Chute It Stay or Chute It Go? (And What Should Replace It?)
Most agility competitors are aware of the heated controversy surrounding the continuance of the chute in USA dog agility venues. This debate is not new. The chute has been the cause of many injuries to our canine teammates for years. In an attempt to mitigate these injuries and after cries from exhibitors for safer chutes, some venues like the American Kennel Club (AKC) shortened the chute fabric several years ago. The shorter chute has appeared to lower the number of chute incidents, but too many dogs are still getting injured.
Because of these continued injuries, competitors have begun to band together, signing petitions, sharing videos and photos of chute accidents on Facebook, and contacting their favorite agility trialing organizations to lobby for the removal of the chute in agility.
In response, UKI (UK Agility International) has already announced it is suspending the use of the chute at UKI events. UKI did say it may consider reinstating the chute if a future design is proven safe. The UKI is a small titling venue and thus can be quick and flexible in responding to exhibitors' requests. I believe many of the other venues, even one or two of the biggest ones, will soon follow suit. I also believe it is time the chute go the way of the crossover.
That said, the loss of the chute opens another can of worms. The Standard agility class at its core is about using a variety of pieces of equipment. Losing the chute means using more jumps in Standard, moving Standard a tiny bit closer to a jumpers class instead of an "all around" agility class.
As the agility community seems to pretty much agree that the chute can go and as the Standard class requires a variety of pieces of equipment to keep its flavor, it begs the question: What, if anything, should replace the chute?
The Chute and Its Handling Challenges
The chute (also called the closed or collapsed tunnel) has long provided several challenges to agility competitors. First, the chute is a blind exit, meaning the dogs are unable to see the next obstacle until they have exited the chute. This has provided judges with many options for fun course design. Handlers have to strategize how to give their dogs information going into and coming out of the chute, so the dogs know what obstacle they will be dealing with next.
The chute is also a difficult place to influence a lead change in the dog. A handler stuck behind her dog as the dog enters the chute must already be performing her rear cross in order to get her dog turning in the right direction when exiting the chute. This split second timing is difficult but also fun. Another option is for a handler to be ahead of her dog as he exits the chute to push or front cross the dog in the correct direction. As the dog is coming out of the chute blind, this option can lead to some dangerous accidents if the handler finds herself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A handler can train her dog to hear and see turning cues before the dog enters the chute, so that the dog executes the lead change just before entering the chute. The problem comes, of course, in that the chute fabric can become tangled if the dog is trying to change leads in the chute.
The blind exit and turns are just two of the challenges when handling the chute, and I believe they are two of the benefits the obstacle provides a Standard agility course as well. Other handling challenges offered by the chute include handler restrictions (because you can't run across the chute fabric) and chute drift into the handler's path (seen mainly with the longer, more dangerous chutes still used in a few venues.)
Removing these challenges will diminish the Standard class. It will remove some of the challenge and some of the fun, however I agree with the large majority of the agility community that our dogs' safety far outweighs the loss of any handling challenges the chute provides. I believe with the newer, tighter courses, the chute's time is up.
So if the chute is gone, what can replace it? What other obstacle can provide new, unique and fun handling challenges and yet remain safe for the dog?
Another Obstacle Option
How about the hoop used in NADAC (North American Dog Agility Council)? Now wait. I know at this point many of you are rolling your eyes and ready to click off of this blog thinking, "A hoop? Really? How hard is a hoop?" And I would be doing that in your shoes too, but what if the hoops were used in duos or even trios to encourage strict use of handling lines on tight courses?
Chutes are supposed to allow the dog to go pretty much straight through them with just a slight turn in the direction indicated before the dog entered the chute. Hoops used in combination could mimic that line. One hoop could mimic where a chute would have started, and a last hoop would mimic where a chute would have ended. The two hoops together would count as one obstacle. The dog would have to enter the first hoop and immediately run through the second hoop in the correct order to successfully complete the obstacle. Those who have run with hoops or just run jumps with no bars can attest to the extra speed their dog takes into the obstacle. Handling a dog on the flat on a specific line at speed is extremely challenging.
