Using a Release Word



When working on STAY, its actually most important to focus on teaching your dog a Release Word.   Instead of working on how long you can get your dog to STAY, focus on teaching him when he has ‘permission to move’.   Once your dog understands that he has to wait for that magic word, it will be easier to build up longer STAYS.

The Release Word tells the dog that she no longer has to hold the position you put her in, whether it’s sit or down or heel. It is the command that gives you unquestioned leadership, since the dog cannot release itself. Once you have chosen the release word, it should stay consistent throughout the dog’s life.

We suggest you use a word that has no other connotations to it – “Release” is a very good one. Others are – “Dismissed,” “Go Play,” “At Ease,” “That’ll do.” “OK” is difficult — you should say the name first, to get the dog’s attention, and to differentiate that word from all the other times you say the word OK in conversation. Don’t use “Good Dog,” since you’ll be using that phrase to praise the dog.

Use the release word to literally release a dog from an exercise. Whether she’s watching you or on a sit or down, it works the same way. When you’ve decided the exercise is at an end, say the release word you have chosen, then step away from the dog, and invite her to take a break.

Teach your dog what the RELEASE WORD means:

  • Ask the dog to do something she knows how to do (maybe “sit”).
  • When she’s sitting, say your release word, and give her a treat.
  • Do that about 5 times, and she’ll begin to understand.
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Using Time Outs Effectively

There are many ways to do an effective time-out. The most important element is good timing.  As soon as your pup begins to jump up on someone, bites too hard, barks for attention, or is heading for food on the kitchen table, say something that informs him that he just earned himself a time-out (like “Too bad” or “Time-out”), and then swiftly escort him to his time-out place.  The whole idea of a Time Out is to withdraw attention.  All attention is very rewarding for your dog and withdrawing attention is a very effective negative consequence.  None of this should be done in anger – just a neutral “Too Bad” and then either remove the pup or remove yourself for 30 seconds.

  • To do a time-out when you and your pup are in a puppy-proof room, you can just leave the room and shut the door.
  • If your puppy is ok being left alone in the kitchen or family room, you can be the one to leave.  Say “Bye” and walk into another room and close the door behind you.
  • If your pup is in an area that will be fun or dangerous, you will need to tether or crate him for his time-out.  To crate him, simply place him in his crate and leave. A small utility room or ex-pen serves the same purpose.
  • A utility room makes a good time-out place.  If you are using a bathroom, make sure that toilet paper and shower curtains are out of your pup’s reach. The more puppy-proof the room, the better.
  • Tether stations can be used for time-outs and to keep your puppy out of trouble when you are nearby but unable to supervise him closely. It is handy to have several tether stations around the house, so that one is always nearby. Tether stations are simple to set up. Screw an eyehook screw into the wall or the floor and attach three feet of clothesline cable, with a clip at the end to attach to your puppy’s collar.
  • A good option for time-outs when you are out and about with your pup is to put the leash under your foot so that pup cannot go anywhere or jump up on you, and to wait for a few minutes, ignoring him completely. You can do this for pulling on leash if you are unable to change directions (because of traffic or pedestrians).
  • Regardless of what type of time-out you do, only release your puppy from his time-out when he has been well-mannered for at least one minute (no tugging, jumping, whining, pawing, etc.).
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Three Phases of Lure/Reward Training

Using food rewards is typically the easiest way to teach your puppy new behaviors but its important to not remain dependent on using these food rewards.   Here is a simple plan you can follow:


  1. To phase out food lures
  2. To phase out food rewards and replace with life rewards
  3. To increase reliability by calmly persisting and insisting

Stage One: 

Teaching dogs what we want them to do. Teaching dogs ESL — English as Second Language — English words for doggy behaviors and actions.

Food Lures -> Hand-signals -> Verbal Commands

Food lures are phased out once the dog learns the meaning of hand-signals (in the very first session) and hand-signals (hand lures) are then used to teach the dog the meaning of verbal commands. .

Stage Two:

Motivating dogs to want to do what we want them to do. 

Food rewards are phased out and replaced with Life Rewards.

Get More-for-less, i.e., more behaviors for fewer food rewards

Differential Reinforcement only rewarding your dog for above-average responses with better responses receiving better rewards and the best responses receiving best rewards.

Life Rewards — Food rewards are phased out entirely and replaced with Life Rewards especially the Big Two — Walking on-leash or off-leash and Playing with other dogs.  Big Two Interactive Games — Fetch and Tug

Stage Three:

Even though a dog may understand the meaning of the verbal command and has been motivated to want to comply, there will be occasions when he doesn’t.  However, there are infrequent occasions when absolute reliability is essential for the dog’s well being and safety.  Use persistence and insistence to get behavior.

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Teaching Your Dog to Take Treats Nicely

With dogs like this, teach them to lick for treats using the “fist of Kong” method.

1. Put a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese in the palm of your hand.
2. Make a fist and then relax you hand and move your thumb so that there is an opening near your thumb. You hand should be shaped like a kong.
3. Present your hand to the dog.
4. The dog will sniff and then use their tongue to get to the stuff in your fist. When the dog licks your hand, click (if you use a clicker) and then open your fist and allow him to take another lick or two.

After the dog gets the pattern, you can transition to solid foods, by using a peanut butter smear and also put a treat in your hand. When he licks, open your hand and let he eat the treat. The treat should be presented in a open hand with the treat resting on your palm (don’t present a treat between the finger tips).

In case where you can’t outlast the dog because he is chewing your fist, remove the fist, turn your back and walk away for 5 seconds. It might be necessary to tether the dog so that you can walk away. This doesn’t happen all that often because most dogs quickly learn that they can lick the peanut butter. For the first rep, present an open hand – this makes it more likely that he’ll lick when you present the fist (and it tests whether he’ll be interested in the smear you are using).

Once you’ve started doing this, use the lick for treats method for delivering treats while doing other training. So when you deliver a treat when luring a sit, use the fist of Kong.

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