How many times have you seen someone ask their pup to ‘down’, they reward it perfectly, stand up again and just carry on with whatever they were doing, chatting, listening to the instructor in class, ignoring the pup and the behaviour following the ‘down’. Well, the pup is laying there thinking “so what do I do now? What is going to be rewarding now? Oh I know that pup next door I’ll leap on him that’ll be fun!”. We have missed SUCH a golden moment, the moment AFTER the behaviour was performed. We can use that moment to our advantage!
So, why do we teach behaviours such as ‘stay’? Why do we need duration in behaviours? For safety, for control of where our pups are going, for monitoring, for settling, for calmness and for general ‘manners’. If we have a duration in a ‘down’, can a pup rush up and jump at guests? Can they rush into the food bowl before it’s even hit the ground? Can they join you for a nice relaxed drink at the pub on a sunny Sunday afternoon? We do, inevitably, sometimes need our pups to stay where they are, for many different reasons.
In the behaviours we teach our pups we want and indeed need to teach, duration. We don’t want to confuse our pups, sometimes we DO want them to stay in a ‘down’, other times we don’t, so how is our pup to know?? We start off by luring our pups into and through various different behaviours, but we want to extend this further and teach our pups that staying in these positions or places is actually really rewarding too. To do this, we need to teach our pups when an exercise or behaviour is ‘finished’. We teach a ‘release cue’.
What is the LAST thing we do in a duration exercise? We release our dog, that’s the final step, so when we’re teaching duration of any behaviour we can ‘back chain’ and start with the release cue before we start with the length of the behaviour or ‘stay’. A release cue essentially tells a dog ‘ok we’re done, you can get up/move/sniff/etc’. If you’re teaching a release cue, there’s no real need to use a word like ‘wait’ or ‘stay’, we’re teaching our pups that ‘sit’ means stay in a sit until released, or given a different cue. So we’re signalling to our pups with a ‘release cue’ it’s ok to move and release from that position. When teaching any maintained behaviour we MUST first teach a release cue, it’s important to start this off right and to start it off in the right order. Once you have established a release cue, you can then work on your duration, then work on your distraction, and then your distance……the 3 D’s again!! They sure do pop up a lot in dog training don’t they?
So, I hear you ask, you’re teaching your pup to get up, to teach a stay? Yes! That’s exactly what you’re teaching. So how do we do this and how does it work?
I will provide a video on my Facebook page demonstrating this at some stage. However, we can look at some important factors to consider when thinking about release cues;
- What word to use?? – a lot of people will say ‘ok’, or ‘free’, the only thing to really bear in mind is how many times you use such words throughout a day, ‘ok’ is likely used a fair amount, ‘free’ maybe not so much, you may have more success with a simple ‘release’ or ‘break’! Avoid long words or complicated jargon, a simple ‘to the point’ word which you are likely to be consistent with is fine!
- Your tone of voice – when teaching a release cue we need it to be HAPPY, we want our dogs to come out of an extended duration fairly happy and fairly excited for the reward they will hopefully get! If we’ve paired our release cue effectively with something positive this will happen! Think how you say the word, remember it’s not always the word you use it’s the way you say it that counts!!
- Body language – when teaching a release cue we generally don’t stand stationary, we ‘jump’ back excitedly! We actively encourage our pups out of a position, in order to mark and reward effectively and precisely!
- We can then pair this ‘leaping up’ with our release word ‘release!’
As I said I will post a video to my Facebook page detailing a little more about how to teach a release cue, however try to remember the importance of teaching your puppy a ‘release’ in order to establish any duration behaviour.