Release cue or stay cue

by | Sep 28, 2018

Is “staying” is something you
ADD to a behaviour,
ASSUME in a behaviour?

Continue reading when you have time without disruptions. If this confuses us then it certainly makes it harder for the dogs. We owe them more clarity.

Release cue or Stay cue?

It comes down to which avenue you wish to travel and this choice needs to be made before you travel, rather than avenue-hopping part way along.

Many of us begin with teaching a sit or a down, and this commonly passes to our clients as their earliest experience of training with reinforcement. From this point forward we are setting a pattern for both people and dogs in their view of training and use of reinforcement. It needs questions to be answered before we embark.

Is the sit, or down, going to be a terminal behaviour, or a temporary position?

A terminal behaviour

will mean that the behaviour maintains through the practice of marking, then reinforcing  IN  the position.
Why would the dog want to move? Food is breakfast in bed, if you leave the position, no more food.

A temporary behaviour

will mean the behaviour is marked and the dog is then free to move to where the food is placed or offered.

When reinforcement patterns are predictable and consistent it will affect the way the behaviours are carried out. The dog will begin to anticipate either resting for room service or chasing and collecting.

This is the significant difference between muscles that have relaxed in position and muscles that are poised for activity. This difference can shape the way the behaviour is performed and what it looks like. Both sit and down have a great variety of possibilities from relaxed, with an open spread of the limbs, to a tight, controlled spring.

From these two branches you can then make an additional step:

Terminal Sit + Breakfast in Bed

will require a release cue for the dog to get out of bed. And sometimes that may not be worthwhile. The learning bias is in responding to the cue and then resting. More reinforcement is delivered for resting rather than adopting. It becomes a two behaviour chain: sit AND rest, rest gets reinforced more than the action of sitting. Sitting only gets reinforced after resting.

Temporary Sit + Go Collect

will require an additional cue for holding position. “Stay” or “wait”, are the usual favourites. The learning bias is in the adopting of the position, the motor skills. There is no chain, the action of moving into the sit is reinforced. Staying in the position is trained as a separate exercise.


(A small aside here. When I first worked in aviation British Airways was a merge of two different airlines: BEA (European flights) and BOAC (Inter-continental). Pilots had loyalties to their familiar fleets and regarded the opposition with some contempt. The BEA pilots would often practise landing 2/3 times every shift and only fly short flights. The BOAC crew would land maybe 2/3 times a month and fly for long haul, often 12 hour flights.
Which were the “better” pilots?
Well neither, they just had different skill sets for different tasks. But there was a culture of clean, smooth landing being regarded as a mark of good technique. A fair amount of ribbing was common.)


We can see that each style of training is suited to specific outcomes. You can decide the value to you and your training program.

Terminal sit is an excellent protocol where control is a high priority. Ideal for managing dogs in arousing environments, as a cue to interact with people.

Temporary sit is ideal for the position as a short moment before moving onto another activity. Ideal for sports dogs that are frequently required to demonstrate fast movement and position adoption, but keep alert for the subsequence behaviour, such as setting off in heelwork.

As the trainer who makes the decision on which avenue to travel you need to look to the future and decide before you begin training as this can become seriously confusing for the dog.

Both of these avenues have their advantages and disadvantages, neither better, neither bad. A crucial element in making your choice will come if you enjoy shaping: the conditioned response to the position when it is adopted can prevent the dog offering behaviours.

If you lean to the Geek-Trainer interests this is followed in greater detail as a Project in Setters – welcome to join there are LOTS of questions to ask!



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Key Reading

What Words Conceal

The language across all kinds of media paints a picture of dogs and our relationships with them.

Location is Their Cue

We begin teaching the dog to go to a target, such as a mat or platform and in this process our focus is on the outcome – the dog can place feet on the object or settle down. But at the same time this learning is happening the dog is also noting the location: where this is happening in this room, in the house, relative to the food-machine (you).

Cue Seeking is Connection

Connection is very individual and to be authentic we have to observe, slow down, understand our dogs and meet them where they are.

The Right Bed in the Right Spot

Resting and sleeping are not necessarily the same state. Good sleep where we feel safe and comfortable is important for us all.

Play Health Check

When we look at play or food delivery as an ACTIVITY we share the same mindset as the dog: is there pleasure to be experienced?

Since the Dawn of Dog Training

The old joke reminds us that the only thing dog trainers can agree on is that their training method in the best one. It becomes increasingly difficult to know which method is “right” and whether it will suit the dog, the situation and trainer’s skills.

Back to Basics?

The word “basic” is often derided as synonymous with “shallow,” but in its origins it is the very opposite: foundational, profound, supportive.

The Whole of The Dog

We cannot divide training into compartments of fast recalls, or sit for greeting, or loose leads as everything we ask of the dogs is interrelated.

Not Today and Not for My Sheepdogs

Standard protocols of extinction, impulse control, counterconditioning are quickly grabbed off the shelf as satisfactory solutions. These solutions are unlikely to help your collie, your sheepdog as the focus is heavily on suppression of who they are and why they live.

Do you see what I see

Doing better is the reward from doing the work. This work needs to be the right work at the right time with the right intent done in the right way.

Top Training

Evidence of learning

When we use the words “teach” or “train” child, person or dog, the operative term implies that the process is under the ownership of the teacher or trainer. What your teacher thinks you have learned may not be what you actually learned.

One dog watching

The other dog working
or ….how to train the spectators to quietly rest and watch whilst you work, play, teach a single member of the group

The Power of Passive Learning

Active learning: the learner takes active choice of what to do, how to respond, is attentive and making conscious effort
Passive learning: little conscious effort, reward is delivered for minimum effort.

A Day of Learning

A no-training day does not mean he gets a lazy day lying idly in the sun. Learning is still happening and this is significant and important for his development.

Surprising Puppy

Surprising Puppy. With obnoxious moments. After introducing the obnoxious puppy as a youngster I am knocked over by the Delightful Young Man he is turning into……

Obnoxious Puppy

The delight of your new puppy is probably going to last a few weeks, maybe four if you are lucky. When 12 weeks old hits, and you will feel a slam, the Delight is going to demonstrate ungrateful, obnoxious traits.


Preparing before you train and the final check list

More than words

We expect our dogs to understand the meaning of words and signals, but if you have ever worked with computers you will know that what you say doesn’t always turn into an actionable response.

Not all lures contain food

“the direct use of the reinforcer to elicit the behaviour”
This should always be foremost in our mind, in that many alternatives lures are available.

Remote lures

Lures at a distance, separated from hands, pockets . Using reward stations, patterns, containers


  1. Julie van Schie

    Even a “simple” sit is so multidimensional! Thanks Kay.

  2. Julie van Schie

    Oh dear! My computer told me that these replies had timed out! Sorry for the duplication.

    • K Laurence

      SUCH a long way for your comments to arrive!

      There are some slow responses, as with paying for anything, avoid hitting that “submit” button more than once!

      You can delete your comments if you want – just use the (Edit) button


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