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How to Stop your Dog in an Emergency

Author: Greg Raub | Date: November 20, 2013

Every time I teach Recall – or “come” – I find myself saying, “This is one of the most important things you will ever teach. It could save your dog’s life.”

While that is true, there is another emergency tool that might be even more valuable in certain situations.

Imagine your dog pulls the leash out of your hand and makes a mad dash across a busy street. Do you want to call him to come back to you? Probably not. Wouldn’t it be better to stop him in his tracks and have him wait for you?

That’s the idea behind teaching an emergency Down. It simply means that when you say Down – even if your dog is not standing in front of you or even if he is on the run – he stops and drops. This video shows what an emergency Down looks like.

To use Down as an emergency tool, you have to start with teaching the basic behavior by using a treat to lure your dog down, rewarding when his belly hits the floor.

Once you’ve done that, you need to add two things: distance and ­motion.

Adding distance means being able to get your dog to lie Down from across the room… or across the street. It can be a little tricky because you likely taught Down with you standing right in front of your dog. When I taught this in a recent class, the biggest problem was keeping the dogs from moving toward the owners before lying Down. There are three ways to work on this:

  • Put your dog on leash and have someone else hold him.
  • Tether your dog to a solid object.
  • Put something between you and your dog… a baby gate, for example.

This video shows two of the techniques for adding distance.

I really like the advice it includes about only taking one step back and getting consistent success at that distance before going further.

Once your dog is good at dropping at a distance, you can start to add motion.

This means the dog is in motion – moving towards or away from you – when you ask for the Down.  One way to do this is to simply ask for a Down as you are walking your dog.  Another, which I especially like, is to engage your dog in a short game of chase.  Facing your dog, simply start moving back.  As your dog follows, stop and give the Down cue.  This is also shown in the video link above.

Obviously, this takes some time to teach, but those are the basic steps to start.

If you’ve tried teaching an emergency Down and have other suggestions… or if you would like to go beyond the basics outlined here, leave a comment.


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