Dog Agility Tunnel HoldersMarch 24, 2021 2021-04-15 17:35
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You probably have seen the colorful bags at the entry and exit of tunnels on dog agility courses. Tunnel bags are often an after-thought for owners starting out in dog agility, but they are crucial for the dog’s safety on a course!
Tunnel bags prevent the dog from slipping and sliding inside the tunnel. The faster and heavier your dog is, the better you have to secure your tunnel for his safety.
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Our Top Choice Tunnel Bag
These are the tunnel bags we use on our own agility course at SpiritDog Training! They are wide and can fit tunnels of different diameters. Simply fill the bags with up to 25 pounds on each side and use the velcro to secure them over the tunnel.
We have used ours for several years now - they withstand even the intense UV-light and still look good as new.
Note that one pair of tunnel holders will secure one end of the tunnel. In order to hold the whole tunnel in place you need at least 2 pairs (so 4 bags in total).
If you want to curve a very long tunnel or your dog is very fast and/or heavy, you might even need to use more than 4 bags per tunnel.
Filling the tunnel bags
In order to hold the tunnel in place, you will need to fill the bags with something heavy. Most dog owners decide for sand. You can easily fill the sand into large gallon Ziplock bags and put them into the tunnel bags.
Some owners also choose water. If you want to fill your bags with water, you will need either a bladder of some sort, or several Ziplock bags. If you live in climates where the temperature drops below zero, filling them with water is not advised. It would expand if frozen and could damage your tunnel bags.
You need to make sure to fill your tunnel bags enough. They should be rather heavy. If you make them too light, they will not be able to weigh down the tunnel enough.
As a general rule: If the tunnel moves as your dog is running through it, you need to make the bags heavier. The bags above can hold as much as 25 lbs each – making them this heavy should hold the tunnel in place even for a lightning-fast dog.
Moving the tunnel holders
Once you fill the bags, they will not be as easy to move anymore. Many owners choose to rarely move their tunnels and let them stay in one spot to work around this.
Another option is to use a small wagon to transport the tunnel holders from one end of your agility practice area to another.
Tunnel bags throughout agility history
While today all clubs and competitive venues pay a lot of attention to weighing tunnels down safely, this has not always been the case.
The awareness of how big a role tunnel holders play only grew within the last half decade of agility training. Beforehand, even in big competitions and international events tunnels were often not secured at all!
If you look at videos from e.g. Crufts from 20 years ago, you can see tunnels without bags sliding around as the dogs run through.
Once the knowledge of the importance of weighing down the bags grew, organizations first introduced mandatory bags at the entries and exits of tunnels. Eventually they added several bags along the tunnel as well. Some competitions nowadays will have as many as 9 pairs of bags on one single tunnel!
The collapsible tunnel – a relict from the past
One obstacle that you can no longer find in any agility venue is the collapsible tunnel. This was – per definition – a tunnel that could not be held in place with bag holders. Also called the chute, this obstacle consisted of a barrel with a tail of fabric at its end.
It was supposed to challenge the dog’s commitment to run into “a black hole” (since he cannot see where he is going). However, especially fast dogs would slip on the fabric and occasionally sustain injuries.
The chute was abandoned by all agility organizations. The AKC suspended its use in 2016, as did USDAA.
When my oldest dog Fusion started out in agility in 2013, still learned to run through this tunnel!
If you have several tunnels, getting a couple sets of bag holders for each tunnel can quickly become pricey. An alternative is to use big buckets filled with water on either side of the tunnel to essentially “squeeze it in place”.
Note that this won’t work for large dogs or tunnels that you want to secure in a U shape. However, for lighter dogs and straight tunnels it is a very affordable alternative to buying manufactured tunnel bags.
The Bottom Line
Tunnel bags are crucial for your dog’s safety on the agility course. You should not use tunnels that are not secured in place and roll around as your dog runs through them. While it may look funny, the risk of injury is high. If you run a dog that is not very confident, he may also get spooked and not want to go through a tunnel again!
Tunnel bags were not always used in agility. In the beginnings of the sport, tunnels were often entirely unsecured and rolling around, even during big international competitions! Today this has changed and tunnels in all competitive venues are very tightly secured in place.
As a budget alternative, you can try to squeeze your tunnels in place with 5 gallon buckets of water. This works especially well for small breeds, slower dogs and straight tunnels.