Downeast Dog News

"Stay" is a Concept

The Release Cue is Key!
By | Dec 11, 2020
Photo by: Muskie is learning to stand still and offer eye contact. The perch is a training aid that helps her know where to put her front feet. We use this at doorways to prevent rushing the door and to help a pup learn to wait for a release cue.

If you don’t use a verbal release cue, you don’t have sit… or a lot of other things, either!

Most dogs will respond to the verbal cue “sit,” but many of them will lift their furry little bums off the ground at some arbitrary point. The result is that we get a sit that isn’t terribly useful. Dogs don’t do this because they are being stubborn; they just haven’t been trained to understand that “stay” is an integral part of the behavior. What if your dog waited patiently until he was given permission to pass through the door, whether it’s the car door or the exterior door? This is a real safety issue; too many dogs lose their lives when they rush through doorways and into trouble. Then there’s that game of tug your pup adores… we can add the concept “by invitation only” so she doesn’t jump all over you.


Introducing the Release Cue!

A “release cue” is a verbal cue that releases your dog from a cued or stationary behavior or invites her to access something she desires. There are many ways we can weave a release cue into our daily lives. The cue should be a sound that’s short and clear and not easily confused with any other verbal cue. Examples of common verbal release cues are: “break,” “free,” “okay,” or, my personal favorite, “dak.” “Dak” isn’t a word, so unintentional use of it is unlikely. If you use a common word like “okay,” you will have to say it in a unique way.

The release cue is like the password to your e-mail account. It’s consistent and you have to enter it precisely, without any added characters, or access will be denied.


A Release Cue is surprisingly easy to teach

Once your dog understands the concept of sticking a behavior until he hears the release, you will be on your way to having a solid stay and a dog with impeccable manners! Here’s one example of how you can teach and use a release cue:


Door Etiquette.

“An open door is not an open invitation”

• Invite your dog to the door he wants to go through.

• Move into your dog’s space, so he is positioned far enough away from the door for you to comfortably open it. A perch or rug will help him know where to place his body.

• Face your dog with your back to the door. Your hand should be on the doorknob.

• As soon as your dog offers you eye contact (sit is not necessary), say the release cue then open the door and let him pass through.

• If he breaks before you verbally release him, simply restart the exercise.

• Once he is offering eye contact habitually, open the door a little bit first, before saying the release.

• If he breaks before you verbally release him, close the door and start over.

• If he stays put while the door is slightly open, release him, then open the door enough for him to pass through

• You are working towards being able to have the door wide open with your dog offering you eye contact and not moving through until you release him.


Does your dog use a crate? It’s the best and easiest place to teach the release cue because you can so easily control the consequence (door opening/door closing).

• With your dog in the crate, reach for the crate door. If your dog advances towards the door, withdraw your hand.

• Give your release cue then open the door only when he’s still, even if it’s just a moment.

• If he moves towards the door before you give the cue, just close the door.

• Gradually work towards having the door open then releasing.

• Your dog will soon realize that he has to wait for the cue, even when the door is open. Once this concept is understood, it’ll be very easy to apply it to other scenarios.

It’s critical that your dog not succeed in going through important doorways without a release cue.

Reward! You can reward your dog in place.

(Please visit my YouTube channel for examples of how and where to teach the release cue).


Happy Training!