Tuesday Topics #44 - She's a Wanderer

Just about every morning, I take Cabana to a nearby park that allows dogs off-leash during certain hours. The park consists of 18 acres of fields which are also used for soccer, baseball, and softball. Over the past two years and a half years, Cabana and I have made wonderful friends, both human and canine, with the folks who show up at the same time every day, and together, we walk as a pack, back and forth along the back fence of the fields. Our walking keeps the dogs walking, so we all get exercise. Meanwhile, the humans chat with each other and throw Chuck-Its for the dogs that like to retrieve. Other dogs romp around with one another or just sniff the gopher holes, which are abundant. Our time at the park is something I look forward to every day, rain or shine.

The problem is that Cabana is not a ball dog or a gopher hole sniffing dog. She will retrieve the ball 3-5 times, but even if I reward her every time she brings the ball back to me, she loses interest. What she likes to do instead is WANDER. She has learned that she sometimes finds yummy morsels when she's off by herself--a bag of chips left behind from a kid's lunch, dropped peanuts from a baseball player, maybe even some rabbit droppings. Even when her favorite dog friends are there, like Maggie (the English Springer Spaniel) or Bodhi (the Blue Picardy Spaniel), she will romp around with them for a while, but sometimes, she will still wander off.

The park is about 90% fenced, so I'm not too concerned about Cabana getting lost. It's more that it's an inconvenience for me and a bad habit for her. I've tried to show in the photos what a big field this is and how far away from me Cabana can be. When she's just a few yards away, she's very good about coming when I call her. But if she wanders a bit too far, she blows me off completely. I call her name, TRYING not to use "come" unless I'm sure she's going obey (though I've blown it many times and used the word when I shouldn't have). When she does come, I reward her with a treat and praise. But she will immediately start to wander off again. Sometimes, I feel like I have to call her over to me every 15 seconds. I can't have a conversation with anyone or lose track of her for even a minute, or she will have taken off.

Part of it, I'm sure, is that Cabana has figured out that if she wanders off and I call her, she gets a treat, so she has made it into a manipulative game. But if that was truly the case, she would come every time when I call her--but she doesn't.

I have tried many different tactics to stop the wandering. If she wanders and doesn't respond when I call her, I go to her and leash her for a while, so she loses her freedom as a consequence. I've tried different kinds of treats for the recall. I've tried recalling with a whistle. A friend even lent me an e-collar for a week, which actually worked very well (I only needed the vibrate mode), but I still have mixed feelings about getting one myself. I guess I could leash her the whole time we're at the park, but that sort of defeats the purpose of being there. I have also tried waiting her out, not calling her at all, and waiting to see if she will ever come back to me on her own. This does not work at all--she eventually ends up heading over to the parking lot or leaving the fields altogether and poking around in neighboring yards. She's just not a stick-to-your-side kind of dog--she's very independent, and it would probably take hours for her to even miss me or wonder where I am.

As I write this post, I'm thinking of the definition of crazy--it's a person who does the same thing wrong over and over, but expects a different outcome each time. I think that's what I'm doing. I need to think differently about this wandering issue, but I can't seem to see the situation clearly while I'm in it. Any advice from an onlooker's perspective?

Brittany  – (May 29, 2012 at 1:34 PM)  

Will she wander if she is on a long line or a retractable leash?

If she WILL, let her wander out a few feet (start with 10-15) and wait for her to come back on her own. Don't talk to her, move the leash, move around or ANYTHING to try to get her to come back to you, just wait. Have some SUPER wonderful treats, preferably several different kinds. As soon as she looks at you, praise like crazy and give her a reward. Even if she doesn't come back to you the first few times, if she looks at you, praise and maybe even toss the treats towards her.

After she checks in or comes back and gets her reward, specifically give her permission to go back to wandering. Tell her "go play, sniff, wander, whatever" then ignore her until she comes back again. Getting to go back to what she was doing should be part of the reward!

After a few times, she should be checking back in, and hopefully coming over to you more and more by her own choice. If she DOESN'T start coming over to you after a handful of rewarded check-in's up the criteria for reward and require that she come to you for the reward. Still don't call her over, wait until SHE makes the choice to come to you.

You will gradually be giving her more and more room to wander away (still on leash). You can practice with her OFF leash in a place that isn't very rewarding.....so don't just let her go in the park and expect her to stick around and/or come back. When you practice off leash, have a treat that is like doggy crack. Some favorites for Hobbs are liver, salmon, bacon, or sardines (gross, but he likes them).

Remember, this could take months! You want her to figure out, on her own, that coming back to you is the best thing ever.

Good luck!

Meghan  – (May 29, 2012 at 3:47 PM)  

I use a remote control citrinella collar with my dogs. It works wonders and is 100% harmless to the dog. I think it has a range of about 250 or 300 feet. I got mine on amazon.com for $75. It is the Spray Commander collar by Premier. That is my preferred training tool. I have used it to stop barking, countersurfing, jumping and whining while crated with various dogs, and it worked well with all of them.

Mango  – (May 29, 2012 at 4:32 PM)  

Oh dear. I would be very stressed if either of my dogs wandered off that far. I would be certain they would locate that 10% of unfenced area and poof be gone.

Mango Momma

OSU 98  – (May 30, 2012 at 7:43 AM)  

I am very fotunate...so far, most of the time, Ace comes back...in fact, I will let him wander and then yell for him because he comes running...in a dead sprint. :) But if he doesn't come, immediate loss of privielge of being off leash when I get him back.

Mimi and CC Cabana  – (May 30, 2012 at 5:26 PM)  

Thanks for your comments, everyone!

Brittany, thanks for your thought-out advice. I do use a retractable sometimes, but with the way that Cabana plays with other dogs, it isn't really possible to use it at the park. Not for any length of time anyway. I could maybe use one when she's not engaged with any other dogs, then unclip her when she's about to play. Cabana does check in, very frequently, even when I don't call her. She's great a lot of the time. It's just that 10% when she decides there's something else more enticing. But I do think I need to incorporate some of the things you're saying. Higher value treats being one.

Meghan, I also like the idea of a citronella collar. It seems a bit kinder than an e-collar, although as I mentioned, I would only use the vibrate mode. So it would be more of a startle effect, like if you're cell phone is on vibrate and you forgot it was in your pocket.

Mango Momma and OSU, honestly, I can only hope to be as great a dog mom as you two!

Kari in Vegas  – (May 30, 2012 at 6:14 PM)  

Mine always did that at the parks in AK and we worked hard on untraining it

Stop on by for a visit

Min  – (May 31, 2012 at 11:39 AM)  

Bella has taken a liking to running down the street if we let her stay in the garage with us for too long. I have a huge fear of her getting hit by a car one day. I wish I could help you with Cabana's wandering. She's such a good pup though that I'm sure you'll train her in no time.

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