What to Do When “Come” Won’t Cut It: The Emergency Recall Cue

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Picture this. You are enjoying a peaceful walk with your dog. Your dog spots a squirrel darting across the street. Before you know what has happened, your dog has torn the leash from your grasp and is racing after the squirrel. You shout for your dog to come, but he is already in mid-pursuit, too focused on the bushy-tailed prize to respond. What can you do?

The emergency recall cue is a powerful cue that can be used to summon your dog during urgent situations. In her new book The New Click to Calm, Emma Parsons offers the following tips for teaching an emergency recall to your dog:

A dog running in the grass
  1. Pick a or audible signal that your dog has never heard before and that you will reserve only for this use.   
  2. Choose a high-value treat that your dog never receives unless he hears this word or sound.
  3. Give your signal and feed your dog. You are not working on an actual recall. You are simply conditioning the signal by pairing it with the special treat.  
  4. Walk away.
  5. Repeat 10 times a day.
  6. After two weeks, test the cue when your dog is elsewhere in the house. 
  7. Note the response: If he comes enthusiastically, have a treat party! If he doesn't come, continue creating the association.
  8. Continue to condition this word until you are satisfied with the response.
  9. For maintenance, feed quick responses to the signal 5-6 times per week. When your dog's behavior is reliable, you can vary the reinforcement, but always make it something special.

Be careful to use the emergency recall cue sparingly and only in true emergency situations when your conventional recall cue has failed. This cue is not only one of the most important cues in your training toolbox, it just might save your dog’s life one day! 

Pick up your copy of The New Click to Calm and get more practical solutions for you and your dog living in today's challenging world.