Ding Dong the Chute is Dead
In response to the many safety concerns raised by the agility community, the American Kennel Club (AKC) suspended the use of the chute/closed tunnel in competition as of August 2016. Many other agility organizations also chose to temporarily suspend or altogether remove the chute from the list of approved obstacles for their organization. The chute consists of a barrel-like entrance and then a length of fabric through which the dog must exit. According to the AKC “this obstacle has been shown to cause issues as performances have become faster and higher level classes have become more complex.”
The United States Dog Agility Association (USDAA) announcement cites the escalation in the number of entanglements, and report of injuries as contributing to their decision. The USDAA said that the characteristics of the fabric on the chute were too varied to accommodate the current state of the sport today. Based on photo and video evidence the USDAA reviewed, they felt that the length of the chute fabric seemed to have little effect on the overall safety of the obstacle. The USDAA concluded that the risk is hidden until the moment of an incident, and it is not reasonable to assume that it is something that can be trained with reliability.
Donna Murdoch had been competing in agility for almost 20 years without any issues with the chute until one fateful day of competition with her highly experienced Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever (Toller), Blaze. The course on that day was set up as such that dogs had a tight turn out of the chute, and Blaze was caught up in the fabric, flipped, and landed on her back and side. Donna said “this turned out to be a permanent injury, and that not only ended her agility career, but will cause her pain for the rest of her life”. Donna hopes that the chute will never return to competition, but says that if it does, she would only run if the exits were straight. She says she does not want to risk another dog being injured by something that they do for us to make us happy. She says her dogs enjoy the sport, but she enters them, and feels responsible for their safety.
Darlene Rinaldi Barnes says that she has seen dogs get hung up in the chute and sometimes flip over coming out. One time, her Jack Russel Terrier, Hailey, got tangled up in the chute fabric when it was a really windy day outside, and the fabric flipped over. Thankfully, Hailey was not injured. Darlene did feel like the bigger and faster dogs were more likely to experience problems with the chute. She liked the chute, but understood that it was dangerous to a lot of dogs.
Michelle Levitt felt that the change was a step in the right direction. She said “with the way agility has evolved with speed and more challenges it was necessary.” She had one time when her Toller Riley came out with all 4 feet in the air. Luckily, she caught herself and there were no issues. She said the chute poses too high of a risk when the dogs would hit it with speed and “asking the dogs to fly through a blind chute of fabric and expect to know where to go is just too dangerous”.
While most of the agility organizations are still evaluating if the chute can be re-introduced in a safer design, the petition for its removal seems to indicate that there are a number of competitors who feel that eliminating this obstacle is the right thing to do for the safety of our canine partners.