What is an emergency recall?
It’s a way of calling your dog when something unexpected occurs and you need your dog to come to you instantly and without hesitation: your dog jumps the fence and runs toward the skunk, OR the leash breaks and he heads toward the highway, OR she slips her lead and bolts to your neighbor’s aggressive 90-pound dog. It is not for everyday use or for regular obedience training. It is something you use to save your dog’s life. (It can be particularly helpful for reactive dogs.)
Does my dog need an emergency recall?
I think an emergency recall is a terrific trick to have when you really need a miracle. I don’t know you (or your dog), so I don’t know if you need an emergency recall. Maybe your current recall is so fantastic that it functions as well as an emergency recall. To decide whether you need to train a separate emergency recall, take this quick quiz.
1. When I call my dog now, he…
a) runs to me instantly
b) meanders to me eventually
c) pretends we’ve never met
2. My dog comes when called
a) 95 to 100 percent of the time
b) 60 to 80 percent of the time
c) When the moon is in the seventh house and Jupiter aligns with Mars
3. I am confident my dog will come EVEN if
a) he is in mid-chase with a squirrel/bunny/duck/deer/rattlesnake/bear
b) he has found some good poop and is deciding whether to eat it OR roll in it (decisions, decisions!)
c) I am covered in bacon, hot dogs, and cheddar cheese and yelling, “DINNER”
4. I never let my dog off leash. I am also certain he will never run out the door, escape the fence, or slip his lead.
c) Ha ha ha ha ha ha!
Add Up Your Score
If you had all “a”s — Your current recall is fantastic, and you are really on top of management and training. Your current recall might work as well as an emergency recall. On the other hand, isn’t it better to train one extra trick to save your dog’s life? You’re a great trainer, and your dog is well-educated, so you’ll probably get it trained in no time.
If you had all “b”s — You have put some work into your dog’s recall, but it’s not reliable in an emergency. Your dog is the ideal candidate for an emergency recall!
If you had all “c”s — You definitely need an emergency recall. You also need an every day recall. May we suggest our previous post on the Golden Rules of Recall?
How to Train an Emergency Recall
Phase One: Create a Positive Association with your Emergency Recall Cue
Pick a word or phrase that you don’t normally use near your dog, which will be easy for you to remember. You can use “Lottery!” “Porcupine!” “Dinosaur alert!” Make it memorable.
For two weeks create a strong positive association with your new cue by pairing it with extremely high-value treats your dog never gets otherwise. Use several pieces of smelly, moist, delicious food, e.g., spray-cheese, steak, stinky cheese, or hot dogs. No commercial dog treats!
- Every day, three times a day, go right to your dog, say your emergency cue, then feed several of these extra-special treats. Then do something else. Don’t make it part of a training session. Make it a wonderful surprise. Do it in different rooms and times of day.
- The ORDER that you do this is important: say then cue first, THEN give the treats.
- Do NOT use your emergency cue to call your dog! This cue is for emergencies only. If you need to call your dog, use their regular come cue.
- Sometimes say it quietly, sometimes loudly. Sometimes say it in a panicked way.
- If your dog loves meals, use mealtimes. Right before you put down your dog’s food bowl, say the emergency cue. It doesn’t matter if she’s already standing in front of you. You’re not training the usual way where she has to earn her reward. This is classical conditioning – connecting the cue with a joyous, unthinking response.
Phase Two: Test Your Emergency Cue
After two weeks, sneak to a different room with several special treats. Say your emergency cue. If he comes running, praise and give the treats. If he doesn’t come, it’s important that you go to him right away and feed the treats. Repeat Phase One another week and then test again.
Phase Three: Keep the Cue Fresh
Twice a week, when you’re POSITIVE your dog will come (do NOT test the cue if he’s barking out the window or chasing bunnies), say your cue, then feed lavishly. This keeps the cue fresh.
Using the Cue in a Real Emergency
If you ever need to use the cue, try to say it the way you practiced. When your dog turns toward you, praise lavishly and RUN in the opposite direction, calling and praising. Once you’re safe, rewards for all!