The Release – a Neglected Cue

October 7, 2013

Teaching your dog to sit on cue is an essential behaviour that every dog owner should master and practice under a wide variety of situations.  It is a behaviour that is easily taught and with repetitions and rewards rapidly becomes an habitual or conditioned response which gives you a significant amount of control.

Teaching your dog to sit and stay for food, petting and other rewards in everyday situations is a very simple way to teach impulse control, patience and deference to the owner.

There is one cue that is, however, sadly neglected and this is the release cue.  For any of the duration behaviours such as sit or down stay or heeling, it is very important to be able to tell the dog not only when to start the behaviour, but also when to finish.

I have seen many times a dog that is in a sit or down stay simply get up and wander off whether it is told to or not.  This dog has been taught to stay, but has not been taught that he has to wait in that position until released.

The release cue can be a specific word such as “Finish”, “Release”, “Free” or any other word that is relevant or it can be a cue to perform a behaviour such as “Come”.

When you start teaching duration behaviours you will be rewarding the dog for every correct repetition of the behaviour BUT you will also be rewarding him for responding to your release cue!  For example, if you are teaching a sit/stay you will reward your dog for staying in position for whatever duration or distance you are working on, and then immediately say your release word, and encourage your dog to move out of position for his release reward by rapidly backing away from him and luring him to follow you with the food in your hand.  So, the sequence will be –

Release Cue

Eventually you can fade the first reward and only reward after the dog has responded to the release cue.  This way the dog knows that he will only get his reward if he waits patiently for your release cue.

This video clip illustrates very nicely how to go about it by talented trainer Fanny Gott.


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