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Teaching your dog to understand “Okay!” is an important life skill. 'Okay' is what professional trainers call a “release command.”
There are many applications where teaching your dog to wait for a release command like 'okay' comes in handy:
- Do you want your dog to stop rushing the back
door when you let them out to potty?
- Would you like your pup to stop forcing their
face into the food bowl before you even set it on the floor?
- How about teaching your dog to stay in one spot
when you ask them to, every time?
All of these behaviors are examples of what animal behaviorists call “impulse control.” This means teaching your dog that they need to learn to be patient – they can’t just have everything they want whenever they want it.
However, good things come to those who wait!
The three methods of training in this guide provide different avenues for teaching impulse control, and by extension, the release command, 'okay'. We recommend that you train all of these behaviors to your dog. Only by using the release word in different situations will your dog learn that 'okay' is a universal command.
All three methods utilize the principle of “negative punishment” to teach your dog a new behavior. This is a fancy way of saying that you will withhold something good, in this case, a food reward, until you get the behavior you want, in this case, a 'stay' or a 'wait'.
Notice that you do not need to correct your dog at any point in these training methods. Just ignore undesired behaviors, make sure your dog does not win the reward, and patiently start over.
You will need some food rewards to most effectively teach these impulse control behaviors and the release command, “Okay!”. The reason professional trainers use food to train is that it can be easily and quickly repeated without disrupting the training session or becoming an unwanted distraction.
Once your dog has mastered a skill, you can start to replace food rewards with other things your dog likes.
For example, you can ask your dog to stay, toss a ball, then release them to the ball. In this case, the ball is the reward instead of food. However, if you try to train using the ball, you will find that it can take your dog’s focus, and be difficult to get the rapid repetition that you need to teach a new behavior quickly.
The hardest part for your dog to learn is during the initial phase of teaching each behavior. Patiently repeat the process, keeping the bar low enough for your dog to succeed, and eventually, they will understand this game. Once they have the basic idea, adding time and distance to the behavior usually progresses rapidly.
The Wait Method
Start with a bag of treats cut into pea sized pieces or kibble from your dog’s daily food rations, with your dog nearby.
I have a treat!
Place a piece of food in your hand while your dog is paying attention and close your fist around it, within range of your dog so that they can reach it.
Your dog will probably try to sniff at your hand to get to the treat. Do not correct them with “No” or any other commands. Just wait until they “give up” for even a few seconds, open your fist and say “Okay!” in an excited tone. Let your dog get the treat. Repeat until your dog stops going for your closed fist and waits for you to give the release word and then open your fist to let them have it.
Open and close
Start opening your fist before giving the release word. If your dog goes for the treat, and they probably will at first, snap your fist closed. Do not correct them. Just patiently continue to repeat this until your dog lets your hand be open for one second, then say “Okay!” and let them have the treat.
Repeat the last step, gradually adding some time between when you open your hand and give the release word.
New treat locations
Once your dog “gets it” by leaving the treat alone for up to 15 seconds, start placing the treat on the floor, repeating the process with your hand cupped over the treat.
Practice makes perfect
Practice the wait game in many different places, extending time. Even after your dog masters this game, continue to practice it with access to toys, going outside, and other things your dog really enjoys, instead of food rewards.
The Stay Method
Start with your dog in the sitting position with a bag of treats cut into pea sized pieces, or some of their regular kibble from their daily rations. Open your hand and raise it so your dog sees your palm and say “stay”. Wait 2 seconds and if your dog is still sitting, say “Okay!” and let your dog stand up and walk over to you to take the treat.
Repeat the previous step 5-10 times, adding a little bit of time before releasing and rewarding.
From a distance
You are now ready to start adding a little bit of distance between you and your dog. Walk them to their spot, ask for a 'sit', say “stay” with your hand signal, and take a step back. If your dog stays in their position, wait a few seconds, say “Okay!” and then let them come to you for their treat.
Add distance and duration
Repeat the previous step, gradually adding time and distance to this game. Ignore unwanted 'stay' breaks for now. Just patiently get your dog back in position and try again. If your dog is persistently failing, then you are setting the bar too high. It is your job to set your dog up for success.
Practice makes perfect
Continue to practice this skill in different locations inside and outside your home, adding distance and duration as your dog perfects this skill. Even after your dog masters this game, continue to practice it with access to toys, going outside, and other things your dog really enjoys instead of food rewards.
The Crate Method
This is a good way to practice the release word “Okay!” in conjunction with crate training your dog. Have your dog go in their crate. If you need to, toss a treat in to entice them. Close the crate door. Toss a treat on the floor a foot or so from the door so that your dog can see the treat.
Say “wait” in a slow drawn out voice and then reach for the door and slowly start to open it. Your dog will likely try to rush the door of the crate. Patiently shut the door all the way closed.
Repeat the process of starting to open the door and then closing it until your dog “gets it” and you can get the door all the way open. Once you have the door open with your dog in the crate for 1 second, give the release word “Okay!” and let them run out to get their much-deserved treat.
Ignore unwanted behavior
If your dog gets out before you have a chance to shut the door, snap your hand over the treat so they can’t reward themselves for breaking the 'wait'. Don’t correct them with harsh words. Ask them to go back in their crate, bribing if necessary, and patiently resume this process.
Be patient with your dog during this process. The hardest part will be getting the door to all the way open for a few seconds before releasing. Continue to practice the first three steps until your dog is succeeding at least 80% of the time before you start adding some duration to this game.
Practice makes perfect
Practice regularly once your dog has mastered this game. Once your dog is patiently waiting with the door open in their kennel and you very close, start adding some distance between you and the crate. Keep the treat near you so you can deny it to your dog if they break the wait.
This is a life skill, so practice in different places such as on their mat or at the door before going outside so that the release word “Okay!” takes on universal meaning for your dog.
Written by Sharon Elber
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 01/11/2018, edited: 01/08/2021