Emergency Recall Training for Dogs
Getting Your Dog to Come When Called
In this guide, I'll show you the method I used to teach my pup how to come when called 100% of the time. I can tell you with full authority that even the most stubborn dog can learn an emergency recall word and respond to it consistently.
Knowing how to get your dog to come when called is one of the most important things to figure out as a pet owner. Even if your dog isn't capable of learning how to balance a treat on their nose or moonwalk, you absolutely want to make sure they are safe in every situation.
For dogs and puppies that are stubborn, prone to wandering, or are runners or animal chasers, teaching an emergency recall is an absolute requisite.
Is your dog a menace?
My Dog: A Tiny Gazelle
No, really, we call our dog (who's name is actually Penny) our tiny gazelle because she is so ridiculously fast. She loses her mind while running, and as we learned fairly quickly when she was a puppy, she is a deceptively casual escape artist.
From time to time, a door would be left open for a second too long, or a gate to the yard would be left unlatched, and our dear little dog would saunter outside. My husband or I would call her with a firm "Come here!" and be met with a blank stare.
Any advances from us would be equally matched with a retreat from her. After a few tense seconds, an overwhelming fear begins to build that she is going to bolt. The knee jerk reaction is to approach the animal, but of course this turns into a fun game of "betcha' can't catch me!" Naturally, this quickly escalates to Penny running at full speed into the street. She's an expert hand dodger as well.
Eventually one of the following things would happen:
- The stars would align and someone's grasp would match her ludicrous speed.
- A random stranger who had joined in our dog wrangling would charm her (Sidenote: What better way to make you look like a completely inept pet owner than if your dog will come to anyone BUT you).
- She'd simply exhaust herself, give up, and allow herself to be captured.
You know what? Those options really suck.
What Is Emergency Recall?
How does it differ from normal recall?
Emergency recall is simply a word or very short phrase you can use to get your dog to come to you immediately, without hesitation. It differs from a normal recall word because it is only used in emergency situations. Emergency recall should be an incredibly reliable fail-safe.
Words such as "come" or "here" are used frequently to teach a dog to come when called. There is nothing inherently wrong with these words, but as many dog owners can attest, they don't always get Fido to come a runnin'.
The reason for this is that these words are used day in and day out to get the dog to come to you for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's something fantastic like a meal, but other times it's something dreadful like a bath.
Over time, these words can become "poisoned" as the dog starts to associate the word with negative things. You can attempt to avoid the poisoning with reward-based training for teaching a dog recall, but for many dog owners, this is not enough.
Why Is Emergency Recall Important?
Emergency recall is a safe guard. As the name implies, it is to be used only in cases of emergency and is especially useful with dogs that are stubborn or not consistent with their usual recall word. Here are some scenarios where having an emergency recall word is imperative:
- With no concept of what a "car" is, your dog has decided that the street is the most logical place to be running laps.
- They've discovered that a wasp or black widow spider is a fun new plaything.
- They would like to sniff or possibly make friends with a potentially dangerous wild animal.
- They've courted, and begun a relationship with an aggressive and potentially abusive dog.
- Any other situation where the health and safety of your animal is at immediate risk.
In General . . .
Teaching your dog to come reliably, whether it be normal recall or emergency recall, requires consistency and positive reinforcement. This means you must practice the command on a regular basis, with treats and praise, over a considerable period of time.
How to Teach Your Dog Emergency Recall
1. What's the Word?
The first step to teaching your dog emergency recall is to come up with a word or simple phrase to use. The command should be short, not something you say often, and in no way similar to any of the words you usually use for recall (or any other command).
We use "Penny NOW!" (I know, not very creative). Other potential commands are "Quick Digs!" "Hurry Kid!" "Kick Splits!" or whatever the German word for "Get Your Butt Over Here" is . . .
You can be as creative or uncreative as you want, just make sure it's something you wouldn't mind yelling at the top of your lungs in (potentially) mixed company. Also, make sure it's something that you can easily remember under stress.
2. Cardboard Biscuits Won't Cut It
The next step is to get some seriously amazing treats. Remember, this is seriously amazing for a dog, so it's not gonna take much to blow their minds.
We used chicken (rotisserie chicken is Penny's fav), but you can also use hot dogs, lunch meat, leftover steak . . . whatever you've got that's NOT TOXIC to dogs (be careful with this guys).
3. Let Training Commence!
Now that you're stocked up with your training essentials, try using the command right in front of your dog.
- Once they come to you, grab their collar (this is important) then give them their special treat for 20-30 seconds.
- After you reward them, let them go about whatever they were doing before (this is also important).
- Practice this daily, slowly moving farther and farther away from your dog until you're completely out of view.
Why You Need to Grab Their Collar
I say you should grab your dog's collar before giving them the treat because my dog likes to play keep away when I'm trying to wrangle her.
Your dog needs to learn that they must not only come to you, but they also need to allow you to grab their collar.
If you do use the command in an emergency situation, you'll actually be able to grab a hold of them and take them to safety.
Never Use the Command Except for Training or in an Emergency
ALWAYS let your dog go back to what they were doing (playing, running, chewing on their butt, whatever) when you use the emergency recall command in a training environment.
You want your dog to ONLY associate the emergency recall word with these super amazing mind-blowing treats, and never associate it with something negative (like a bath, a trip to the vet, or you leaving for work).
If they start to associate it with something negative, the command may not work when you really need it to.
4. Mix It Up and Try It in Different Locations
As your dog gets the hang of this new command, try it in all kinds of different situations and circumstances:
- Try it with different people saying it.
- Try it in other places.
- Try it when other dogs are around (probably not at a dog park though, unless you want dogs crawling all over you for your hotdogs).
You want your dog to respond reliably regardless of where they are.
Rules and Other Important Notes
- You've gotta use super awesome amazing tasting (for a dog) treats. People meats (i.e. meats that people eat, not meat made of people) are ideal.
- Never never never use the emergency command for a non-emergency situation. I know it can be tempting to use it when you're late for work and the dog just won't come back in the house, but it's really not worth it. You don't want any shred of doubt that your dog will come to you instantly in a dangerous situation.
- If you ever use the emergency recall word and you don't have a delicious treat handy (which is very likely if it's actually an emergency, go figure) make a big 'ol fuss about the dog coming to you. I even take the dog fussin' all the way over to the refrigerator for some people meats.
- As with all training, keep it upbeat and positive!
And Finally, here's Penny not responding to... anything.
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.
Questions & Answers
My 8-month cocker spaniel always come back to me when called, however, for the last two walks, he ran off when he saw another dog. Both times the other dog didn't want his attention, and understandably the owners got upset. I'm going to try the emergency recall training, any other advice?Helpful 8
My dog is seventeen-years-old. Is that too late to teach emergency recall?
I do not think it's ever too late to teach emergency recall training. However, training an older dog can come with some unique challenges. You may find this article helpful: https://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/10_12/fea...Helpful 6
What kind of mix is your dog?
She's a Beagle / Australian Cattle Dog. She might have some other breed in the mix, though.Helpful 6
Is there an age that is too young to begin recall training?
I don't think so, no. Getting a very young puppy to focus long enough to be trained is another story. However, don't try anything off leash in a non-fenced-in area.Helpful 3
© 2013 Shay Marie