Dog agility gear can be expensive, but home-made alternatives can be quite functional, much cheaper and fun to build as well. I wanted to make a chute obstacle as inexpensively as possible, consistent with my other dog agility apparatus instructables. The chute consists essentially of a short, rigid tube followed by a long fabric tunnel. The dog runs into the open tube and continues through the fabric tunnel, forcing it open until he/she pops out the end.
55-gallon plastic drum, 1
Plastic wheel chocks, 2
Pool noodle, 1
10-24 x 3/4" machine screws (6) with matching nuts (6), lock washers (6) and flat washers (12)
File and/or angle grinder
Step 1: Cut Down Barrel
The 55-gallon drum I bought ($10) had the lid firmly affixed to the top. I laid the barrel down on its side and, using the lid as a guide, cut the top of the barrel off, lid and all, by rolling the barrel along the floor toward me and the cutting edge of the circular saw blade. If I ever make another, I might try first cutting around the inside of the top, perhaps with a jigsaw, to leave the rim intact. This method would add more structural rigidity to the resulting tube, which ends up a bit floppy using the current design.
You should find out the previous contents of your barrel before purchase and reject any that had contained toxic or highly corrosive materials. My barrel had contained floor wax. I drained off the excess into a 2-liter bottle for disposal.
There is no lid on the bottom, so I free-handed that cut. If I had to do it again, I would try placing the end of the barrel against a long wall and using the wall as a guide. I was not able to quite match up the end of the cut with the beginning, so I smoothed out the bump with an angle grinder.
I pressure washed the inside to remove the rest of the wax. Pressure-washing also cleaned up the exterior quite a bit, removing grease, dirt and paper labels. Now I had a nice, clean tube.
Step 2: Add Wheel Chocks to Tube
The barrel must be stabilized so that it cannot roll from side to side. There are some elaborate means of accomplishing this stability, but I used some extra wheel chocks that I had in my RV. This set was about to expire anyway. These plastic structures are designed to prevent the wheels of the RV from rolling when parked on an uneven surface, and so are perfect for this application. I set the wheel chocks adjacent to the first of two rings that encircle the barrel, which presumably add rigidity to its form. I did not place them right at the edge in part because the barrel curves, narrowing in diameter toward the end. I placed them 6 1/2" apart as shown, or just enough to get what will be the bottom of the tube off the floor. I drilled 3/16" holes through the barrel and into the wheel chock at 3 places for 10-24x3/4" round-headed machine screws. Each hole penetrated the outer layer of the chock only, allowing the nut to be attached from inside the wheel chock. Of course, I used a flat washer and lock washer under the nut, and a flat washer under the head of the screw to distribute the stress over a larger area. I had to use needle nose pliers to place the washers and hold the nut on, while I screwed it in from the other side. Though more difficult, this procedure placed the heads of the bolts on the inside of the tube, posing less of an injury hazard to dogs than the threaded ends. I held the chock in place and drilled the first hole through both the barrel and the chock. I put the screw in the hole, tightened it, and adjusted the position of the chock. I similarly added the other two bolts one at a time so that I did not have any difficulty lining up the holes. I place the bolts in a triangular pattern for stability. When done, the tube can be placed with the chocks down and will not roll.
Step 3: Add Grip Tape
Plastic barrels are very slick. To aid the dog in maintaining traction inside the tube, I added grip tape in a series of transverse strips 22" long.
Step 4: Add Overhead Padding
Consisting of a hollow cylinder of closed-cell plastic foam, pool noodles are cheap and very useful. In this case I used one to make a cushion in case the dog bumps its head on the way into the chute. I took a pool noodle and measured it up against the opening of the tube. I used a length that would cover not quite the upper half. I marked it and cut it off with a knife. I cut it again longitudinally with the knife and placed it around the opening. I drilled 5/32" holes in the tube and secured it with 8" zip ties spaced equally around the noodle..
Step 5: Attach Fabric Tunnel
The second part of the apparatus consists of a tunnel of durable fabric. After submitting this part of the project to the "Buy or Build Committee" in my head, I elected to buy. My sewing skills are limited, and the cost of a purchased one was not extreme. I found the chute on Amazon.com. It is made by Affordable Agility and cost $44.95 plus shipping (this is not an endorsement). It consists of a single layer of ripstop nylon, which should be adequate for home use. There are heavier ones available from other vendors, but the prices go up quickly. The circumference of the barrel is 44". The tunnel was slightly greater than this, allowing me to easily slip the tunnel over the end of the tube. The chute is 12 feet long, but the current regulation length for AKC competition is 6 feet. I simply pulled more of the fabric onto the barrel, and adjust the remaining length to 6 feet. Though the end (or beginning) of the chute has a bit of velcro that could be used to hold it in place, that was pointless with all the fabric bunched up on the barrel. Instead, I used a black rubber tie-down and a length of polyethylene rope to secure the tunnel.I tied a loop in the end of the rope at a length to achieve the desired tension. I burned the ends of the rope with a lighter to minimize fraying. I placed it just behind one of the rings, which would help prevent it from slipping back. I had planned to mark the chute at the 6-foot point, but a seam conveniently marked the spot where I had placed the tie-down.
Step 6: Field Test
I tested the apparatus with a Standard Schnauzer, who was at the time a novice agility dog. She had no trouble with it. Rather than leave the obstacle out in the weather, I placed it front down on my back porch with the chute tucked into the inside for storage. A significant bonus is that the entire apparatus is very light and should prove to be readily portable.