Wouldn’t it be great to know that if you really need your dog to come back, he will?
Wouldn’t it be nice to know that if your puppy’s safety depended upon it, you stood a really good chance of making him return unquestioningly to your side?
No matter what.
Your dog’s safety net
Of course, no dog’s life should ever depend on your ability to get him to obey the recall.
We all need to take proper precautions to make sure our dogs are leashed or restrained in areas where they might come to harm.
But we cannot predict the future, and an emergency recall is a great safety net and source of reassurance.
We’ll look at what define’s an emergency recall in a moment, but first let’s recap the stages in dog training.
Because when we teach the emergency recall, we use a slightly different approach.
The stages in dog training
I like to divide the dog training into five key stages. Each of these stages is applied to any skill you teach your dog.
- Get it
- Pair it
- Teach it
- Proof it
- Maintain it
Stage One: ‘Get It’, is where we get the dog to do the thing we want without telling him or asking him to do it. So for ‘sit’ stage one simply means getting the dog into the sitting position (using a treat or lure). With recall, stage one just means getting the dog running towards you.
Stage two: ‘Pair It’, is about pairing that action with a word such as ‘sit’ or ‘come’. Or a sound, such as a whistle.
And Stage three: ‘Teach It’, is about teaching the dog to respond to the cue word, and to differentiate between different cue words. This is where we help him select the right response to each cue.
And the last two stages? ‘Proof It’ is about teaching a dog to respond to a cue, even when he is distracted or wants to do something else, and ‘Maintain It’, is pretty self explanatory. So, let’s see how this fits in with our emergency recall
What is an emergency recall?
An emergency recall is basically a word that you associate with a really generous reward.
You then link this word to the act of recalling, without using the word as a cue.
So why have I put that last bit in italics?
Well, normally, when we train a recall, we teach the dog to respond to our signal. The bit where you whistle, and then the dog comes.
Our signal (the whistle or word ‘here’ or ‘come’) is the cue for the dog to respond. If you say “come”, you expect the dog to “come”
Teaching a dog this reliable response to a cue involves moving beyond stages one and two, and including stage three and four. But this is not the case with the emergency recall. I’ll explain.
Don’t treat your signal as a cue
With the emergency recall, we don’t actually get to the part of training where we regularly use the ‘signal’ as a cue.
You won’t be taking your dog for a walk, and using the emergency recall when you want him to come back. You won’t be ‘proofing’ your emergency recall signal. That stage in training is reserved for your everyday recall.
In other words we (almost) never give our emergency recall signal an opportunity to fail by using it as a cue.
So what is the emergency recall for?
I say almost, because the only time you’ll use the signal as a cue is in the event of an emergency, or under very controlled conditions
The clue lies in the word ’emergency’
When we teach and emergency recall, we teach a special, unique signal, and we mostly stick at Stage Two of the training process.
If you decide to teach your dog an emergency recall, then 90% of the time, you’ll be using your emergency signal when the dog is already running towards you.
The only exception will be in situations where a recall cannot be avoided by the dog, so for example, when he is on a long line.
What’s wrong with stage three?
So what’s wrong with stage three? Why aren’t we going to progress?
There is nothing wrong with stage three at all. And hopefully you will be progressing to this stage with your everyday recall cue. But moving on to stage three would simply be training a basic recall.
This is not about training a new standard recall response, the kind of thing you’ll use on a daily basis.
The emergency recall is about training a magical word, a word that is irresistible to the dog because it has never disappointed him.
Don’t test your dog
Stage Three in dog training involves ‘testing’ the dog, so there is always a chance of failure, even if we go very carefully.
The emergency recall is not a recall cue in the ordinary sense, with all its vulnerability.
The idea is that you will have a lovely ‘clean’ signal that has never been tarnished with failure.
Then, when you find yourself in a situation where you desperately need to get your dog back, you can whip out your perfect emergency signal, and the dog will almost certainly come flying back to you, even though you may not have anything wonderful with which to reward him.
Why do I need an emergency recall?
It’s possible that you don’t. If you are the only person training and exercising your dog, and you are able to devote plenty of time to training, you may find an emergency recall is not something you need
If on the other hand, your dog is often exercised by family members, especially kids, you may find it hard to keep his recall response at a level which can virtually guarantee his safety.
