The Emergency Recall

When our dogs are little they follow us everywhere like baby ducklings. They want to be close to us, to see what we’re doing. We think it’s always going to be that way.

And then they become adolescents.

Adolescents start pushing the boundaries, becoming more independent and exploring their world. Sometimes they ignore us. Maybe they are so intent on an interesting scent or new object that they really don’t hear us. Maybe they ignore us because when we call, it means fun time is over.

Ideally, we want our regular recall to always work. But for those unexpected situations…..we teach our dogs an emergency recall word. This word should only be used if dog got loose and was running away or was in danger.

Choosing the word

Think of a word that you will remember in an emergency, but not a word that you use around the house.

Hurry, presto, pronto are some examples. Someone once used Boomerang. It can even be a nonsense word. Keep in mind that you will be calling this word loudly in public.

Trainer’s tip – do not use Emergency, Danger, Fire et al. These words might scare your neighbors.

Charging the word

Step 1 – Say the word. Sound excited. Deliver reward.

Step 2 – After several repetitions of Step 1, the dog should look at you as soon as he hears the word. When he does mark with a Yes and deliver the reward.

Practicing the word

Step 3 – Now practice with the dog off leash but in the same room. Call dog’s name then emergency word. Now mark with a Yes when dogs gets to you. Hold collar as you treat and praise, praise, praise. For the first week practice this 3 times a day.

Step 4 – When you see him whipping his head towards you as soon as he hears the word, he’s ready to start practicing from room to room. Go in another room then use the emergency word to call him.

Step 5 – When you’re ready to take this outside, be sure your dog is on leash because the world outside is way too exciting. You might even need to increase the value of the rewards.

Step 6 – Practice in different locations outside. On the porch or deck, in the driveway, in the yard. Don’t forget to practice in the garage. I know of several instances where dogs darted out while the garage door was coming down.

Reinforcing the word

Always use high value treats when practicing. This should be something the dog doesn’t usually get but really likes. Some people save bits of meat left from dinner in a baggie so they always have something on hand. Others keep a small container of cat treats especially for this.

Feed the treat close to your leg so dog can’t do a grab and dash.



If you have to use the word with no treats on hand, give big big praise. Then at your next opportunity do a practice with super treats so your dog will have a good memory of the last time he heard this word.

7 Simple Rules for Come

  1. When your dog comes to you, have a party. No matter how late you are for work, it only takes a few seconds to give him a butt scratch or an ear skritch and tell him he’s wonderful.
  2. Mix it up. Party prizes don’t always have to be food. After you let him know he’s awesome, send him back out to play for five more minutes. He’ll probably come back even faster the second time.
  3. Incorporate Come (or whatever) in the games you play. Play doggie ping pong and use Come or his name to call him back and forth between family members. Play Hide & Seek. When your dog’s not paying attention hide somewhere then say Come for your dog to find you.
  4. If you are using food, don’t hold the food out toward your dog as you call. Keep it close to your leg to prevent those grab-a-treat-drive-bys. If he has to come right up to you, you have a chance to get hold of his collar or attach a leash.
  5. Be consistent with the word you use. Many people train their dog to Come when they hear their name. That is great as long as the dog’s name always means happy times. See Rule #7.
  6. Never call your dog with an angry voice. Who wants to come back to a sour puss? Even if your dog is running straight towards the street, use all your effort to keep your voice excited and happy. That’s why a high pitch often works. It’s hard to sound mean when you’re talking like a smurf.
  7. Never call your dog to scold him. Same reason as above. If it means bad news for the dog, then just go get him.

And a few more tips:

  • You don’t have to save the praise until your dog gets all the way back to you. Start praising as soon as he looks at you or as he takes that first step towards you. He will love the cheering squad.
  • You don’t have to stop at one treat. It’s hardly a party if we don’t over-indulge! Occasionally surprise him with a jackpot by giving him five little treats in a row.
  • Have a backup plan like Touch or smoochie.
  • If you must call your dog some name when you’re unhappy, make up a bad dog nickname and use that.