How to Train Your Dog to Come in an Emergency

Two dogs chasing car in dust.

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An emergency recall is a command used to tell your dog to come in emergency situations. It is one of the most important things you can train your dog to do.

A dog that knows the "come" command will come most of the time but may still refuse on occasion. While it is annoying when your dog refuses to come in from the yard when you are already late for work, there are also times when it is dangerous for it to ignore you, such as when it is about to run in front of a moving car. It's situations like that which make the emergency recall crucial.

Choose a Unique Command

First, choose a word to use for the command. The word should be something unique that doesn’t normally come up in conversation. Something like "cowabunga" or "Eureka" will work, or you can choose something else that will be easy for you to remember. To avoid confusion, don't use "come" or your dog's name.

Use Unique Treats

To teach this command, use some very special treats. Don't use the same treats you use for training or other purposes; these should be unique treats only given for this specific use. Make sure before practicing the emergency recall that you have enough treats on hand to feed your dog for about 20 consecutive seconds.

Start Off Small

For your first practice session, start off in a small, quiet area. The first time you give the command, stay just a few steps away from your dog. Give the command word. Make sure you use a high-pitched, happy voice. Pat your legs, get excited, and show the dog the treats. Do anything you can to get your dog to come to you.

Make It Rewarding

The reward is an essential part of this process. As soon as your dog comes to you after you give the command, praise it and begin giving it the special treats. Continue to feed your dogs the treats for about 20 seconds. The dog should feel like it hit the jackpot. The idea is that in emergency situations, the dog won't find anything (e.g., other animals, people, or food) more interesting than the treats you're offering.

Once the dog has finished its treats, let it go back to whatever it was doing before you gave the command. This is very important. One reason many dogs fail to come when they are called is that the word "come" becomes a signal that their fun is about to end.

For example, when you call your dog inside before you leave for work, your dog knows that it means playtime is over. Avoid letting the dog make this connection by allowing it to go back to whatever it was doing before you began to practice the emergency recall. This makes it doubly rewarding because the dog gets treats and then gets to go back to its fun.

Practice the Emergency Recall

Try to practice the emergency recall once or twice a day in the same small, quiet space. Once your dog comes running every time you give the command, you can begin practicing with a little more distance and distraction.

Eventually, your dog should learn to come in any and every situation. Even once your dog has mastered this skill, it is vital that you continue to give special treats and lots of praise every time you practice.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

To make sure your dog knows this is a must-obey command, your training should include different locations and scenarios. Known as "proofing," this part of the training ensures that the dog will come when it hears this call at the park, at home, or anywhere else.

It is tempting at times to use the emergency recall in place of "come," like when you are running late for work and your dog is determined to play chase out in the yard. Resist this temptation. It is important that this recall is always kept very positive and rewarding. It should be saved for true emergencies.

Using the command outside of practice or an emergency situation may weaken the strength of the command. This means your dog might not come running next time, and that next time might just be when the emergency recall saves its life.