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?
Is your dog a menace? | Source

Is your dog a menace?

  • What dog? I don't have a dog!
  • Of COURSE not. My dog is an angel.
  • Just add some horns and dog sized pitchfork. My dog is the DEVIL.
  • I refuse to answer this ridiculous question.
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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:

  1. The stars would align and someone's grasp would match her ludicrous speed.
  2. 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).
  3. 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.

She's probably thinking of bolting.
She's probably thinking of bolting.

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.

© 2013 Shay Marie

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Comments - Anything to Share on Dog Training? 39 comments

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 6 weeks ago from Southern California Author

@Pamela V -- I'm not a dog trainer, but I don't see why not. Just make sure you're consistent with training/rewards for all three.

Pamela V 6 weeks ago

Hello! I was wondering, I have 3 dogs, one inside the house and two on the backyard. The one inside is a yorkie, very responsive whenever he wants to. :p

But one of the two in the backyard is quite a savage golden retriever. She is one happy wild dog! So, i'm definetly trying this Emergency Recall, but my question is, can I use the same word/phrase for the 3 of them?

rachel 3 months ago

My dog got off her leash right next to a busy street once, and I remembered that I had read not to chase a loose dog because they'll think it's a game and run from you, so instead I called her name and ran in the other direction (which was incredibly hard to do because I wanted to run after her) and she thought we were playing a game and ran right to me. Having an emergency recall command is a good idea too!!

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 4 months ago from Southern California Author

@Tanya -- She's an Australian Cattle Dog/Beagle mix. No German Shepherd, but she does have similar coloration for sure!

Tanya 4 months ago

Great tips...what breed is your dog, she looks a lot like my dog. I know he has german shepherd in him but has a bit of looks of your dog. He was a rescue. pS he bolts every chance he gets, we have to lock the door because he figured out how to open door. although now he's figuring out the lock lol

Dot 7 months ago

We have an amazing rescue named Sadie. She is a bridle border collie, karelian bear dog mix. So to say the least she is a chaser/defender. To top it off we live in Alaska where moose, bear & wolves are always around. She is fearless and I am always terrified when she goes after moose (especially with her calves) because there is no way she is going to stop until she chases them about a mile away from her home. I am praying this will work for us. I am hopeful because she is amazingly smart. I've been able to teach her anything in only a day. Now coming up with a good recall word . . . .

Chris 8 months ago

My dog will come to the word "bed", she ran all the way down the alley and wouldn't come back and we yelled bed and she came bolting back to the house. She always got rewarded for listening to that one , now to switch it

Stephanie 8 months ago

This is great because my lab will take off to the street. But if I have treats or am outside with her she will not leave me she will jump and pull and sniff for the food... so I have no way to actually get her to do anything because all she is focused on is the treat. I seriously can not train her anything

Ashley 10 months ago

This happened to my dog. He got loosecand booked for the highway near our house. I used what we joking call 'the safe word'..a simple STOP and he stopped dead in his tracks inches from the oncoming traffic. This exact thing saved his life.

Get-the-salt 12 months ago

My dogs named penny

Keri 13 months ago

Great article. I think I will have to try this out. Oh, I think the German phrase you were looking for is "mach schnell." It means "hurry up." Yeah, my dad used it on us all the time growing up. Didn't really work on us, but maybe my dog.

jlpark profile image

jlpark 20 months ago from New Zealand

Thanks for this hub - we are getting a new puppy soon, and our current dog will come if not distracted, but has been difficult to get to come in a hurry since the arrival of our I will refer back to this many times!

Chriswillman90 profile image

Chriswillman90 21 months ago from Parlin, New Jersey

Great tips to keep in mind of.

Georgina_writes profile image

Georgina_writes 22 months ago from Dartmoor

Great lesson on emergency recall. My two Jack Russels have rubbish recall, especialyy if they see a squirrel, or there is a hole to go down. I've resorted to using the whistle off the kettle to get them in. That gets them to come running. Maybe it's time I bought a dog whistle!

diane 23 months ago

I have tibetan spaniel x lhaso apso he does not listen no matter what. Im at a loss.

RonElFran profile image

RonElFran 23 months ago from Mechanicsburg, PA

This makes a lot of sense. I would imagine this training must be repeated on a regular basis. If only it would work with children, too!

Melissa Knight profile image

Melissa Knight 23 months ago from Murfreesboro, TN

I just saw this and am so going to teach my dogs this technique. It's so much better than freaking out if they run! Thank you!!!

