At Ease, OK, Free, Break, Dismissed. You may hear trainers give a release word to their dogs after a cued behavior – why is this necessary? Communication between dogs and humans should be clear and relatively simple. Letting a dog know when a behavior starts and ends helps to keep things simple. The behavior starts when you give the cue – when it ends depends on the behavior and what you want the dog to do.
Behaviors like rolling over or jumping over a jump are discrete and have a definite end by their nature. If you give several cues in succession,such as:
“Heel”and walk several steps, then stop and say “Sit”, after a pause move on with “Heel” again, each new cue replaces the previous one.
Other behaviors (like sitting, walking at your side, or lying down) are moving into a position and can extend in time (have duration). If you have asked your dog to sit and he does, when is he done sitting? When you stop paying attention to him? When you walk away? This is one instance where a release cue can inform the dog when he is done sitting and add clarity to your communication.
Training a release cue and using it consistently (Consistency – Key to Training) is also necessary if you want to add duration to behaviors such as sit, down, or heel. If you ask your dog to sit, don’t expect him to sit for longer than you have practiced in a similar environment and use the release cue to tell him when he can get out of the sit.
A release word is also essential for safety when going through doorways and getting in and out of cars. Train your release word inside, in an area where distractions are low. After your dog can “Wait” or “Sit” for a minute before being released through an inner door, then practice your release cue with your dog on leash when you go in and out of your front door or vehicle.
Release word also can be a marker and a reinforcement.
A Good Release Word:
- Is Short – one or two words
- Unique – does not sound like other cues
- Not used often in other contexts
- Is trained like any other cue
- Is used appropriately
One way to train a release word: you need a dog who responds to a position cue such as sit or stand and can maintain the position for a few seconds, clicker and treats.
- Give the sit cue. When your dog sits, pause a few seconds then click and toss the treat to reset the dog (he gets up out of the sit to get the treat and is ready to sit again) Repeat Step 1 a few times.
- Cue the sit, wait a few seconds, say your release word, THEN toss the treat, and THEN click AS THE DOG MOVES TOWARD THE TREAT.
- If your dog moves before you say the release word, or before you click in Step 1, try to step on the treat (so dog doesn’t get reinforced) then get his attention, ask for sit again and make your duration shorter. Set your dog up for success, and build upon it
When adding the release work in Step 2, your click should occur as the dog is getting up out of the sit (or moving out of the stand), marking the movement, and the treat that you tossed is the reinforcement. This pairs the movement out of position with the release word. I use the “flying treat lure” for only a few sessions, then I test the dog’s knowledge of the release word by asking for a sit, waiting a few seconds, then saying the release word – the dog should move out of position.