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:
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.