ShariBerry profile image

ShariBerry 23 months ago from Michigan

I kept laughing while reading this and my husband thought something was wrong with me... So much fun to read. Great idea to have this special word for an emergency. My dog minds fairly well but think I will give this a try.

Shot by Lisa profile image

Shot by Lisa 24 months ago from Brisbane, Queensland Australia

I am really glad you posted this, we have 2 dogs, one is a Rottweiler and she comes when called always, but..the other is a Tibetan Spaniel and Shitzu mix and she does NOT listen at all. She will will come when she wants to or feels like it, we have tried treats - they on;y work while you have them in your hand. We will try this though because it is more applealing to them and a much better reward.

AngeShearer profile image

AngeShearer 2 years ago from Whangarei, Northland

Great reading and tips having an emergency recall for a dog is very important as they are unpredictable at the best of times. I have a very big dog who thinks he us still a puppy and full of mischief my recall is num nums (meaning food) he will instantly stop in his tracks no matter where and come racing back to me....ahhh the power of food lol

Anthony Altorenna profile image

Anthony Altorenna 2 years ago from Connecticut

Awesome tips! Our dog typically comes when called, but sometimes shows that stubborn streak. Emergency word training will really help ensure that she does come when her safety is at stake.

Michelle 2 years ago

My dogs don't listen to me at all! My biggest, Zaidy, loves to run after passersby and force them to love her, all the while I'm yelling "come here now" and she acts like she's never seen me in her life. I'm going to try this, and if it works for her, it will work with any dog. Now, if only you can come up with a technique for getting my kids to listen...

Lynda Makara profile image

Lynda Makara 2 years ago from California

This sounds so easy. I must give it a try.

Merrci profile image

Merrci 2 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

Love this and your dog, Penny. She is very expressive and you've certainly caught her at perfect times. I always enjoy the humor in your articles. Nice!

Manasi4 2 years ago

though i am a cat lover but must say that the dog is adorable

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 2 years ago from Southern California Author

Thank you! My dog is ornery. She is skeptical of other recall words, which is why I have to make sure I keep the emergency word clean. I can't even imagine her responding to a normal recall word if she was actively pursuing something (so cool that you can do that with your Aussie!)

gottaloveit2 profile image

gottaloveit2 2 years ago

Love your humor in this article! I have 4 dogs, 3 of which have beautiful recalls, one of which - well, doesn't. My Aussie, Killian, can be called right off a deer's back legs when he's in hot pursuit. It's beautiful to watch a well trained dog recall the way you want/expect/need. Consistency is key - If I call him and he doesn't come, I have to hike it out there to drag him back, gently. A few more 'touch up' recalls and we're back in business.

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 2 years ago from Southern California Author

@Merrci: Nope! Not at all!

Merrci profile image

Merrci 2 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

Thanks for this. I could have used it a few times for sure! I loved every one of your videos too. Penny is very cute to watch! She really didn't appreciate the life vest, did she?

flycatcherrr profile image

flycatcherrr 3 years ago

This is fundamentally the same method I use for training the emergency recall, so... what a brilliant lesson! :) Especially, I'm glad you mentioned the vital importance of being sure to have hold of the dog's collar before the exercise is over and the reward is delivered. Unless you've got your hand on the collar, there's plenty of opportunity for things to go horribly wrong with a high-speed escape artist pup who loves to play Catch Me If You Can!

Good job here - Penny has taught you well. ;)

chi kung profile image

chi kung 3 years ago

the video made me smile too - so great we can train dogs for emergency!

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 3 years ago from Southern California Author

@sorayac: Thanks!

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 3 years ago from Southern California Author

@XpectMore: I'm glad I was able to help! Thanks!

XpectMore profile image

XpectMore 3 years ago

I work with Dogs daily. I do have the unfortunate of situations like this happening. I never thought about this valuable information that you provided. What a great idea and what a very nice lens. Love the adorable Photos of your dog. Thank you.

sorayac profile image

sorayac 3 years ago

Great lens for training dogs! Enjoyed reading it immensely!!

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 3 years ago from Southern California Author

@shellys-space: Thank you so much!

shay-marie profile image

shay-marie 3 years ago from Southern California Author

@anonymous: Aw! Warms my heart. That's my goal! Thanks for watchin'!

anonymous 3 years ago

The video of Penny at the beach made me smile!

shellys-space profile image

shellys-space 3 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

Love your dog training tips and sense of humor!

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