Recently I saw a pet owner walking along one of the major roads with two large dogs at 5pm. The dogs were off-leash, yet they were walking perfectly to heel. As he approached the park, he signaled to them and they broke their position, running and playing happily on the park grass. When he reached the end of the park, a quick signal brought them back to heel. He soon realized he had dropped something. He signaled to the dogs, who immediately headed up the bank and dropped into perfect “stay” positions, where they remained motionless – still off-leash – while he went back to collect his property (see the rather fuzzy cellphone photo alongside this post).
Is your dog behaviour-trained?
Most of us are immensely proud of our pooches when they sit on command and extend a paw to shake. We don’t often think about training household pet dogs in serious obedience, and wouldn’t know where to start if we did. There’s a fair amount of evidence, however, that a well-trained dog is a well-adjusted, happy dog, and it certainly makes for a happier owner. Perhaps you never intend to leave your pet off-leash beside a busy road in rush-hour traffic, but you might want to know that in an emergency you can call your dog to come and he or she will obey without question. It could save the dog’s life, in situations where there’s a risk of another dog attacking or being hit by a vehicle.
Here are 5 tips for teaching your dog to come directly to you in an emergency:
Step #1: Teach your dog to focus on you
This is the basis for teaching your dog any other activity. You can do this by giving the action you want a specific word, such as “look.” Give your dog the command and draw his attention with a treat, a game with his favourite ball or toy, or a quick cuddle. Do this 10 times in a row, whether he seems to get the idea or not. Then practice it 10 times a day for the next week to imprint the process in his mind.
Step #2: Teach the regular call command
It’s not necessary to have two call commands, because if you use the same one for all occasions your dog won’t know when it’s an emergency. First, teach your preferred regular call “come” or whatever language you use through regular use and reward the dog with praise and a cuddle. Use this command when you want him to come to you to go somewhere or do something.
Step #3: Identify the emergency call
This needs to be a very unique sound and it should roll off your tongue easily. My emergency call for a particularly aggressive dog was “come Pepe Pepe come” in a fairly high-pitched tone. Pepe knew that when I used that command, she had to drop everything and run towards me immediately as fast as she could. Pet owners have been known to use “kowabunga,” “wawawawa” and even whistle sharply. It’s your choice – just make sure it’s completely different from your regular command to come and anything else you say frequently.
Step #4: Train the emergency call
Training your dog to come immediately and quickly can be challenging. You need to be able to run to encourage the dog to use speed, and you need to be able to give the dog exceptional motivation. With Pepe, I selected her favourite treat – titbits of beef jerky – and I used it exclusively for this purpose until she was doing it faultlessly. First, I’d tell her to “look” and get her attention on the jerky. Then I’d start running with the jerky in the air, giving the emergency call while I did so. She thought it was a lovely game and ran alongside, after which I would give her the treat. Never, ever use the emergency recall to call the dog to come under normal circumstances, such as when you are leaving the house to go and walk or ready to leave the park. This will dilute the power of the command.
Step #5: Practice, practice and practice
When you’re training the emergency call, do it 10 times every day for the first week. Once your dog has the general idea, you can drop the “look” command at the beginning and start surprising him in the midst of playtime or walking. Gradually reduce your own running, until he is simply running towards you from wherever he is when you call. After the first week, practice weekly a few times in a row and then practice only occasionally to make sure the dog doesn’t forget.
Dogs have minds of their own, and if they find a particularly exciting scent while out on a walk, chances are they won’t even hear you call them – let alone obey you. By teaching an emergency recall you vastly improve your chances of getting your dog under control in critical circumstances.