Focus Fun April Week 4

A “release” word signifies to your dog that training of a skill is over
that he is finished working.
It does not mean he can “leave” you!

Page LinksTopicMonthly Drill ProgressionRSGBalance Sit/DownWatch2WINReviewPDF Files

Release cue

  • When you give a cue are you consistent? 
  • Do you have different cues for different skills? 
  • Is your “release” word for a skill poisoned? I.e. you give the cue and your dog leaves you. 
  • Do you have specific cues that give permission to leave?

What is a release cue?  This is a word or motion that tells your dog he is allowed to move.  Words that are commonly used are “okay,” “break,” and “free.”  Often a release word is followed by another command such as “come.”

A release motion can become an inadvertent cue.  It often occurs when a handler accidentally pairs the start of motion with their release word.  This practice often “breaks” start-line stays in agility.  Release Cue inconsistency is one of the BIGGEST training problems I encounter when teaching.

Why is consistency important?  Without teaching the dog a release cue, the dog never knows when he is allowed to stop doing the required behavior.  If you repeat a cue and say it one time one day, and three times the next, you are not consistent and it may create frustration for your dog.  For more effective communication and training with your dog, try to make all your verbal, as well as non-verbal cues consistent.  It makes it much easier for your dog to learn new commands or tricks.

A “release” word signifies to your dog that training of a skill is over OR that he is finished working.  This command DOES NOT give your dog permission to run off or leave you.  It just states the skill that you are working on is over.  When I want my dog to go outside, I use “go outside” or “go potty”.  If someone walks toward us, I can use “go visit” to say hi the the person.

There are many places you can work on your release cue.  Here are some examples:

  • Getting out of the crate
  • Every door way in the house
  • Every gate or opening
  • Getting on your lap
  • Getting in and out of vehicle
  • Getting on and off the bed
  • Mealtimes
  • On walks, I love to train as we walk. Ask for a sit and then release.

This week, we will be looking at your dog’s understanding of your release cue. If he does not know when he can move, it will be hard for him to understand when and why he should stay.

First, decide on your release word. “OK”, “Free” or “Break” are just some of many examples.  I use OK but it can be any word you decide.  Try to make sure it does not conflict with another verbal cue you are going to use.

Release Cue/Word game.

  • Have your dog and treats in a quiet room.
  • Take your dog’s collar and drop a treat a few feet in front of you.
  • When ready, use your release word and let go of your dog’s collar so he can run to and get the treat.
  • Encourage your dog to run back to you for a KrazyKookie game.
  • Repeat a few times to make sure your dog is associating the release word with getting the treat.
  • When releasing your dog, only let go of your dog’s collar.  Do NOT move with your dog.
  • NOTE: This is to teach if your dog doesn’t already know a release cue.  Once your dog understands the cue, he must always have a “get it” command to get a trat/toy off the floor.

*** The “KrazyKookie” Game is making the “cookie” in your hand come alive.  Have your dog chase the cookie as your hand moves around is exciting and fun.  This game is a great way to reward your dog while training, especially if your dog doesn’t like to play tug.

Bump the Skill UP 

  • Next, ask your dog to sit.
  • When ready, show your dog with the treat and then drop the treat a few feet in front of you.
  • While you stand perfectly still, give your release cue, “get it” command and let the dog run towards the treat.
  • Again, encourage your dog to run back to you for the KrazyKookie game.
  • The goal is to have your dog confidently break when he hears your release word with no additional movement from you.

TEST – Once your dog knows a release word, it is time to test.

  • Have your dog on a sit.
  • While standing still, give your dog his release word.
  • Does he move?  If so, he understands the command.  If not, more work is needed.
  • REMEMBER, your release cue should never mean or lead your dog to leaving you.   The cue is ONLY the end of a skill.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Giving your dog a command and not releasing him from his job.  I.e. asking your dog to sit or wait, then walking away and forgetting to release your dog.
  • Pairing movement and verbal release cue.  This is often seen on start line stays or contacts in agility or turning and calling a dog in obedience.  It can quickly become a bad habit and can ruin a great stay.
  • Your dog goes out for a treat and is slow to return or stops and shops the floor.  If your dog is NOT coming back quickly, please go to the Get It Game page and revisit teaching this skill.

