Training The Release Command and Why You Must Use It For Perimeter Training

Dog owner Jenny P. wrote to me this week and asks: “A little background before the question. We live on one acre bordered by a field, woods and the street (a caul-de-sac) which has no sidewalks.

I purchased an electronic collar and intend to train my Lab mix to stay within a defined border, several feet from the natural border I have described. ( I plan to set up flags as if there was an invisible fence – only I will be the one administering the correction)

My question!!! How do I communicate to my dog that it is OK to cross the border when I want to take her into the street for the mail or a walk–or to cross the border to enter the adjoining field to romp? I planned to remove her with a leash to signal the permission–but is the OK command sufficient? How do I go about the entire training situation? Thank you, Jenny.”

Dear Jenny: Here are a few pointers you need to keep in mind:

1.) Make sure that whatever boundaries you teach are easily identifiable to the dog. Natural boundaries are best.

2.) Initially, when you stimulate the dog, be sure to have a long line on the dog, so that you can guide her back into the “safe” zone, if she misunderstands how to shut off the stimulation.

3.) When you take her off your property, always take her through the same exit way.

4.) Before you start with the e-collar stimulation, start just on one spot, with a manual leash correction. At the same time, teach her the release command, as outlined in my book.

Your release command, however, should not be the word, “Okay.” This is a common mistake, even by many ‘pseudo’ professional dog trainers. Why? Because using the word, ‘Okay,’ is SO common in are normal vernacular, that it’s too easy for the dog to cue off your voice when your husband says, “Oh, by the way Jenny… remember to pick up Adam’s dog training book on the way home,” and you reply, “OKAY!” … at which point your dog bolts into the street!!!

My advice is to choose a word or phrase that is not commonly used in everyday conversation. For dogs that are trained in English, I use the phrase, “Take a Break.” For dogs that are trained in German, we use the word, “Free!” But any word or phrase will do, as long as it’s not easily confused.

By the way… removing the leash is NOT a smart way to indicate to the dog that she can run through the boundary. The reasons for this should be obvious, when you think about it. Always use your release command (Take a Break) and be careful that you don’t unhook the leash and say the release command at the same time, otherwise the two actions (the word, and the action of unhooking the leash) will become synonymous. And there will be times in the future when simply removing the leash DOES NOT mean that the dog is free to go play.