The Emergency Recall – Dancing With a Lampshade on your Head

Over at, the topic this week is getting your dog to come when called. As stated in their article “Dogs Coming When Called“, the recall should be high on anyone’s list of first behaviors to teach your dog. Unfortunately, it is also a behavior that some people employ a shock collars to teach; the general gist being that movement towards the owner is rewarded by the cessation of the shock.

As NSAP* states in their article, “There is no magic bullet…”, and training a rock solid recall takes time, patience, consistency, and a good imagination is some cases. It doesn’t happen overnight and until we have that rock solid recall built, we need to rely on management practices to keep our newly homed dogs from roaming. Fences and leashes should be part of these management practices but sometimes despite our best efforts, a dog gets away from us. When this happens my advice to you is to act like an idiot. Before you judge me too harshly, let me explain.

When a dog is running away from us, we have a problem of attention and perception. We no longer have the dogs’ attention and his perception is that whatever he is running towards is much more interesting than we are. Methods for getting a dogs’ attention, and then regaining its interest can vary wildly from dog to dog– but following are some suggestions that may help you in these situations**.

Know What Gets Your Dogs’ Attention

For most dogs there are particular sounds that really seem to draw their attention. When you bring a new dog home with you, you should make a point of finding out what these noises are. For me, I am a large man with a deep, loud, voice. I am easily able to get most dog’s attention. For you it might be a high happy voice, or a silly Donald Duck voice, or a clap of your hands, anything that can bring the dogs’ attention back to you for a few seconds.

The Spotlight Is On

Here is where the act like an idiot part comes in– now that you have the dogs’ attention how do you keep it and entice the dog back to you? Often, our instinct is to go running towards the dog with the leash thrust forward screaming Rover come! Would that entice you to come back? Instead, why not run away from your dog and see if he gives chase? Throw yourself down on the ground and roll around laughing and giggling like a child playing. Why not try dropping to your knees and crying? Anything you can think of to seem like the most interesting and ridiculous thing that your dog has ever seen and they have no choice but to come investigate.

It Actually Worked, Now What?

Apart from making sure your dog has been secured, it’s time to celebrate with your dog. Laud praise, lavishly treat, make the dog feel like they just made the best decision they’ve ever made. NEVER, under any circumstances, no matter how frustrated or angry you may be at the situation, punish a dog for coming back to you! That is an absolute rock solid way to ensure no recall at all.

Other Tools For The Toolkit

As I said earlier leashes and fences are our first line tools to make sure we don’t have a dog go walkabout. But there are other items we should have in our toolkit.

  • Our attention: Until we have that rock solid recall, we need to be aware of our surrounding when we are out with our dogs. Talking to someone with your back to the dog is an invitation to an empty leash when you turn around. Be proactive and anticipate what distractions you may encounter while out with your dog.
  • A properly fit leash or harness: Preferably ones that have a highly legible tags telling people whom to call if Fido wanders out of our immediate vicinity.
  • High value treat in our pockets: Even if you’re not a believer in using treats for training, having them handy just in case you need to have an impromptu welcome back celebration is, as they say, “priceless”.
  • A spare leash: A great item to have on you at all times when outside with your dogs.
  • And finally, having a great relationship with your dog: Seeing you as the provider of all things good doesn’t guarantee that your dog will have a great recall, but it sure stacks the deck in your favor!


* Never Shock A Puppy

** The methods discussed here are not foolproof. As always, our best line of defense is to ensure as much as we are able that the dog cannot escape in the first place.