left side.

Jake running through a curved tunnel on his left lead. photo by Barry Rosen

Jake Running Through a Curved Tunnel, photo by Barry Rosen