Dog parks are a great way to let your dog play with friends. But it can get frustrating when the time to leave the dog park comes and your dog just won’t accept that. Here’s how to never need to catch or chase your dog when you want to go home again.
If you can get your dog into the airlock or catch it, you can leave the park. The problem most people face is that our dogs are much more nimble than we are and they quickly figure out our tricks to try and catch them. This results in a Benny Hill-themed chase around the park, a lot of frustration, and you’re still not on your way home.
Things to avoid when you want to leave the dog park
Before we get into the solution, let’s go over why a few things you might think are a good idea will usually make things worse.
Chasing your dog to catch it
To leave you need to put the leash on. To put the leash on you need to grab your dog. So you go and get close to your dog. It runs away, so you speed up and try to close the distance, and your dog zooms away still. Your dog isn’t dumb, it knows full well what your intentions are, especially if you only ever approach it when it’s time to leave. On top of that, your pup might get a blast out of having you chase it, which makes running from you an even better idea.
Getting angry, shouting at your dog
Being stuck in the park much longer than you’d planned because your dog refuses to collaborate is frustrating. Out of that frustration usually comes anger. Taking that anger out on your dog, however, is likely to make your problem worse, not better. By tensing up, moving more sharply, shouting, gesturing intently, or by doing any other action that your dog can interpret as “uh oh, human’s not happy”, you’re giving your dog yet another reason to not let you catch up. This is made even worse if, when you do get a hold of your dog, you scold the crap out of it. Your dog likely doesn’t have a clue that you’re angry because it was running around. It is far more likely to associate your unpleasantness to your holding it. Being held = bad. It’ll want to avoid that further: more running away.
The simple solution to leave the dog park
If you can get your dog into the “airlock”, the space between the two doors, then you can put your leash on and leave. Simple as that. That means that you only really need to do one thing: make getting into the airlock a really, really interesting thing.
Airlock means food. Great food.
We’re talking cheese, hot dogs, something your dog never eats and goes bananas for (incidentally, some dogs really like bananas). You won’t need a lot of it, but you’ll want many tiny pieces. Bring that with you at the dog park in a safely closed bag or pouch, so that it doesn’t cause issues with the other dogs present.
Every time your dog enters the airlock, it gets a piece of that delicious food. You’ll be able to use regular treats soon enough, but bring the big guns to start.
Getting the dog into the airlock
That’s the part that’ll suck the first few times. Your dog won’t want to go there and you’ll have to make it happen one way or another. Here are a few do’s and don’ts:
- Entice your dog to chase you
- Ask someone to gently grab them when they pass by
- Play with your dog a bit, then grab them when they’re close
- Put the leash on before heading towards the airlock, but keep it short
- Use your recall, if you think it will work
- Show your dog the delicious food to bait them in, ever
- Shout at your dog
- Tackle your dog
- Leave the dog park entirely so they get anxious and want to follow you
Food, then back to playing
Once your dog is in the airlock and the doors are closed, you’re going to praise them as if they’d just found the cure to cancer, give them one piece of the delicious food you brought, and send them right back into the dog park.
Let’s review what just happened in the eyes of your dog:
It got caught or accepted to come into the airlock, got praised massively and given amazing food, now it gets to go back and play?! HECK YEA!
You’ll want to do this a lot. Your dog likely has a massive learning history of “airlock means boring”. You’re going to tear that down one treat at a time.
Throughout any dog park visit, you’ll head to the airlock, give your dog praise and treat, then let it go back and play, five to ten times. On that final visit to the airlock, you’ll put the leash on and leave. Make sure the number of times you do this varies, so that your dog can’t predict which time means you’re actually leaving. You also want to be mindful of other “tip-offs”, such as only grabbing your leash when you’re leaving. Make it exactly the same every time!
At first, you’ll have to get your dog and bring it to the airlock, but after a few visits you’ll notice that you can simply walk towards the airlock, open the door, call your dog and it will come. Don’t get complacent, if you stop the process here you’ll lose all your progress.
Once your dog bolts for the door every time you open it, you can start reducing the amount of visits to the airlock. Don’t go from 10 to 0 in one go, though. Too big a change and your dog will notice! At this point, you can also start to mix in some regular treats. Just like reducing the amount of “free food visits” you want to gradually shift from high value food to regular rewards.
Maintaining the behavior
Once your dog follows you to the airlock every single time and you’ve gradually reduced the number of visits and value of the food, you can probably start only rewarding every so often and completely stop the “airlock = food” visits. If your dog adores the dog park, you might want to opt for always rewarding or keep sprinkling in some fake leaving to keep the motivation higher.
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written by Stephen Fiset, dog trainer
Mis à jour le September 24, 2023