How to Teach Your Dog an Emergency Recall

Training Your Dog to Come in Emergencies

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 out of the yard when you are already late for work, there are also times when it is dangerous for him to ignore you, such as when he is about to run in front of a moving car. That is when the emergency recall comes in handy. Here’s how to teach your dog:

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.

Stock Up On Treats

To teach this command, use some very special treats. Some things you can use include leftovers from a roast, lunchmeat, sliced hot dogs, or anything else your dog loves and will come running to get. 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, just stay a few steps away from your dog. Give him the command word. Make sure you use a high-pitched, happy voice. Pat your legs, get excited, and show him your 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 him and begin giving him the special treats. Continue to feed him the treats for about 20 seconds. He should feel like he hit the jackpot. The idea is that in emergency situations, he won't find anything (such as other animals, people, food, etc.) more interesting than those treats you are offering.

Let Him Go

Once he has finished his treats, let your dog go back to whatever he 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 him make this connection by allowing him to go back to whatever he was doing before you began to practice the emergency recall. This makes it doubly rewarding because he gets treats and he gets to go back to his 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 him the special treats and lots of praise every time you practice.

Do Not Use the Emergency Recall in Non-Emergency Situations

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 the 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 his life.