Tunnels Curved ‘the Wrong Way’

Does anyone else wince a bit when they see the kind of course design shown in the picture? I’m focusing here on number 12: tunnels with the arc the ‘wrong’ way for the lead the dog will be on as he enters the tunnel.

The sequence I’ve used in the image is one I have made up. I’m not picking on any particular judge or focusing on any particular competition – this scenario seems to be very popular across lots of judges and organisations at the moment, both nationally and internationally.

I can’t help but shudder a bit when I see it on courses. You see – assuming the tunnel is more than about 3 metres in length, and the handler cannot functionally cross before the tunnel entrance, the dog is entering a black hole with limited or no visibility at a speed of likely somewhere between 4-7 metres per second and at some point will run into an unexpected tunnel wall.

In the darkness, hitting the sandbagged or pegged tunnel wall will surely often be the first time the dog realises the tunnel is shaped the opposite way to the way he expected? I’ve illustrated the approximate shape a dog would expect in blue in the graphic below.

What I personally find uncomfortable about this type of scenario is that I believe the injury risk is high and I don’t see a way that through exposure to the scenario my dog’s ability to cope with it at speed can be improved. Nor do I know a method by which I or any other handler can sufficiently warn the dog of the upcoming challenge on course. Even if I train a verbal cue to tell my dog to exchange lead, how can he or I read when it would be appropriate for him to do so, since the tunnel is dark?

As popular as it is around the world right now, I struggle to see what this scenario tests – other than whether your dog is fit and strong enough to withstand hitting the tunnel wall.

Anecdotally, I have seen dogs emerge from these types of tunnel scenarios looking dazed/ slower/ less sound than they went in, sometimes appearing to have fallen. Most of the time, we handlers are unaware – and we can’t know for sure what has happened in the tunnel, although sometimes our timing may feel ‘out’.

Of course, tunnels are a minefield. We could debate how they should be fastened, how tight their curve should be able to be, what surface they should have and what colour they should be… just to start.

But for now I am interested in your opinions on this particular scenario. What are your thoughts?

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