In addition to bringing the handler a difficult "perfect line" challenge, the two (or three) hoops (called a combination hoop obstacle in this blog) would also be enticing off course challenges for dogs seeking a fast and furious run.
For a better explanation, let's look at Figure #1. This six obstacle sequence was pulled directly from an AKC Masters Standard course. The hoops are in the place where the chute had been. The combination hoop obstacle causes a few challenges in this design. First, the dog is turning sharply to the hoop off of a double jump. Many dogs may jump long over the #3 spread jump, turning sharply into the combination hoop obstacle. This will cause the dog's line to be off toward the teeter, making it very hard to hit the last hoop of the combination hoop obstacle. A good handler would need to figure out how to give the dog a solid line into the first hoop to hit the second hoop. The dog would have to run through both hoops in combination (and in order) to be successful on the obstacle.
You can see the potential for the dog to make the same wobbly line through the combination hoop obstacle in Figure #2. This sequence was also pulled from an AKC Masters Standard course, and again, the hoops are placed where the chute was located. Also again, the handler would have to set the dog's line in advance of the entry hoop to ensure a good line to the exit hoop.
These course maps illustrate the "perfect line" challenge that a duo of hoops would provide.
Upping the Anti
The difficulty could be ramped up even more for advanced classes like Premier or Masters. Instead of just two hoops to navigate, a dog could have to run through the opening hoop and then have to discriminate between one of two hoops at the "exit" of the hoop obstacle. (Figure #3) This difficult obstacle discrimination would require the handler set a perfect line before the dog enters the first hoop to ensure the dog hits the correct hoop at the end of the obstacle. A dog going too wide off of #4 would set a line straight to the off course hoop. Again, this sequence is pulled from another AKC Masters Standard course with the trio of hoops in the exact place the chute was located.
The Author's Sheltie Rolls Out of the Chute at 1:14 on the Video
Distance Between the Hoops
I have not suggested any set distance between the entry hoop and the exit hoop(s). I believe this would need to be tested and examined to determine what is best for both dog safety and course design. It might be best to have a minimum and maximum distance set between the hoops to allow for flexibility in course design and in handler challenges.
Here is an example of the type of "hoop" that could be used in the combined hoop obstacle. There is no jumping involved.
Other positives to using hoops would include:
- The low cost of the obstacle. Clubs could easily afford three hoop obstacles.
- No chute fluffer or bar setter needed.
- Light weight for course building.
- Small for storage.
- Design already tested in NADAC.
- Hoops already available.
Always Safety First
Most importantly, hoops can provide a safer alternative for our dogs and yet used as a single obstacle in duos or trios, hoops can also provide an interesting handling challenge. Of course, this concept would have to be evaluated and tested by course design experts in each agility venue, but the combination hoop obstacle does provide several of the unique and fun challenges lost by the removal of the chute. It also helps the Standard class retain its "varied" obstacle flavor. The combination hoop provides these benefits without risking the safety of our dogs.
I am glad to see the agility community concerned about the safety of our dogs. Just last weekend, both of my dogs rolled out of the chute on the same course. The chute entry seemed safe, and the chute fluffer seemed to be doing a fine job, yet something in my distance handling caused both of my dogs (and other dogs) to stumble in the chute. My dogs are fine, but all too often, the chute injures our beloved teammates and family members. It is time for it to go, but let's replace it with something more fun than just another jump.
Nine days after this article was published, the AKC (American Kennel Club) suspended the use of the chute at its agility events followed closely by the USDAA (United States Dog Agility Association) doing the same. Both did so in response to the agility community's overwhelming desire to see it banned. I wrote this article because it was obvious the chute's future was limited. I am pleased to see exactly how limited. Now the discussion over what, if anything, should replace it becomes more necessary. Thank you AKC, UKI and USDAA for your quick response and for keeping our dogs safe!!
What Do You Think?
Would You Like to See Agility Titling Organizations Look Into Using the Combined Hoop Obstacle in Place of the Chute?
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