Bha! My dog won’t leave the park!

dog with all the toys at the park

Walk time!   Taking your dog for a walk is such a great experience.  You walk to the park, unclip the leash and watch your pup run free around the off-leash area, enjoying their friends and all the new smells.  Thirty minutes later, it’s time to go.  It’s your turn to put the kids to bed, so you need to get home to relieve your partner.

“Fido, come!” you call.  Fido turns and looks, but keeps playing.

“Fido, com’mon.  Time to go.”  Fido doesn’t even look this time.

Expletive deletives are whispered under your breath.   You know this game—Keep Away.  You’re going to be late getting home.  Your partner is going to yell at you for not being there to put the kids to bed—all because FIDO wouldn’t stop playing with his buddies.

This game is all too familiar.  As a dog walker, it is the one thing that sends me into a rage in 0.05 seconds, flat.  I’ve had dogs who have done this for upwards of half an hour.  Keep Away is a tremendously infuriating game, because there is absolutely nothing you can do to stop it.  Fido has to choose to show up.    And what could be more fun that being chased all over the park by your human best friend? Why would he want this to end?

We dog walkers have gotten wise to this game, and there are several tricks we employ to prevent it.

  1. Practice makes perfect! Practice recall over and over and over again during your time at the park.  Call Fido every couple of minutes, for no reason—just for the sake of calling him.  If your dog is treat motivated, bring treats with you to the park.  Cut them into small pieces and keep them handy for quick disbursement.   Every time Fido shows up, give him a treat, and then the release command:  “Ok, go play.”  Don’t just wait until it’s time to leave the park to recall Fido.  Fido is smart.  Fido has learned that ‘being called’ equals ‘home time.’  And why would he want to leave?
  1. Up the Ante. Fido has gotten really good at coming when called.  Yah!  ..every time you reach for his collar, he darts away.  The collar grab has been become the marker for leaving the park now.    (This could also be true of holding his leash in your hand.)  Fido thinks:  “I can come in just close enough to get lots of yummy treats, and I only need to avoid the hand….got it!  Easy peasy. “  Up the ante to:  The Collar Grab.    Step one:  get Fido comfortable coming all the way in (right up close to you) to get the treat.  When he’s good at that, move to Step Two:  Hold the treat tightly in the fingers of your right hand, so only a little bit is accessible to Fido.  Call Fido.  Fido comes right in.  Offer him the treat which is tucked in your fingers.  While he nibbles your at the treat, gently grab the collar with your left hand and give it a little tug—just enough so he knows you have a hold of it.  Let go of the collar, give him the whole treat and give the release command: “Ok, go play.”  Keep practicing this until they are confident with the Collar Grab.
  1. The Long Line. A long line is just a really fancy name for a really long leash. They typically are around 10 to 40 feet in length.  For an off-leash park setting something around 10 – 20 feet is ideal.  This would be a special leash that you would bring with you to the park—you wouldn’t walk your dog on this leash.  Once inside the fenced area, you unclip the regular short leash, and clip on the long line.  You would let this drag on the ground.  Now you only have to get within 10 feet of your dog to catch them.  This tool can be used in conjunction with the above, as a backup.  It is also a good idea to tie some knots in the long line—this way you can step on it, and it won’t slide under your shoe.
  1. Break Glass in Case of Emergency. I carry a squeaky toy with me all the time.  Most of our dogs LOVE them.  This toy never leaves my backpack.  This is the emergency toy.  If I’m having a really hard time getting a dog back, I pull it out and give’r the squeak.   I can get lucky sometimes, and the dog will show up for it.  Fido only gets it once he’s back on leash.  It’s a reward for showing up.
  1. L’etranger. If you can’t get close enough to grab Fido, perhaps a stranger can.  This has worked on many occasions.
  1. Never Punish. This one is really important.  No matter what.  Never ever.  Doesn’t matter if Fido ran around playing Keep Away for three hours before FINALLY showing up.  You CANNOT, under any circumstances, punish him for showing up.  Even though it took three hours, he did what you wanted….he showed up.  Give him the treat, put the leash on and go home.  Then scream into your pillow.  Tell your partner you’re really sorry, and you’ll do bedtime and the dishes for the rest of the week.    The dog who shows up and is punished, learns to avoid showing up.

These are our tricks for grabbing a wayward Fido.  We’d love to hear some of yours…

 

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