Video Notes:  Karrde and I are teaching and testing our release word in this video.  

First, I hold Karrde’s collar, drop a treat, and release him with NO additional motion to get the treat.  When teaching, I simply let go of his collar and do not make any additional movements or cues. 

Next, Karrde is in a sit, which is a stationary position that should be held until released.  When I drop a treat, Karrde remains in the sit and then is released with his release word, “OK.”   Once I did say “get it”, which is also a cue that means he is allowed to get what was tossed.  

While working with Karrde, I stay totally still until after he has left his sit.  Also, Karrde does a great job in grabbing the treat and immediately looking and getting back to me.  This habit is from all of our work with the Get It Game. 

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Meal Time for Training

This is the last week of this drill BUT it doesn’t mean your fun has stopped during meal time!  Use meal times to improve your skills and your dog’s desire and focus.    As a wise trainer, it is our job to utilize regular meals to train and test our dogs.

Using mealtimes for training

I know many trainers often ask their dogs to sit and wait while they place the food bowl on the floor.  I feel that meal time is a great opportunity to build and SEE what desire really looks like with a dog.  Does your dog jump through hoops to do skills when a meal is on the line, yet when you are out training there appears to be little to no effort or speed?   This is a great way to actually see what your dog is capable of doing.

Mealtime non routine

  1. Review – Dog sits and waits until I place food on the ground.   Then ask for a twist with focus before getting a release cue to eat.
  2. Review – Placing the fixed food bowl on the counter.  I will move away from bowl and ask for a simple skill, such as a sit OR down OR spin.  I will get the bowl and yes, my dog then needs to focus on me (I do not use the wait word) until food bowl is on floor and he is giving a release cue.
  3. Review – Place the bowl on the ground; yes my dog is expected to wait without a command. I will ask for a simple skill with the bowl on the ground.  At first I move away from bowl and ask for a front, line-up, walk with me etc.  My dog MUST be focused on me.
  4. NEW– Progression is to add 2 or more skills and to continue to test my dogs focus on me and being able to think and focus.  Start by pairing simple well known skills.  Only progress to mixing up once your dog is able to do the asked skills.

Here are a few ideas of skills to ask for when the bowl is placed on the ground:

  • Ask for your dog to line up on your right or left side and then front.
  • Ask for a sit, then down, then spin.
  • While your dog is sitting and focused on you, walk around the room and as you move give a down or spin command.
  • Give your dog a heel or a with me command and walk with your dog around the food bowl.

The most important part of this drill is to have fun and think of different challenges and tests you can throw at your dog!

Video Notes: What fun. This video is three training sessions with Poe. Oh, Karrde wanted to make a “guest” appearance at the start. Poe is learning how to listen and think about me with his food bowl on the ground. He is a glutton for food so all training with food on the floor is very tough for him. Since he is learning, repeat commands are OK ONLY if he is giving me effort. When he isn’t giving effort, I will take his muzzle and put him in the correct place. In time, Poe will learn and be able to handle this challenge.


Meal Challenge – Food on Floor Plus Multiple Skills Checklist

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Using the RSG Games (Ready, Set, Go) in your training will enhance your dog’s focus, increase your dog’s “active” state when in a stationary position, and become a great tool to increase focus when proofing.

Goal – To continue to teach and build focus and desire with your dog by adding this new game as your dog is running toward you. 

