How To Teach a Release Cue

This is part two of a this topic. For Part 1 - How to Teach a Dog to Sit Using Clicker Training - click here

The Importance of the Release Cue

I seldom teach "stay" any more. Rather, I teach a default stay. That is, "sit" means sit until you receive further instructions.So in effect, "sit" means "sit/stay." For this to be effective it is necessary to first teach the release cue and then to consistently use it. Select any word. Common release cues include "ok," "free," "free dog," even "release." Some trainers discourage the use of "ok" since we commonly use "ok" in everyday conversation and could unintentionally release the dog.

How To Teach a Release Cue

You can teach a release cue in combination with the sit behavior if you have not already taught a release behavior to your dog. To teach a release along with the sit behavior, prompt your dog to get up after clicking and rewarding his sit by taking a step or two back while turning slightly and tossing your arms up in the air. Click at the moment he gets up out of the sitting position. Then reward him with a treat.

When your dog is consistently and promptly getting up out of the sitting position when you prompt him, add the verbal release cue. To add the cue, say the cue after you have rewarded your dog for sitting and just before you prompt him to get up out of the sitting position. Click when he gets up and reward him with a treat following each click.

Practice your release cue with every captured or cued sit. As soon as possible eliminate the prompt and try saying the release word without prompting your dog to get up. If your dog gets up, click and then follow each click with a food treat. If your dog fails to get up two times in a row after you give the release cue, go back to using the prompt for several sessions before eliminating it again. Proceed at a pace that keeps your dog successful at least 80% (8 out of 10 or 4 out of 5 trials) of the time!

Once your dog is getting up out of a sit position at least 80% of the time on cue, eliminate the click but continue to deliver a treat as a reward for getting up. Eliminate the treat for every correct response to the release cue when your dog is getting up out of a sitting position at least 80% of the time without a click.

You can either hand your dog his food treat or toss it but if you toss his food treat be careful to release your dog before tossing the treat to keep your release cue clear and consistent. 

Consistency is the Key

To teach a reliable sit, use these steps and only proceed to the next step when your dog is successful at least 8 out of 10 or 4 out of 5 times (80%) at the current level. Keep training sessions short and always end on a positive note. Use your release word consistently for a reliable sit. Once your dog is sitting reliably, you can proceed to the next level by proofing the behavior in different environments with increasing levels of distraction and for longer periods of time, always aiming to set your dog up for success. The end result is that your dog will sit on cue immediately and happily after hearing the verbal cue and not get up until released! 

More articles from Cindy Ludwig, M.A., KPA-CTP

Clicker Training - What is it?

Clicker Training Part 1 - Getting Started

Part 2: Teach Your Dog a Simple Behavior Using Clicker Training

Positive Reinforcement Training. What is it?