This activity should be fun for you and puppy. Don’t forget: it doesn’t really matter if the puppy goes through something right now. So, if you need to reassess and come back to it later, don’t sweat it. The point is for your puppy to learn to trust you, to practice conquering new and slightly stressful environmental challenges, and to gain experience walking on and through different items in a lighthearted way. This can help you better cope with real world situations that may arise, like potentially scary sliding doors, new crates, dark spaces, etc.
Going through stuff can be difficult for some puppies. However, even puppies who start out a little hesitant generally end up enjoying this game, and most find agility tunnels and other ‘through’ items a lot of fun if introduced well.
You will see in the video that you can set up a ‘through’ in lots of different ways, you don’t need a ‘real’ agility tunnel. Just use what you have. Draping something over two chairs or stools (or going under a single chair, for smaller puppies) works great. A large cardboard box with the flaps taped out, wedged between the wall and a chair is another idea. Use what you’ve got, and your imagination.
It can help to start with just a simple restrained recall. If puppy won’t come to you through nothing at all, it’s unlikely she will want to run through a dark scary small space to get to you. Tips to get right for the restrained recall
- Make sure that puppy is connecting with you before you call her. If she is looking around or interested in something else in the room, she is unlikely to come straight to you when she is let go. Call her when she is just slightly struggling to get to you.
- Resist the urge to show her a cookie or a toy to get her to come to you. Instead, use your voice and body to entice and encourage her. Let the cookie or toy come out at the end as a surprise reward. Be generous with your rewards for recalls. It’s such an important behavior for puppy to love.
- If possible, have a good helper who can judge the right time to let her go. This can take a couple of practice rounds to get just right. Make sure to hold puppy gently.
Once you have puppy racing toward you on the flat it’s time to choose the easiest through challenge you can set up. It’s better to start too easy than too hard. It’s a simple matter to gradually make things more challenging. It’s much more difficult to recover the situation if puppy is frightened or panicking. Just as you made sure that puppy is looking at you before you call, peek into the tunnel (or between the chairs) and make sure that puppy is thinking about coming to you before you call. The person holding puppy should point her just into the opening so that the go-around option is less easy to see and access. The helper/holder should let go when they are reasonably confident that puppy will go forward/through (but should never shove puppy into the tunnel).
In the video you will see that this puppy found the first two ‘go through’ items quite easy. But the long green tunnel was not as easy. It could be partly that it was smaller around, or that it was much longer, or that the floor of the tunnel shifted as the puppy moved through. But time two was much better, and by the third time the puppy was much more confident. It’s okay if the pup is mildly stressed by the challenge. This is a good example of a tolerable level of stress to expect a puppy to be able to work through.
However, if puppy is moderately or significantly stressed by a particular ‘go through’ item:
- Don’t insist that puppy go all the way through. Accept and reward as much bravery as puppy is able to give. If she can poke her head into the tunnel, that’s good enough for now. Feed her a few cookies in the opening of the tunnel and come back to it later. Go back to something easier so she can have some fun going through, and then find a more intermediate step or figure out a way to make the scary thing less scary (scrunch the tunnel shorter, etc) before trying again.
- Don’t be tempted to use a lure or a trail of treats to encourage a frightened puppy to go through something they are frightened of. Luring puppies into frightening places can result in a pup who becomes suspicious of offered food in new situations.
- Don’t be tempted to use a leash to drag a frightened puppy through something they are frightened of, especially if there is a risk that they will panic, flail and buck. That will get you stuck in situation you really just won’t enjoy (and either will puppy).