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How to Teach Your Dog to Come Every Time: Emergency Recall Using a Safety Word

In addition to his veterinary work, Dr. Mark also trains dogs—mostly large breeds and those that suffer from aggression problems.

A favorite game for my dog: Fetch the coconut!

A favorite game for my dog: Fetch the coconut!

What Is a Safety Word?

A safety word is a special command you use when recalling your dog. The “touch” safety word was developed for use with service dogs. A seeing-eye dog must respond to the touch command so that the owner can harness the dog and perhaps be led to safety. It is not as simple as the “come” command and is not something you use every day.

Most dogs will listen to their owners and respond 99% of the time when they are called. A safety command is taught so that your dog will respond to a recall 100% of the time. In an emergency, a 99% response rate is not good enough.

I learned the use of a safety word many years ago and have used several in the past. The safety word I currently use is “touch,” and since it is important to teach a dog hand signals too, I use them so that my dog will obey even from a distance. I hold my hand at my right side with the fingers out and pointing down.

The only other hand signal that is similar is the one used for “back up,” and my dog knows I only do this when we are in tight quarters.

The "touch" hand signal.

The "touch" hand signal.

When Should I Use This Command?

The safety word is a very important command. No matter how well you teach “come,” it is a command your dog hears every day and she may not respond 100% of the time. I know that when my dog is digging for crabs, or chasing a bird on the beach, her response to “come” will be less rapid than normal.

(She will pretend to not hear me so she can keep up the chase a little longer.)

This command can be used in an emergency situation. If your dog is off leash, and a truck or off-road vehicle is bearing down on her, use "touch" so that your dog will come running.

In an emergency, she needs to respond immediately. Just hold the hand out and call the word loudly enough for your dog to look at you.

Do I Have to Train My Dog to Come on Command?

Before you teach a dog to come to you when you use the "touch" command, she should be taught basic obedience.

Teaching your dog to respond to an emergency word might be just as important.

This always happens after I use the safety command and he comes.

This always happens after I use the safety command and he comes.

How to Teach the Command

If you do not choose to use “touch,” find another word or phrase that you will not normally use in the course of your day with her. Pick a hand signal that she can see from a distance.

  1. Hold a treat in your hand but do not allow the dog to eat it until her nose touches your hand.
  2. When your dog is eating the treat, tell her "touch."
  3. Grasp the treat between your fingers, tell her "touch," and do not release the treat until her nose touches your fingers.
  4. Stand back and repeat the command. When your dog nuzzles your fingers, give her the treat.
  5. Practice this command with her several times a day, from varying distances. It is a lot of fun to call her to "touch" from a room where she cannot even see you. See how long it takes for her to reach you.

Do not train for so long that she gets bored with this. When you are sure she has learned the command, you only need to practice it once or twice a week. I always give my dog a treat when I tell her “touch.” I know this is bribery, not training. My dog does not mind and neither do I. I want her to associate the command “touch” with a good thing 100% of the time.

Coming back for another!

Coming back for another!

Is Teaching a Safety Word Really Important?

It is important, really!

Maybe you will never have to use it. If you do have to, though, her life may depend on her response.

© 2012 Mark dos Anjos DVM


Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on April 04, 2018:

Paul, you cannot decrease the number of mosquitoes but you can decrease the number of those that are positive for heartworm. If you have a heartworm positive dog that has microfilaria (the immature form of the heartworm) in her blood then any mosquito that bites her might become positive. If you put her on preventative it would not help her much but would help the other two dogs.

Here is the link to a cheap over the counter heartworm preventative

I hope this helps. Good luck with them, and let me know how things are going.

Paul from Raiford, Florida on April 04, 2018:

Dr. Mark, I wrote you about my 3 dogs (with one I think having heartworms) You emailed me back and I responded witht this note. Please email back if you could, but also explain how to get to your site or how to "continue" with this conversation here....:

You wrote:

Paul, at this stage the preventative may not help your Chihuahua. If he already has congestive heart failure secondary to the heartworms the preventative will not help. It might help your other dogs though, by decreasing the number of heartworm carrying mosquitoes in the area. If they were my dogs I would start them on preventative ASAP.

If you need help on buying cheap heartworm preventative without a prescription, you can look at my profile page

Dr. Mark at Pethelpful

Thank you so much for writing me back kind sir!!


How do I decrease the number of mosquitoes though? I have tried to lessen any standing water, but where I live, there are many ponds....

Lastly, Is there any dosage (and brand you would recommend for my other dogs (Ridgeback and Papillon)) and how can I made my dear friend more comfortable until she leaves me (crying as I write this....)

Thank you so much sir. You have the biggest heart of any person I know. To help out strangers as you do....

God bless you!!


(904) 263-8386

Mark dos Anjos DVM (author) from The Atlantic Rain Forest, Brazil on August 02, 2012:

She didn't even know she was modelling, which is the best way to get pictures!

Thanks for the comment.

wetnosedogs from Alabama on August 02, 2012:

This is good to know.

I know Jenny will pretend not to hear me when she is on the prowl in the back yard.

Enjoyed pix of your dog in the water. Lots of fun.