Measurements of temperature dependence of the return current in high quality Nb/AlOx/Nb Josephson junctions are presented. From the experimental data, we obtain the effective resistance, i.e., the effective dissipation, for the retrapping process, according to the generalized resistively shunted junction model proposed by Chen, Fisher, and Leggett. We present a careful analysis, based on a comparison between the measured temperature dependencies of both the return and the quasiparticle tunneling current. We find that the junction subgap conductance, which includes the quasiparticle and the quasiparticle-pair interference terms, is responsible for the return process. The measurements have been performed on various samples, in a wide range of critical current densities from 50 to 2250 A/cm2, covering different damping regimes and spanning over the high and low temperature limits. Junctions with low critical current density show ideal dissipation which makes the return current scale with temperature according to the BCS exponential behavior without flattening out effects. This result may be relevant for the possible use of Nb/AlOx/Nb junctions in macroscopic quantum coherence experiments, which strongly require a very low dissipation. © 1997 American Institute of Physics.