What’s in a (Release) word?



Wouldn’t it be cool if your dog remained in place until you released him to do something else? Maybe he didn’t move toward his dinner bowl or a toy until you were ready for him to do so. That’s exactly what a release word does! It is a communication cue telling your dog when an exercise is finished (such as your dog can get up from the stay and do whatever he wants) and when he can start something else (such as exiting the house, crate, or car; or grabbing a toy from you).

What word should I use?

The release word is a simple word or phrase that is used consistently. Here are some common choices:

  • Free
  • Break
  • Done
  • Release
  • Okay
  • Make up a word like I did for each of my own dogs: Pop; Fly; Zoom. (Watch the video.)

Each of my dogs, Bryn, Ziggy, and Zander, waits patiently to be released from their stay on this quiet country road. A release word is useful in so many applications including waiting their turn to go after a toy or exiting the house or car.

I no longer use the most common release word, Okay, because I found that I used it too often in normal conversation. I would inadvertently release my dog when they heard me say it when chatting with my husband!

How do I teach it?

When working on your dog’s stay, the release word tells your dog that the exercise is finished. Be sure to release your dog before he gets up on his own. If your dog gets up before the release, immediately direct him back, reward your dog for remaining in place (at whatever time duration you have worked up to), and then say his release word to encourage him to move. 

Teaching the release is easy: encourage your dog to move by patting your thighs, clapping your hands, or making kissy sounds. You can reinforce their motion toward you with either upbeat praise or a treat. 

Be sure the exercise is in this specific order for your dog to learn quickly:

  1. Without you moving at all, say your dog’s release word while your dog remains in the stay;
  2. Wait for a second or two and then make some noise or motions to indicate that your dog can get up such as patting your thighs;
  3. Reinforce your dog with a treat or happy praise.

I call these three steps, Say it, Show it, Pay it. Since we know that dogs learn physical cues faster than verbal ones, if you move first and then say the release word, your dog is learning to move toward you based on your motion and is not learning your verbal cue at all. 

What if I have more than one dog?

Each dog should have a different release word so they know when it’s their turn. I play ball with my dogs by using the release word for the dog whose turn it is to run after the thrown ball. This helps them learn to take turns and not argue over the toy. (Note: every doggie relationship is different. If your dogs fight with each other over toys, play with them separately.)

Is the release word used before another cue?

If you have asked your dog to sit and then you want him to come, you do not have to say, “Fido, free, come”. The next cue you use (in this case, “come”) has an implied release built in; the additional release word is unnecessary.

Think of all the fun new ways you can use a release word to get your dog to have tons of impulse control and patience! Happy training!

Written and narrated by Mindy Cox, B.A., CPDT-KSA

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