This Dog Trainer Is Begging People to Stop Using This One-Word Command

A black lab make a confused face on the stairs.
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Let’s start out by congratulating you! Training a dog is no easy feat. We applaud your efforts and acknowledge it is one of the biggest responsibilities as a dog owner. Teaching dogs how to exist in the world, interact with others and pee outside takes time, patience and consistency. Professional dog trainers (aka people who literally do this all day, every day) can help bridge gaps between your skills as a dog parent and your pup’s accomplishments. Hannah Gillihan is one such trainer. As a Certified Dog Trainer at Zoom Room Dog Training, Gillihan appreciates pet parents who are involved in their dogs’ education. She’s just begging you to stop using the word, “Okay.”

Stop Using This One-Word Command

The word “OK” comes so naturally to us, it’s no wonder we use it constantly during training sessions. The problem is, this word is a noun, verb, adjective, adverb and exclamation. It covers a lot of territory.

“Many people and trainers use it as a release word or to get their dogs to do something they want,” Gillihan told us. “But really, humans say the word ‘OK all the time without even realizing it!”

Gillihan added that she sees this frequently among attendees in her Zoom Room training classes, so don’t feel bad or panic if you’ve used it as a specific command.

Why Should Dog Owners Stop Using “OK”?

Gillihan was not subtle when discussing this word. “One of the biggest phrases in dog training that I think should be banned completely is the word ‘OK,’” she said. Banned? Completely?! Yes. The biggest issue is it confuses dogs and can set them back when it comes to training.

For example, if you’ve established “OK” as your release word (the word that lets your dog move out of a stay position), and you say something like, “OK, I have to text Mom back,” your dog will think they’ve been released—and you may have no idea you’ve said the magic word.

If you get frustrated or scold your dog for disobeying you, they will have no idea what they’ve done wrong.

What to Say Instead

Rather than relying on a common word like “OK,” Gillihan recommended words like “release,” and “free,” or phrases like “to me.”

“[These] are far better release words than ‘OK,’ because we don’t use them often, so they are easily recognizable and distinct,” Gillihan said. “Having a specific, unique release word will help your dog better understand when they are supposed [to] get up from their ‘wait’ or ‘stay’ or ‘go to your mat.’”

Another Practice to Avoid

Many dog parents use the phrase “leave it” when they don’t want their dog to eat something off the floor or put a shoe in their mouth. The trick here is following through. Gillihan said she’s seen dog owners say, “Leave it!” to their dog and then moments later give the thing to the dog. You cannot say no to a toy, then immediately go back on your word. This is inconsistent.

“If you want your ‘leave it’ to really stick, you must treat it like whatever you are telling your dog to ‘leave,’ will kill them!” Gillihan said. “You should never give your dog the thing you are telling them to leave—ever. This will create a sort of, ‘I can ignore it now, but I’ll sneak and get it later,’ mentality with your dog, even if you don’t realize it.”

Rather than using “leave it” for anything you don’t want your dog to put in its mouth, try phrases like “wait for me” or “not yet.” These should be reserved for toys, treats and other items that are safe for your dog or that you will eventually deliver to your dog yourself. “Dogs are sneaky! You may think that they know to leave it alone, but the second you walk away, they’re going for that item, because they are used to getting it later anyway,” added Gillihan.

When you do use “leave it,” Gillihan advises rewarding good behavior (if your dog did, in fact, leave it) with a high-value treat like a piece of cheese or deli meat.

“Never letting them get the ‘leave it’ item and rewarding [them] with a high-value alternative treat, is how you get a foolproof ‘leave it’ command,” Gillihan said. “That will protect your dog in life-or-death situations. But, you must be consistent with it!” Training dogs isn’t the simplest thing in the world. These tools are meant to help you become a more effective trainer. They also help build a better bond between you and your pup! Stay the course—you’re doing a great job.

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Freelance Writer

Sarah Ashley is a Chicago-based freelance journalist. She has covered pets for PureWow for six years and tackles everything from dog training tips to the best litter boxes. Her...