The Take A Break Command
I rolled over this morning, stretched and opened my eyes only to have a wooly pink bunny dropped into my newly opened peepers. My dogs lay quietly until they see any sign of me rising, and movement is often celebrated with a fuzzy gift and a little dance of joy about the bedroom, luckily for me gifts aren’t usually shoved in my eye.
But this morning, I wanted a chance to catch up on some missing sleep. Later, while doing Yoga and in a very precarious and painful position a fuzzy rump was thrust my way in an attempt to get a scratching. Sometimes I simply need a break or some space. I prefer working out on the floor without furry people sitting on my face.
I like to eat without heated dog breath exhaled in my face or drool dripping onto my lap or down my leg. And, I prefer welcoming visitors without the help of hairy feet dancing about in front of them and jumping their way. So, I teach my dogs to go and lay on their beds until distractions are gone, or they are told otherwise.
Wouldn’t it be nice to have your pooch vacate the room or at least the table area and go lay on his bed while you eat? Imagine the doorbell rings and “Fido” runs to his bed while the front door is opened and friends are welcomed into your home. And, if you need another half hour of sleep you could tell your dog to go lay on his bed while you hit the snooze button!
The “Take a Break” command is one of my favorite commands in my obedience arsenal. I don’t over use it, mostly because I like hanging out with my furry kids, and I want them to enjoy their beds on their own, but I do use it when I need an area cleared of “doggy helpers”.
The most important thing when teaching this command is making sure that everyone is having fun. If your dog ends up detesting his bed, this command becomes counterproductive. Another important facet of this, in my opinion, is having several beds throughout your house.
If the doorbell rings and your dog’s bed is in the bedroom it is not realistic for most people to dash down to the bedroom, grab the dog’s bed, and work on training before the door is opened. So make your life easier by placing beds throughout the house. I put one bed in the living room, one in the kitchen (so they don’t help me prepare dinner) one in the bedroom and one placed near the door or front area of the home.
I try and make almost all of my dog training a game. Who doesn’t like a game? Adults like games, children like games, and even dogs like games. Sometimes I use a leash. I think it helps to increase my dog’s excitement in the beginning however leashing is not necessary because we are not going to use force. Get some high value treats. You want to keep your dog’s focus and attention on you and the better the treat the more fun the game is for everyone. Lead your dog toward the dog bed.As soon as your dog’s paw touches the bed, praise and give a treat. Take a step back so your dog is off the bed again, then lure him forward and again as soon as his paw hits the bed praise and reward.
Do this several times in succession. When you think your dog is putting 2 and 2 together and understanding that touching the bed equals praise and treat, begin to tell your dog what he is doing. DO NOT give the command first. Your dog doesn’t speak English, you must teach him what commands mean and giving a command several seconds before the action happens only hampers your pet’s learning.
Once your dog seems to understand what he is doing, start telling him by saying “Take a Break” each time he makes contact with the bed then praise and reward. Now is when I also begin to treat him for choosing to stay on his bed. If he stays there I will continue to reward him at random intervals. I don’t want my dog to think the objective of this game is to pounce the bed and fly off it just as quickly. The stay will be essential in a few steps. Do this several times and end on a good note.
Next, encourage more of your dog’s body to make contact with the bed. Now it is going to require 2 feet on the bed to get praise and reward. Hold out your command and wait until your dog gets more of himself onto the bed. It is important that your dog figures this out for himself, because learning to play the game is part of the fun. Once you are reliably getting two paws or more on the bed begin adding the command. You have upped the ante, now “Take a Break” means two feet or more need to be on the bed.
Do this until your dog has this step mastered. Then, up the ante: four feet must be on the bed in order to get praise and reward. When your dog is reliably putting his whole body on the bed, add the command. Do this for several days, until there is no question that your dog knows the command and is enjoying playing this game with you. I also suggest that you use several beds during this training. If you only train in the living room, it may be hard for your dog to understand that the command is the same for the bed in the bedroom. Dogs learn differently than we do, we must help them to be successful by teaching them that commands mean the same thing in different places.
Now I like to add a little more excitement to the scenario. Once I know my dog knows what the command means and what I want (utilizing all the beds in the house), I start having a race to his bed. At first, the distance between me and the bed is only a few short feet. I get really excited “Take a Break” and together we dash to the bed praise and reward. Now, it is not a scheduled training session. My dog never knows when this fun game my start (I am setting him up for real life).
I keep treats on my body and surprise my dog with a sprint toward beds throughout the house all through the day. Next I up the ante yet again. This time I don’t sprint with him to the bed, I say “Take a Break” and point to the closest bed, as he is racing to get there to acquire his treat I am following quickly behind to give him his treat.
Once you have this step under your belt, you can start to slow your approach to him on his bed, if he gets off his bed, simply ignore him until he is on it again. He needs to start to learn patience. It isn’t until now that I begin to give the command “Stay” once you have told him to “Stay” you have to have a release command when you are done training.
Giving the “Stay” command early in the learning process, makes this game a chore instead of pure fun, we have already conditioned him to think this is a fun game, so adding “Stay” should just be another facet of the command. If he gets off the bed ignore him until he is on the bed, then reward for his patience. I also start to add the “Down” command at this point. Release him with “All Done” and praise and reward when you are done working.
Dog training is a small step process. You must now begin to extend the time your dog is staying until he is rewarded and then released, but you shouldn’t always extend. It is like learning to play the piano. You start by learning easy pieces and then begin to learn more and more difficult numbers, but sometimes you like to go back to playing the easy pieces as an enjoyable break. In order for dogs to find this enjoyable, they need to be successful fairly frequently.
You don’t want to follow a schedule (every minute) or your dog will begin to anticipate and jump up if you are late. You want a variable schedule of reinforcement so that he never knows when the treat is coming but he knows if he is patient he will be rewarded. Eventually you can really extend the time he is staying on his bed and giving very few treats. However, if you are having problems with your dog popping up; go back a step or two and lower your expectations until the previous step is solid.
Also, you will need to practice with distractions like the doorbell ringing, cooking, eating, or people wandering around the house. You may have to go back to the very first step, but because you have laid a good foundation you should see improvement quickly. Ring the doorbell, give the “Take a Break” command and reward your dog’s compliance. Eventually the sound of the doorbell should equal going to his bed, but you must do this several times a day for a long time for it to become habit.
Opening the door may add another distraction, ring the doorbell give the command reward and then open the door if your dog stays reward him, if he gets up close the door and try again, until you can open the door wide with your dog’s attention on you. (For safety with the door open, I suggest utilizing a leash!) Train for the scenarios you will be using for this command. Be patient remember this is a process and have fun!
Imagine your doorbell rings and your dog automatically darts to his bed, because it’s fun and he knows his reward is coming, your friends and family will be so impressed they will be asking you to come and train their dogs!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.