If you’ve ever watched an amazing agility performance or a highly trained obedience dog, you may wonder how these canine superstars got to be so well trained. If your dog can only perform a one second sit, how is it other dogs can learn to sit for much longer? The answer (in part) is through teaching the break command.
The “Break” command is unique because rather than asking a dog to start doing something, you are letting them know they can stop a command instead. This helps condition pets to be able to sit or down for longer, because they know they have to wait until you release them.
Many advanced trainers don’t bother teaching “Stay” at all, instead opting for a break command. The stay happens naturally because the dog knows to wait until it is released. Even if you teach “Stay” as a separate command, it will make your stay that much stronger.
We talked about the break command in our two-paws up article, but we believe it deserves its own piece because of how valuable this cue is.
Why Training the Break Command is Worthwhile
If you don’t compete in obedience or other dog sports, why teach a break command? The answer is partly for your dog’s sake, and partly so you can get your dog to reliably sit while you’re paying at the pet store, or when you need them to lie down out of the way while handling a guest.
Without a break command, your dog is constantly going to be looking for cues for when he can stop. Breaking eye contact, moving a foot, or speaking at all may be what your dog decides is a release. They are inherently trying to create their own break cue if you don’t provide one.
When they know you will always provide a break command, they will be more patient about waiting. This means you’ll have a better chance at conducting what ever business you need while the dog is obeying your cue, because you both know what the release word is.
Choosing a Command Word
Almost every dog owner out there chooses “Okay!” As their default break word. Any word will work, but it may be better to choose something a bit less common in your daily vocabulary than “okay.”
Imagine that you are walking your dog on the trail, and you find an unconscious person that needs help. You ask your dog to sit while you call 911. When the operator asks you to see if they’re still breathing, you might say something like, “Okay, I’ll check.”
Your dog was just released from sitting right there.
Words like “Break,” “Free,” or “Done,” are all words that are less common than Okay. If you want to be double sure it’s not going to be a word that comes up, make a word up or choose one in a foreign language.
How to Teach the Break Command
Teaching this command is very easy and can be done along side practice on any command your dog is already familiar with. When you are practicing Sit, Down, or tricks like Paws Up, use the word when they are finished with the command. If they break before you have a chance to give the command, don’t reward.
If your dog is determined to sit or down forever since they don’t know when they are released, use the break word and toss a treat for them to encourage them to get up and get it. Many dogs who are confused about ‘stay’ will refuse to budge because they think it is some kind of trick, testing their stay ability.
Most dogs quickly catch on that the word means they can be done, and to wait until they hear that word. Using the break command every time your dog has mastered a new command will help strengthen them because they know what the release is and that it will happen.
Just like with any other new skill, start with very short periods of time between the first command and the release word. You can gradually build up time and distance while using this cue, but it will take time.
You should never use the break command on something your dog has no idea how to do. If your dog only sits with a lure, he’s not ready to have the break command because there is no command he knows to be broken.
Wait until your pet can reliably sit before adding the break command in. It’s also important not to make other aspects of the command harder when you’re adding it in. When you are training a dog, things that make it harder are usually time, distance, and location.
Don’t try adding the break command in a new environment, or while also adding time or increased distance from the handler. Everything should be the same level of difficulty or even a little easier when adding a new aspect to the command.
- Two Paws Up: A Handy Skill For Your Pet
- Teaching Your Chihuahua Down, part 1
- Teaching Your Chihuahua to Sit, Part 1
- How to Train Your Chihuahua to Come when Called
- 4 Reasons to Kennel Train Your Chihuahua