An emergency recall can be a great back up for you. It is also easy and fun to do.
What recall word should I use?
It’s entirely up to you what word you choose as your emergency recall signal. Unlike your everyday recall cue I recommend you use a word, not a whistle, as whistles can be left behind.
‘NOW’ is quite a good one, and doesn’t sound too much like any other word used in dog training. ‘RUN’ or ‘QUICK’ are also good options.
You can be much more inventive than this of course, but bear in mind it needs to be something you are not too embarrassed to shout out in public.
How do I train him?
Prepare your amazing reward. You can do this training whenever you have some great leftovers to offer your dog.
Choosing rewards is an important part of this training. Your rewards needs to be something your dog is really excited about.
Chunks of juicy roast chicken, especially with lots of tasty skin attached, and especially when still warm, are ideal.
Lots of dogs with sell their souls for sardines, or king prawns, if you feel like splashing out. Just pick something extra special and flavoursome.
Start training your dog indoors
Indoors, when your dog is in the room with you, say your emergency word ONCE very clearly, and immediately feed him liberal quantities of these lovely goodies.
Repeat four times the first day, twice a day for two more days, then twice a week for the first month.
Put a note on the fridge or in your diary to remind you
Outdoors, have your fabulous treats ready and wait until the dog is running full pelt towards you.
As he gets near to you say your emergency word and dump generous quantities of the lovely food on the floor in front of him.
Repeat once or twice a week.
Get into the habit of saving tasty leftovers for this purpose. Keep a pot in the fridge, and a remember to clip a treat bag to your belt or in your pocket before every walk, so that you never miss an opportunity.
If you have some lovely roast meat leftovers to use up and you want your dog to run towards you so that you can use your signal, try running away from him first to trigger his chase response.
Keep it special
Remember, don’t be tempted to use your emergency signal as a recall cue.
If you want a good everyday recall cue – start retraining your recall today. It is well worth doing if your old signal is getting sloppy or being ignored on a regular basis.
Will it always work?
No, not always. There are some situations when most dogs cannot be recalled unless they have been specifically trained to recall under these circumstances.
For example, chasing livestock or wildlife is not something you can always resolve with an emergency signal.
But in many cases, the well prepared emergency recall is so enticing and appealing to the dog, that he will leave whatever he is doing, and come racing towards you when he hears it.
Important! After using the emergency recall
After you have used your emergency recall in an emergency as a cue, and especially if you had no reward to give your dog for responding, you must focus on ‘recharging’ it for a while.
Your dog returned to you and gave up his own intended course of action. He may well have been disappointed at the outcome.
So take the time now to give the signal a boost at home. And to engineer several different situations where you dog is running towards you, give your emergency signal whilst he is en route, and think up some new and massively exciting rewards to give him.
This will help give your emergency recall a ‘boost’ so that it is good and ready for the next time you need it.
During training, with the emergency recall, there is no failure. The dog never experiences the emergency recall signal, unless he is certain to recall or in the act of recalling.
And he always gets a massive reward.
This means that the signal never gets ‘poisoned’ by being used and ignored, and the dog is almost (never say never) guaranteed to respond.
You teach this recall and maintain it by using it once or twice a week under these controlled conditions. Don’t overdo it, we don’t want this amazing reward to become ‘everyday’.
Then, come the day when your dog is dangerously close to a road, about to scoff a dangerous mushroom, or heading for the edge of a cliff.
You have a way to protect him and keep him safe by spinning him around and having him fly back to you.
Be safe and train your dog
It is important not to keep falling back on your emergency signal because you haven’t trained your everyday recall cue properly. Be safe.
For regular purposes, make sure your dog’s basic recall is solid by using the resources on this website, or by working through my recall training programme Total Recall.
Don’t forget, no dog’s life should ever depend on his obedience.
There is always a situation somewhere, that has the potential to stop the most well trained dog in the world from coming back to you.
There are no 100% guarantees in animal training.
So do your best to try and anticipate danger and if in doubt, put your dog on a lead.
An emergency recall is a signal that has never been spoiled.
It is safety net, a back up, but not a replacement for good training, or for sensible safety precautions such as a long line.
Hopefully you’ll never need to use your emergency recall for real. But it is good to know its there