Fun is an essential ingredient to training success for you and your dog, and the secret sauce to maintaining enthusiasm and engagement in a training session is to take a break. We call these “balance breaks” and also use “reset cookies”.

It might seem counter-intuitive to break your training session at first, but jump in and give it a go.  After all, a “secret sauce” can take an ordinary meal to something you take photos of for Instagram (not that my Instagram has food photos, but I do love to share dog photos and quick videos). Mindful breaks will increase joy and success for both you and your dog.

You might already be familiar with the use of balance breaks, but there have been some questions since I shared my shaping comparison video about what exactly the breaks and reset cookies are, so I thought I’d do a blog for everyone who might not be sure but wants to do better in their training.

Why We Take A Break In A Training Session

The astute use of “Balance Breaks” can speed up learning during training exponentially.  The break allows your dog to reset from the intense thinking during training and helps you to maintain great arousal and engagement with your dog during the session.

The Two Keys To A Good “Balance Break”

Key 1 – ACTION

The key to GOOD “Balance Breaks” is ACTION, with tugging or running / playing with your dog. Action will get your dog’s heart rate up and help maintain their engagement with you.

Key 2 – Take a “Balance Break” BEFORE you think you need one!

The Balance Break has to be genuine. Maintain the flow and maintain the engagement with your dog.

Tugging can be the easiest game to use as a ‘break’ but running with your dog can work too. The break should involve movement, and it needs to be in a fun, engaging way. If it’s not tugging, it could be running in a circle with your dog and then you give him a cookie. Have your dog put his paws up on you, take off running for a game of “chase me!”. You get the idea, the ‘break’ should never be stationary and also never be too long.

You can do the same with your transitions, as ACTION makes for a great transition into and out of work. From the minute you start a training session with your dog aim for fun and engagement.  Make sure you and your dog have “D” (Desire) from my D.A.S.H. acronym.

Balance Breaks allow your dog to reset and allow you to maintain arousal and connection. Tugging can be the easiest game to use as a ‘break’ but running with your dog can work too.

So, What’s A Reset Cookie Then?

A “reset cookie” is also a break from the intense thinking. You can see me use this with Encore in the video on my shaping blog post at the 5:58 minute mark … note that the use of a reset cookie gave me time to remove the cover from the coolers but not disengage with my dog. You can also see balance breaks with tugging in the video.

The important thing about reset cookies is that you MUST have a good foundation of ItsYerChoice with your dog, because you are going to give him permission to chase down a cookie you throw, and then he will return to the game. You don’t want him just leaving work to get cookies as his own decision. Remember that Work = Play = Work and if your dog leaves you to grab a cookie today, it could be him taking his favourite obstacles on an agility course tomorrow (ahh.. bye, I’ll just go to the tunnel), or leaving you to chase a bunny which might have life-threatening consequences if you are near a busy road.

Notice that in the video with Encore the release cue I give her to chase down the cookie is the word “search”. The “search” release cue will assist your dog to know he can ‘end’ the work, chase a cookie and come right back into the work. If your dog does not know the ‘search’ cue, introduce it by saying “search” and then tossing the cookie. It is an easy way to reset and the permission to search for a thrown cookie maintains the clarity of ItsYerChoice for your dog. Clear is kind.

If you have played IYC and are wondering what the difference between “search” and “get it” is, I use “search” for my dog to find food when he doesn’t necessarily know where that food is. I use “get it” mostly when the dog is to retrieve a toy or a piece of food he is staring at.

Make Your Own Secret Sauce

Next time you are training, add in balance breaks. Count how many I used with Encore in that short training session in the video I’ve linked above. Plan to include breaks in your training and always take one before you think you need it to keep the fun and enthusiasm up for both your dog and you. There’s more tips on setting up great training sessions in my post on “6 Keys to Shaping Behaviour“.

Let me know in the comments what you use for the ACTION of a balance break.

Today I’m grateful to you for being here and wanting to know more about all things dog training!  If you would like to be notified when I have new posts, you can sign up for my newsletter here on my blog at the top right on widescreen or just below the comments on this post on a smaller screen.

Update: I’ve now got a podcast episode all about balance breaks, plus an extra video on YouTube with a demo for you.