Teaching an off switch on a self-assigned job?
Ember has finally given herself a job, but I am finding that she is 100% working herself into a tizzy. Her job is tracking while walking.

We've been doing 1 "freedom walk" or "nature walk" a day for a week now. I was cutting them off around half an hour because we are talking about an inactive dog that needs to build up her stamina for the task. I was noticing behavior that looked pain related (suddenly dropping and chewing on nails, which will be cut down on the 14th, and an unnatural-for-Ember gait after about 20 minutes - very very slight wobble). These may not be bad and easily remedied but I didn't want her to push herself into actually getting hurt.

For the record, she has been checked over multiple times for bone/hip/muscle issues and no vet has found anything. There will be yet another check on the 14th. My mom things she might actually have reflux that is coming up while walking.

Yesterday, I let her go as long as I could possibly let her to see what she would do. We went 1.8 miles in an hour and a half. We had all the same signals as above, plus some soap-like foaming (for the second day in a row) and a quick nibble on grass only one time during the walk. Ember never once showed she was ready to go home, and was checking every little leaf out. She alternated between heavy tracking and walking down the path at a decent clip (yes, I still trip over her when she suddenly hits tracking mode again).

Towards the end I was getting tired (I'm not in the greatest shape), and I really didn't want her to push herself. She was taking us further and further from home with no signal of turning around. I finally turned us around myself, and let me tell you, it was like this switch flipped. She became a completely different, frantic dog - trying to DRAG me back home! She was trying to dart across streets in the general direction of the apartment (busy road, we were on a walking trail that runs along side it), huge stress signals, sprinting most of the way, yelping if I had to stop her to cross traffic.

Again, I was already tired, and couldn't keep her pace. And she scared the crap out of me all the way back trying to cross roads. All verbal commands went out the window (we have a "wait" which means stop right where you are, used for crossing roads - she had been listening to it the entire walk until I turned her towards home). Because of all of this I ended up manhandling her the entire way back, which completely defeated the purpose of the "freedom walk".

She yanked me up the steps to our apartment hard enough to make me fall.

All of this is completely new behavior. Since then, I've had to coax her out of the door for potty walks - she did not enjoy the walk home and clearly doesn't want a repeat. Can't blame her!

The only thing I can think of that is happening is that she is tracking from one smell to the next, almost with OCD. It's like she can't just follow a trail and leave it at that, but each and every new scent must be followed, so she's in a never ending loop of new smells the further we go. She isn't giving me any indicators that she is tired or ready to quit until I turn her home myself.

I don't know what to do about this. I'm forgoing the freedom walk today, and possibly tomorrow. How would I set her up for success? How do I teach her to turn herself off when she is tired?

When she is working, food, touch, and voice are all aversive. She wants to be left completely alone. I may be getting some check ins finally, but they are very quick glances for little regard of what I might suggest with body language.
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Gotcha Day: November 14, 2015
Vet-Listed Birthday: May 2, 2014
Could you perhaps find a spot to drive to where you could walk her in a loop and when you're done just drive back home? That way you don't have to worry about turning around.
Here's my thoughts, for what they are worth. Ember was probably so intent on her tracking that she lost track of where she actually was and gave herself a fright. If I were you, I would intentionally stop her and give her a couple minutes of attention in one place before letting her start tracking again while she is still well inside her familiar territory. Stop her when you are at the boundary again. This makes her have to realize where she is. Let her track some more, but stop her often. On the way home, same thing. Don't let her run home in a panic, ask for her to focus on you. If she won't, stop again. This is to remind her that she can count on you when you are out and about
Gotta love 'em.

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