I was asked to write this after a friend had a heart-stopping incident one of her dogs.
The dog gave chase to a young calf which could have ended badly for either the calf or the dog (momma cow was very protective of her baby).
This particular situation ended fine with nobody getting injured…an emergency recall can really help in these types of situations.
NOTE: While I believe this should be taught to all dogs, dogs that have an exceptionally high prey/chase drive need management (i.e., on leash when likely to encounter the object of their attention).
I have three variations of a recall that I train:
1) COME – typical “obedience” type recall i.e., dog comes, sits in front of handler and stays sitting until released or asked for a subsequent behaviour.
2) HERE – less formal version i.e., I need you near me. Used when I’m not willing to bet my paycheque that the dog will “come” when called or, where I don’t want to the dog to sit (muddy trails etc.)
3) HEY – emergency recall i.e., you stop what you are doing; get your butt back to me ASAP and we both might be “getting out of Dodge”.
Note: The command “hey” should be said in a staccato type fashion so it is easily heard by the dog /easily discernible from other commands and so that it works as an interrupter.
In this example from the Oxford Dictionary, I would use the second pronunciation (illustrated in red) http://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/hey
Alternatively or additionally a whistle can be used – just make sure you always have the whistle readily available.
HOW TO TEACH THE EMERGENCY RECALL
GOAL: Dog stops what it is doing, returns to handler very quickly even when at a high level of arousal.
This takes many, many repetitions at increasing levels of difficulty. It should be fun for the dog and practiced frequently and reinforced heavily so that it becomes an automatic response.
Build the foundation.
Dog on 6’ leash
Handler armed with high value reinforcer (whatever floats the dog’s boat whether it is treats or a toy)
Start off stationary, Say “Hey” and move away from dog – lure if necessary. Mark with “yes” and follow up with reinforcer when dog moves with you. Make if fun and exciting for the dog!!
REPEAT (many times)
Next, walk a few steps, say “hey” and move in the opposite direction. Mark with “yes”, reinforce when dog moves with you.
REPEAT (many times)
Try jogging a few steps, say “hey” and move in the opposite direction. Mark with “yes” and reinforce when the dog moves with you.
Once you have a reasonable level of fluency with the dog on a 6’ leash, you can start adding distance by having the dog on a long line (max. 20’ is my preference). Do you get the same snappy response? If not, shorten the distance and add more repetitions as in Step 1.
Next step might be the dog dragging the long line but in a confined space like a baseball diamond.
Dog on a 6’ leash.
Add your own distractions to the environment – not the time to be “training in the wild” you and your dog need to get some fluency before being “surprised”.
Some examples of adding distractions:
- Put a toy or treats on the ground. Walk your dog towards the distraction. As you’re walking towards the toy/treat, say “hey” and move away.
- Toss a toy or treat in one direction, say “hey” and move away.
- When in a baseball diamond have people or a dog walk by on the other side of a fence. Walk your dog towards them, say “hey” and move away.
- Have two identical toys – toss one, as the dog is moving towards it say “hey” and toss the second toy in the opposite direction.
Is the dog responsive, do they turn immediately and move away with you?
If not, you need to thin slice even further or back up your training to a level where you and your dog are successful.
Don’t change the variable of distance and distraction at the same time. I.e., if adding distance, try to work in an environment with a lower level of distraction. When adding distractions, shorten the distance between you and your dog – go back to having the dog on a 6’ leash.
Additionally, I don’t say the dog’s name first before “hey”. In situations where you need to use the emergency recall, time is often of the essence and if walking multiple dogs, I want all of them all to respond.
PRACTICE – PRACTICE – PRACTICE…and have fun with your dog!