RSG Game Reminders

  • When leaving your dog, your treats need to be in your right or left hand and hidden from your dog. Do NOT advertise that you are going to play a game or that your dog is going to get a treat or toy!
  • INSIST your dog return to you FAST!   This is a MUST!
  • Make it FUN and rewarding to get back to you.  This will increase your dog’s desire to RUN when coming back to you.
  • Work with your dog on your right side if you do a sport that requires your dog to line up on your right side.
  • Add a consequence if your dog looks away from you or becomes “inactive”.

Your Task for April Week 4

Game 8: Call through legs with your back to your dog.   HaHaHa.  Please excuse the butt shot.  :>)

  • Tell your dog to sit.
  • Leave your dog and walk away a few steps.
  • Without turning towards your dog, call or release him.
  • As your dog is running towards you, bend forward with your legs apart and present the toy/treat so your dog can run through your legs to get toy/treat.
  • Note – I like throwing the toy/treat out in front of me as my dog is going through my legs.
  • After he gets the tossed toy or treat, have him return to you, and play tug or have him jump up for a treat.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Your dog is shopping on the floor for treats.  Throw one treat at a time, and use treats that will not break apart.  Keep running back to you FUN by rewarding him by praising and/or feeding him higher value multiple treats or playing a great game of tug.
  • Your dog is great with a game up close, but looks away when you are at a distance from him.  Vary the distance your dog is from you when you begin these games!  Over successful training sessions, lengthen the distance you are from your dog.  Do not rush to get distance, instead get consistency, focus, and confidence THEN distance.
  • Your dog responds slowly when you call him and then speeds up only if you start a game.  DO NOT use a game to “speed your dog up!”  Instead, play games spontaneously when your dog least expects it.  Make games a reward instead of a lure.
  • Your dog is anticipating the recall/game.  Balance game play and stay reinforcement, according to your dog’s needs.  If you have a high desire dog, balance games with rewarding the sit or stay more often.  If you need to build your dog’s desire, play more games.
RSG Games teach your dog to have focus and remain in an “active” state while you are leaving or calling him.

Video Notes: Poe is first in the video and is learning RSG game 8. I stay 1-2 steps from him. Bend over (haha, sorry for butt shot) show him the treat and release him.  Most of the time he does a great job. Once he opts to go around and I break into a U-Missed it game. He will learn over time.

Next, Karrde and Riker are demonstrating RSG Games.  I LOVE the way both boys are staying in an “active” state when leaving them in a sit.  While training, both boys “thought” about anticipating coming to me.  In order to maintain their sit stay, I rewarded each dog a few times in their sit.  OR after leaving, I praised my dog for effort to stay and “thinking” about the correct behavior.

Call Through Legs, Back to Dog – Again, Karrde is second in this video.  While learning this game, I leave him a short distance to start.  Haha.  I did not want him to take out my legs while he was learning.  It is nice to see him remaining in an active state during this session. 

Riker then gets a chance and runs through my legs with no problem.  I do go back and reward if I feel the dog was getting ready to anticipate yet making a great decision.


RSG 8 Call Through Legs With Your Back Toward Dog Checklist

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

The most important thing for teaching in new locations is to simplify when starting your session.  How?  Start closer to the bed AND minimize what skills you add until your dog shows you he is confident.

Goal -To continue to build “balance” to your dog by going to a crate or bed while adding NEW Locations and continuing to test and challenge your dog.

Your Task for April Week 4

What you need

  • A crate or bed.
  • A dog that will go to a crate/bed from a distance.
  • A dog that will come when called.
  • A dog that understands a sit/down on command.
  • Soft treats your dog enjoys.

Adding New Locations

  • Have your dog and bed in a new location.  Pick a low distracting place.
  • Stand with your dog close to the bed  and send your dog to his bed.
  • Toss a treat on the bed to reward your dog.
  • Call your dog to you.  When he gets to you, place your hand in his collar and feed treats.
  • Send him back to the bed and reward.
  • Next, call your dog to you and give your dog a sit/down.   Praise and reward your dog for compliance.
  • Gradually add up mixing up the commands you use in the session.
  • Occasionally, just call to you or send to bed without any extra commands.
  • NOTE:  your dog should stay in the SIT AND should not go back to the bed or come to you unless you have given a command.
  • Change to a new location with moderate distractions once your dog is reliably going to the bed, sitting, and coming back to you.

