June 2, 2019 | General
by Penelope Milne, CPDT-KSA, CBCC-KA.
It’s the moment every dog owner dreads. Your dog is accidentally off leash, and headed towards the street. You wish you had put in more time working on the “come”. You resolve to do that…. if only. But what to do right now, right this second?
The Emergency Come
A caveat up front: there are no 100% reliable ways to get that runaway dog back to you. But there definitely are choices that will increase your odds significantly– so let’s go over those here.
First, attract your dog’s attention. Not by yelling his name, or by repeating (or frantically screaming) that Come cue he has already ignored…
Instead, using rapidly-repeating, high-pitched sound like ‘pup pup pup pup pup!’ , or a pulsing whistle. Research shows that these act as activators and attractants. The sound may not get your runaway to actually return to you, but it is likely to give you a head turn from the dog, and that’s the first step that you need.
As soon as that head turns and the dog glances at you for even a moment, he should see you leaving! Turn and start jogging away from him. Go. Go quickly and keep going. It’s a Law of Dog Physics – if you follow him, he’ll move away. If you move away from him, he is very likely to follow you. If you only move two feet, he’s not impressed. But if you’re moving hundreds of feet, he is quite likely to follow.
Never, ever, chase a dog. Unless the dog is very very elderly, the dog will always move faster than you. The more you chase him the more he becomes committed to running. You can take a bad situation and make it into an absolutely irretrievably terrible situation by chasing the dog.
Okay, so now he’s following you! Excellent ! But how to get your hands on him? He may be reluctant to come within grabbing range, and dogs seem to be fabulously good at calculating the exact distance you can reach. So, how to get him to safety?
You may find that if you flop down on the ground, sitting down cross-legged or, even better, lying down, your dog may come the whole way up to you, and, if you keep waiting, may sit or lie down very close to you and allow you to start patting him. Don’t begin by grabbing him. Be patient.
Alternatively, take a look around you. Is there any place you could get him to chase you into where you could confine him?
Can you get him to chase you into a garage? Into a backyard? Up a staircase? Into a car? (I once got a husky who had broken his collar in downtown Laguna Beach to chase me up the stairs of a small shopping center to a dead end at a closed office. Then I was able to step behind him on the staircase, and block his way.)
Do be careful with that last grab. Your dog loves you, but he’s stressed and being grabbed can be scary. As scared dog may snap or bite. If you can, make a noose of the leash and encourage him to walk into it, or if you have to grab the collar, try to reach calmly from below, rather than inadvertently looming while grabbing.
So now you have your dog back! Your heart can go back to its normal rate! Now, this time really DO sign up for some training, so you won’t ever have to use the emergency instructions again!