Linda writes that during her search for a dog trainer in her area, she came across information about teaching an "emergency recall," and wonders how this differs from a regular recall.
In a word, Linda, it doesn't. Various dog training businesses and Web sites list an emergency recall as a specially trained command to guarantee your dog comes in the event of an emergency. This is a new buzz term meant to grab the attention of the consumer.
The premise is that if you've taught your dog a regular recall ("Come!") and your dog responds to it only some of the time, then you need to teach this other thing.
In my opinion, if you've taught a successful recall and maintain it with regular practice in a variety of environments with top-level rewards given every time your dog comes to you when called, then you have done everything possible to create a reliable response in your dog to the "Come" cue.
Most trainers who teach an "emergency recall" are really just pairing a unique word with a high-level reward. If you yell "Cookies!" and your dog comes running, you already have what is described as an emergency recall. You've done the training without even realizing it!
The idea of needing to teach an emergency recall is a response to dog owners unknowingly ruining what once started out as a perfectly good "Come!" cue. We trainers know that in order to keep learned behaviors strong, we must reinforce them. This is particularly important with the recall. And quite frankly, it is a rarity to have a dog owner truly "get" that concept. Dog owners expect their dogs to respond to cues consistently, but often fail to be consistent about reinforcement or rewards.
Another common mistake: Owners call their dog to "come," when they really want him to do something else. An example is using the "come" cue to imply other things, like walking with you, jumping up into your lap, or moving in or out of a gate or door.
When we use one cue to mean a variety of things, the dog becomes confused about what you really are asking, and begins to ignore that cue. This is described as a poisoned cue.
If you teach your dog to sit, and over time fail to reinforce it, the response to your "Sit" cue can become weak. Dogs are reliable at repeating behaviors that benefit them, so if over time the dog finds there is no benefit to responding to your "Sit" cue, the dog's response will become slower or the cue will be ignored altogether. This may not be considered a big deal when talking about the "sit" cue, but it becomes much more important when it is applied to the "come" cue.
I describe the recall as being an "expensive behavior." It's important to the owner that the dog comes every time when called, and it may be a potential lifesaver when used to call a dog away from danger.
So choose a trainer, Linda, who will show you how to positively and accurately teach your dog to come to you when called by teaching you to consistently reinforce and reward that desired behavior. Use whatever cue you decide on to mean only one thing "Come to me and get a great big exciting reward every time!"
Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.