How to Teach Your Dog to Come Every Time: Emergency Recall Using a Safety Word
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 lead to safety. It is not as simple as the “come” command, and 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 that used for “back up”, and my dog knows I only do this when we are in tight quarters.
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 everyday 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.
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.
- Hold a treat in your hand but do not allow the dog to eat it until her nose touches your hand.
- When your dog is eating the treat, tell her "touch".
- Grasp the treat between your fingers, tell her "touch", and do not release the treat until her nose touches your fingers.
- Stand back and repeat the command. When your dog nuzzles your fingers, give her the treat.
- 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.
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.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
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© 2012 Dr Mark