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Dog Word of the Day: Release Command

Release Command in Dogs

If you are in the process of training your dog, you may find the use of a release command useful. When discussing release commands we get a bit in a gray area: not everybody uses release commands, but for those folks who do, they find them to be the best way to inform a dog that he is done holding a position and is now free again to move about. Whether you decide to use release commands or not, it's always interesting learning about the use of release commands and why many dog owners and trainers like to use them. Perhaps, after reading this, you may feel tempted to start using release commands too!

dog release

Helpful for a Stay

If your dog knows the stay command, you may find a release command helpful to add to your dog's repertoire of verbal instructions. The stay command teaches a dog to stay immobile while holding a certain position such as when the dog is sitting or lying down. Some dogs also know how to hold a stay while standing. The stay is great for training good impulse control.

A release command is particularly useful for a stay command considering that holding a position during a stay needs to have a beginning and an end. The exercise therefore initiates with the verbal pronunciation of the words " sit' and then "staaaay" and then concludes with a verbal cue (the release command) that tells the dog he's free to move again versus moving when he feels like it.

So training a dog to stay will look like this: you would ask your dog to sit and staaay and then, once a certain amount of time has elapsed (always start with brief stays first if your dog is new to this), you will pronounce the release word as you encourage him to move and break the stay. Make sure you reward your dog for moving so that he really gets the idea that the release cue means the exercise is over.

Built-In Stays 

dog lying down

If you think about it, many of the training commands you train your dog have a built-in stay. If you train your dog to sit, your dog will have to stay in the sitting position for some time until the exercise is over. What may differ between one method and another is how you tell your dog that the exercise is over.

Some trainers prefer to use a click of the clicker or a verbal marker "yes" followed by some form of reward (treats, praise, touch, play) to end the behavior, while others prefer to end the exercise by using a release cue in place of the yes/click for meeting criterion. It is also possible to end the behavior by asking the dog to perform another behavior that supersedes the original command (for example, you ask your dog to sit and then you release him by telling him to come to you and then lie down).

Because many behaviors have a default built-in stay, many trainers think that training a stay is redundant. Sure, dogs can learn to "stay" buy it might just be easier if you train your dog to understand from the get-go that any position must be maintained until you pronounce the release cue. After all, well-trained behaviors in order to be fluent must have some level of duration built-in.

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For many trainers, there's therefore no point in saying "stay" as that's comparable to repeating the command. In other words, it's as if you're telling the dog to sit again considering that the sit already has a built-in stay considering it can have duration.

" I believe if you teach your dog behaviors that have a duration like sit, down, and stand, you should always release the dog afterward. In other words, give the dog a signal that he can get up after it is complete. This is because it can be very confusing to a dog if SOMETIMES “Sit” means stay sitting until released and other times the handler wanders away and the dog can get up whenever he feels like it.."~Emily Larlham

puppy golden retriever

A Different Opinion

In the world of training dogs there is a saying "Put three dog trainers in a room and the only thing two dog trainers can agree on is that the third trainer is wrong." When it comes to the release command, you may stumble on dog owners and trainers who prefer to not use release commands for their sit, down and stand cue, and also that prefer to stick to the "stay command." Why is that?

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In their opinion, the act of sitting, lying down and standing is a position command and therefore different from the stay command which they consider it a unique duration command applied to a position command.

So it is their belief that telling a dog to stay means specifically informing the dog that he must maintain a certain position (sitting, lying down or standing) possibly for a prolonged period of time and perhaps with the owner at a distance (or even out of sight) until the owner releases him or returns to release him.

Despite these different approaches, it doesn't seem like there's really a formal right or wrong way to do this. Books video and classes are often seen using both ways. From a result-oriented standpoint, T\trainers and owners seem to have good results both ways, so it's not a bad idea to just stick to what works best for you rather than going into all the minute subtleties of training.

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 Release Command Words

Whichever method you use, it's important to consider that, when it comes to choosing a good release command, you want to choose it wisely. Consider using words that aren't used too commonly, unless you're OK with your dog accidentally breaking a stay! For example, most trainers know of clients who pick the release word "OK" only to regret it later on as the dog breaks the stay every time the owner happens to say the word "OK"during his conversations with others.

Therefore, it is wise to use release command words that are not often used in common language. Words such as done, finish, dismiss, free, break, all clear, will work as they're not too commonly used when talking.

Yet, there are always seem to be exceptions to the rule. There are dog owners who claim to have used the release word "OK" for decades and never stumbled on a situation where their dog happened to break the stay. It would be interesting though knowing whether these people never accidentally pronounced it, or if their dogs actually heard it at some time, but understood it wasn't directed towards them.

End Of Session Signal


Some dog owners and dog trainers like to also use a specific release command that means "we're done working for now, so you're free to do anything you want."

This means that the dog can take off and go on a sniffing adventure or play with a toy. This specific release command signals to the dog that the owner no longer needs his attention.

This end-of-work release command may seem redundant, but many of those using it believe that it helps dogs make a distinction between a regular release command which may mean "you're free to move out of position, but keep paying attention to me" and an end-of-work release cue which means "you're done, now go do what you want."

As seen, the release command can help add clarity to your dog's training. While the term "command" is used freely in this article it's mostly because that's what it's mostly known as. However, given the choice, we prefer to use the term "cue" as it implies a more gentle way of training that is more" in step with the modern times. "

"Some trainers use an “all-done” signal when they finish training, and immediately follow it with a variety of options. The “all-done” may be followed by an opportunity to go outside, the chance to play with a new toy, the delivery of a long-lasting chewy treat, or the start of cuddle time on the couch. In these instances, the “all-done” signal is not an end to reinforcement, but is actually a cue to engage in a new reinforcing activity." ~Ken Ramirez

Emily Larlham demonstrates how to build a solid release cue.

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