How To: Train Your Dog to Respond to an Emergency Recall Command

Elan Mansur

How To: Train Your Dog to Respond to an Emergency Recall Command

The emergency recall is all about keeping your dog safe. Wouldn’t it be great to know that if you really needed your dog to come back, he would? 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.

What Is Emergency Recall?

Emergency recall is simply a word or very short phrase you can use to get your dog to come to you immediately, without hesitation. It differs from a normal recall word because it is only used in emergency situations. Emergency recall should be an incredibly reliable fail-safe.

Words such as "come" or "here" are used frequently to teach a dog to come when called. There is nothing inherently wrong with these words, but as many dog owners can attest, they don't always get the desired result. The reason for this is that these words are used day in and day out to get the dog to come to you for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's something fantastic like a meal, but other times it's something dreadful like a bath.

Over time, these words can become "poisoned" as the dog starts to associate the word with negative things. You can attempt to avoid the poisoning with reward-based training for teaching a dog recall. 

Here’s how you can train your dog to come to you without fail in emergency situations:

Pick a Unique Word or Sound

In order for this method to work, you need to select a word or sound that your dog won’t hear in other contexts. Every time your pup hears your WORD, it must be followed by food, so that when you need it in an emergency, your dog will still run to you. If you say, “come,” or “here,” or your dog’s name already over and over, pick a different word. Maybe “Bingo!” or “come here” in a different language. Just make sure it’s easy enough for you to remember in an emergency situation. 

Whatever you choose, protect that word so that it is only spoken when you are prepared to give your pooch a party of delicious foods and happies — Every. Single. Time.

Bust Out the Gooooooood Food

Some behaviours that we teach dogs are really easy for them, such as sitting when we ask. But others, like coming when called, are more challenging and require a higher-value reward. We’re asking our dogs to stop what they’re doing (exploring the woods, barking at another dog, sniffing a deliciously stinky dead thing…) and come to us instead. If we want this to work, we have to bust out the good stuff: roasted chicken breast, pecorino romano cheese, hot dogs, tripe, sardines, etc.

Cut the food up into little pieces the night before you are going to start training and put it in the fridge where you can easily grab it.

Preparations are Done. Let’s Train.

  1. You’ve prepped the food the night before. Leave it right where it is. Don’t even go near the fridge.
  2. Stand 5-10 feet from your dog and say your WORD one time.
  3. Pause for one second and then do whatever you can to get your dog to come to you: crouch down, happy talk, slap your thighs, bang on the floor, etc.
  4. As soon as your dog gets to you, happy talk and run over to the fridge together. Grab the food you prepared and pour out a nice hefty serving (either on the floor or hand-fed). Continue the happy talking while he eats, and then when he’s done, put the food back in the fridge and walk away.

Do this two or three times a day at random times until your pup no longer needs you to do step 3. If you say the WORD and he immediately flies to you, SUCCESS! He has learned that you saying the WORD predicts FOOD.

You’ll do each step in order until the pup masters the one you’re on. If you push to the next step and your dog doesn’t come to you without prompting, no problem. Just drop back to the previous step. Work it a bunch of times, and then push after your dog nails it. 

And if you or your pup need some new outdoor gear to get you started, head over to to pick up your new kit!