Teach emergency stop

On Friday I met a client for the first session and met his wonderful 1.5 year old Labrador Retriever named Riley. Our session ended after some fantastic leash work, placement cues and some work on Stay. As I was leaving, my client opened the door for me just as a delivery man was opening the door on the ground level. My client immediately saw the worst. The door was open, the gate was open and Riley ran through both.

We immediately raced after him and, thankfully, Riley did not make it to the very busy street one block away.

But, that reminded me of the importance of all dogs learning Emergency Stop. My client and I will be working on that during the next session, but it takes a while to "stick". So better management around open doors is first on the list for my client to practice.

Here are the steps. As with any positive reinforcement dog training, there are a number of ways to teach the same behavior. Here are a couple.

Strategy One

  • Start out with a 6 foot leash
  • Place a toy or treat that your dog likes 10 feet away
  • As she walks away from you say, "Stop" and gently stop her movement
  • AS SOON as she is stopped Click (if you are using a clicker) or say, "Yes"
  • She should turn around after hearing the Clicker or the word "Yes", but if not, give her a treat no matter which direction she is looking
  • Do 5 repetitions of this and continue below
  • My definition of Stop is for a dog to do a "U-turn" and turn around and look at me. So if she if she is not already doing that, you will now add that requirement to the behavior. So now your expectation is "Stop moving AND turn around and look at me"
  • Move a bit farther away from the toy or treat on the ground and add a little noise with your mouth after she has stopped moving. Then, when she turns around, 'Click' or say, "Yes"
  • The goal is that she starts to anticipate the word "Stop" with something behind her after she stops moving. It is almost as if we want her to turn around and say, "What?"


  • Move farther away from the object that she is moving towards before starting the exercise
  • Stop her more quickly after saying "Stop" (always gently)
  • Provide "help" more quickly after she stops so she turns around more quickly. Helpers include a kissing noise with your mouth, tapping your leg, etc.
  • Think of this as a reflex exercise that is only successful after the necessary repetitions. Do not get frustrated. Practice daily in different situations.
  • Practice on a walk every time you walk up to a curb and eventually she will associate the curb with "Stop" and will start to do it on her own
  • Move to fixed length - not retractable - long leashes (12 feet or more) and continue practicing. Make sure you do not "clothesline" your dog. If she is moving quickly do not stop her too quickly. You should move to a short leash until you have more reliability if this is happening frequently.

Strategy Two

You can do this one if your dog loves toys. Use her favorite toy that you know she will chase. As long as you are in a safe, enclosed area, she doesn't even need to be on leash for this one.

  • Take her favorite toy that you know she loves to chase
  • Pretend to throw it
  • When she takes steps towards the direction you "threw it", say, "Stop"
  • As soon as she turns around (help her with a noise with your mouth if you need to) 'Click' or say, "Yes" and throw it the opposite direction you originally "threw it"
  • What you are doing is associating the word "Stop" with her action of turning around and running the opposite direction
  • That is what Stop looks like!!! Yippeee!

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