We’ve all been there, we are at the end of a great off leash adventure, heading back to the car and suddenly our dog won’t respond when we call them, or worse takes off back into the park when we grab the leash to collect them. If given a choice I think most of our dogs would happily adventure for another couple hours, unfortunately life gets in the way and usually we have to end a walk before our dogs are ready. This leads to frustration for our dogs but also as anyone who has experienced this will agree, frustration for us!
Let’s think of all those cues that let our dogs know the fun is over. We head back to the car, we grab their leash, we call them, and probably many other subtle changes we haven’t even noticed!
Here are 5 tips that will make ending our walks much more enjoyable;
1. The leash doesn’t end the walk. If the only time we ever put them on leash is at the end of the walk it is a dead give away that the party is over. During your walk randomly clip them on leash, give them a couple of cookies, ask for a fun trick, or walk a short distance and then take that leash off again. Instead of the leash being a cue for the end of the walk, the leash is an opportunity to have fun with you!
2. Don’t use your Recall cue to end the walk. Recall is such an important (and potentially life saving cue). So we never want to risk pairing our recall with any unpleasant outcome. I may wait till my dog checks in naturally, call them over with a different cue, a hand target works great here, or if you have been working on #1 you may find you grab the leash and your dog comes over on their own.
3. Engage always! Throughout your walk take time to call your dog, reinforce those recalls, ask your dog for tricks, play with your dog, actively participate in the walk. I often see dogs and their humans out together, but they aren’t really together. Take the time to walk with your dog. If the only time we call them or engage with them is at the end of the walk, we are actually punishing the behaviour of engaging with us.
4. Make entering the vehicle an opportunity for more fun! Sometime I will ask my dogs to hop back in the car and then release them back out and continue our walk. I may do this half way through or surprise them on a day when I have more time. Getting in the car does not always mean the fun is over!
5. Reinforce the end of the walk. Running, walking, and exploring are all naturally reinforcing to our dogs. When we do end the walk, consider adding some reinforcement. Toss a couple of cookies on the ground after clipping them on leash, or after they get in the car at the end of the walk.
So what do we do if we are in a situation where we can’t catch our dog at the end of the walk?
1. Stay calm. No dog wants to come to an owner with steam coming from their ears!
2. Ditch the ego. When they do come to you or you do collect them, reinforce it! Dogs learn really quickly to avoid being caught. The next time you try and grab for them it will not come as easily. Put aside personal feelings, reward the dog, and make a plan to handle the situation differently in the future.
3. Utilize management. Long lines can be an extremely helpful way to manage this behaviour while we are working on alternative behaviours.
Now get out and have fun with your dog!