What would you do if your dog was about to run into a busy street?
All dog owners should be able to stop their dog at a distance in an emergency situation because it can save its life someday.
Over many years as a dog trainer I twice had to make use of such an emergency call.
Once, while looking for a missing cat I noticed that Coyote had gone across the road. As I called him back I noticed a car come speeding in our direction. A quick “Platz” had Coyote drop on the spot and once the car had passed, he safely joined me. On another occasion, while we were playing with puppy, Polo on the sidewalk, Quanto had ventured across the road to check on some smells. As he started his return to us a car approached at speed and I again was able to stop him instantly and so avoid a bad situation.
To get a dog to “drop like a brick” at a distance is not difficult if the dog was obedience trained as I and many other dog trainers have done with our dogs. The down is one of the most important commands in obedience. It is the last resort to control the animal. If it wants to fight another dog, we down it. If it refuses to let a guest into the house, we down it.
In Schutzhund exercises a dog is required to drop immediately into a down position, after a single command, both at normal and fast pace. Also, in the Send Away, the dog must run from the handler as fast as it can, in a straight line, until it is commanded to lie down.
However, the emergency stop is possibly one of the hardest things to teach in basic behaviour training exercises. That is why it is almost never trained at dog clubs or puppy school.
The main problem in teaching an emergency stop is that owners start calling their dog to them and then try to stop the animal’s forward motion. It hardly ever works because the dog, being called by its owner, invariably continues forward until close or next to its owner who is now shouting at his dog.
Calling a dog to you, in an emergency, puts the dog in greater danger if he keeps coming to you.
It is important to decide on the command best for you and your dog and use it exclusively when teaching the emergency stop. Down, Platz, Drop, Stop etc.are popular commands to immobilise the dog instantly.
Training an Emergency Stop is a requirement to pass the Canine Good Citizen (Gold) test. Handlers should start teaching their dogs the emergency stop as soon as possible.
One of the following methods, other than obedience training, should suit most owners and their dog. It is recommended to try each method to find the best for you and your dog.
Never from a Sit
An emergency is not going to occur when a dog has been sitting. Mostly the dog has been walking or running somewhere. You cannot first ask the dog to sit before going down.
“Down” on the move
Step 1 Teach the dog, indoors, to go down as it walks next to you or comes to you by passing a treat down in front of his nose and hold it on the ground until the dog lies down. Say “Down” before rewarding him. Repeat many times until he goes down, on command, every time from any position on the move before going to step 2. Repeat 30+ times over many days.
Step 2 Now instead of treating from your hand as before, toss the treat a short distance away for the dog where he can see it. Soon it is possible to “Down” the dog as he comes to you and to toss a treat in his direction. Repeat often with praise.
Step 3 While playing with your dog, outdoors,repeat the “Down” command and reward as in step 2. Gradually it will be possible to get him to down further away from you. On a walk and at different places in the park this emergency command can be practiced and perfected.
Step 1 Have the dog standing in front of you. With a tasty treat held above your shoulder for the dog to see, shout “Stop” as you throw the treat behind him. He will immediately turn and run to fetch the treat and then come back to you for more. Repeat many times and on different days. Tossing treats over the dog’s back teaches him not to take a step forward after the “Stop” command. In an emergency you are likely to shout to draw a quick reaction from the dog.
Step 2 Repeat as in Step 1 but now call the dog and as he approaches you, shout “Stop” when he is still a short distance from you. Repeat by calling him and shout “Stop” at varying distances from you as you continue to throw treats well over the dog.
Step 3 Call your dog and shout “Stop” when he is still some distance away from you. Do not throw the treat but walk up to him and treat and praise him for his obedience.
Step 1 Place the dog behind a small barrier or fence or tether him to a post or tree so that he cannot move further forward towards you standing on the opposite side. Shout “Drop” and treat when the dog is down. You may have to help him withthe “Drop” position or call it “Down.” Repeat a number of times until the dog understand what you want him to do.
Step 2 Repeat as before but now step back further from the barrier and toss a treat for the dog to “Find it.” When the dog starts his return to the barrier you can also shout “Drop” and down him on the spot.
Step 3 Can now be conducted without a barrier and in any open position while the dog is walking or playing.
To handle an emergency successfully there has to be “urgency” in your voice. e