COMMON ERRORS – Handlers Make

  • Allowing your dog to get off the bed before released.   If our dog leaves the bed before being released, take his collar and placed him back on the bed.  Praise BUT NO treats.  Consistency pays off.
  • Giving multiple commands once your dog understands the skill.  Once your dog understands the skill in many different locations and with distractions, ALWAYS expect your dog to do your command quickly and the first time commanded.
  • Creating a routine in the drill.   That is, always doing the same sequence.  Mix it up and keep your dog guessing where he will sit or what he will do next.  Variety is the SPICE of LIFE!

Video Notes: Poe is being tested on the Balance Bed Sit/Down in this video.  I was very pleased with his effort.  He was confused a few times but continued to give effort.  We will continue in new lower distracting locations until he is consistently correct on commands.


Balance – Sit-Down New Locations Checklist

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Once your dog understands the W2W foundations, it is time add new locations.  Yes you will continue to randomly break eye contact and or turn away from your dog to challenge him.

Goal – To build on the W2W game with our dog and to continue to build engagement and focus even when we are in an inactive state or in a NEW Location.

Your Task for April Week 4

Staying engaged – Breaking Eye Contact

  • Find a low distraction location and play and interact with your dog.
  • Stop all interacting and playing with your dog, standing still and break eye contact with your dog, but keep your dog in your peripheral vision.
  • As long as your dog is still engaging or focused on you, turn slightly away from your dog.
  • Keep your face in your space, i.e. your face should be pointing in the same direction as your shoulders.
  • If your dog continues to look at you and or moves towards you, praise and engage with him by rewarding your dog with a toy, a treat, playing the KrazyKookie Game, petting, etc.
  • If your dog DOES NOT follow you or just stands still, do not look directly at him but instead wait him out.
  • When he looks at you, IMMEDIATELY give your dog praise and several high value rewards, play tug, or the KrazyKookie Game.
  • Repeat practicing W2W a few times.  I.e. Stop interaction, look away, turn a step, and if your dog stays focused on you, praise and HUGE reward.
  • When you are finished training,  give your dog an “all done” word, but stay engaged with your dog as you put him in a crate.
GREAT Ideal!
When training has finished, I keep my dog engaged and focused on me while we go to his crate with play or the KrazyKookie Game.  This HABIT helps to build on the focus and engagement my dogs give me when out and about.

Video Notes: Here we are adding onto the W2W game.  We started easy and walking straight adding in slight turn and breaking eye contact randomly.  He is getting a lot of verbal praise and treats.   Poe is enthusiastic and focused on his job.  This is a great sign he is ready for more challenges.


Watch2Win – Breaking Eye Contact Checklist

Questions? Ask DebbyQ

Wow, it is that time again for a monthly review!

Monthly Challenge – Meal Training –  This challenge can be ever changing.   Matter of fact, it should be.  If your dog starts to anticipate, he is telling you there are not enough challenges in the game.  Keep inventing NEW variations for you and your dog.

ReadySetGo Games – 5-8 – All these games should be put into times when your dog is coming toward you.  Keep it FUN by greeting him with games and loads of rewards.

Balance Bed, Come, Sit/Down – Wow, we have been rocking with ways to balance your dog as we are building desire and working on self-control.

Watch2Win – This game is hands down one one of the best ways to teach your dog to focus on you no matter what you are doing.  Whether actively engaging with your dog or standing still not even looking at him, your dog will be staring at you.  SUCCESS!

Video Notes: Poe and I have had a great training month. His desire and focus are building which is the name of the game! We do need to address the Balance Bed more with down going away from me. Why? He needs to learn to focus coming OR going.

Questions? Ask DebbyQ