by Megan Foster
Why is leaving the ring early referred to as, “the walk of shame”? Who is meant to feel shame in the situation? There should be no shame in getting out there and competing with your dog, and there should definitely not be shame if you choose to end the run early.
Here are some reasons I might choose to leave the ring early…
The dog no longer wants to be there. If a dog at any point runs to the exit gate, or appears to be looking for a way out, do your relationship a favor and ask to be excused. If the dog doesn’t want to be in the ring, for whatever reason, you don’t want to make him be there. The potential fallout is huge and he may never trust the ring to be safe or fun again.
It is no longer productive to be there. It has happened to all of us – for whatever reason, the run just isn’t going great. Maybe the dog is zooming around, or visiting the ring crew, or running around taking all the obstacles on their own, or maybe you just can’t remember the course! Whatever the reason, if you are not actively working together, do your training a favor and ask to be excused.
Reinforce a behavior! Sometimes, it’s a really good thing to leave the run early! It is my goal that the obstacles become reinforcing to the dog, but sometimes, I need to use the big pay-out (cookies! and a walk outside) to let the dog know that’s the behavior I was looking for. I would much rather leave early after a perfectly connected 8 obstacles rather than push through another 10, with the wheels falling off.
Remove access to reinforcement for my dog. And, finally, the most traditional use of leaving the ring early. On a very rare occasion, I do remove my dog from the course for making an error. It’s never my first choice when training or competing, but I have had to use it before. I ask myself first if I have done everything possible to prepare him for the task I expect him to do, and, I practice that procedure in training. I never go this route if I am having to remove my dog from training frequently, because that means he isn’t prepared to complete the task in a competition.
In all of these cases, there is no walk of shame. I ask to be excused, I collect my dog, I put his leash on, and I exit the ring to my cookie/toy stash, just like I always do. There is never a time where my dog doesn’t get their cookie/toy stash, or their walk around outside. In each of these situations, I choose to take my dog’s behavior as information that will drive my future training sessions, and make me think about why my dog might behave the way he did, but I don’t expect him to be sitting in the crate thinking about why he behaved the way he did.
It’s important to remember that what happens the very next moment after a behavior is what the dog connects to his behavior the moment before. What happens to him in the 5-10 minutes that follows his behavior is only connected to what he thinks/feels about you.
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