‘Down’ is probably the most difficult lesson to teach dogs for two reasons:
1) If your dog thinks they are the alpha of the pack they will refuse the submissive position of down.
2) It can have a depressing effect on dogs.
First, have your dog SIT. Now stand about two feet in front of them and face them. Then bend down and step backward. Have a treat in your hand at first for your dog to focus on. As you step back slowly bring you hand straight down from in front of their nose and touch the ground. Now slowly drag your hand along the ground away from your dog while you say ‘down’. Do it as if you were painting the letter L. Straight down then straight out. Your dog should follow your hand, crawling into the ‘down’ position. It usually takes a few tries. Make sure you leave them enough room. If you’re positioned too close, they won’t have enough room to lie down. Their bodies are long so they’ll need room to slide down. Don’t get in their way! And on that note, once your dog can crawl into a down, why not teach them to crawl?
The second method is to have them sitting at your left side as you drop onto your left knee. Again, slowly lower your hand in front of your dog’s nose straight down to the ground and pat the floor as you say ‘down’. Use your left hand to keep their back end down if they start to rise. If they get up from the sit, start again by telling them to sit. Repeat this process until your dog understands what you want. Say ‘down’ repeatedly but keep your voice calm and friendly. Once your dog knows what ‘down’ means, only say it one time. Sometimes physically touching your dog while teaching them can be distracting. Be careful that you’re not setting them up for failure.
What if they’re being stubborn and won’t lie down?
Have your dog sit on your left. Reach over your dog, lift up their left paw, gently pull it forward and position them into a ‘down’. Either that or take one paw in each hand and gently put them into the ‘down’ position while repeating the command ‘down’. But if this turns into a power struggle, stop immediately. You may need to reassess the ‘pecking order‘ before you can teach this.
Reinforce the word ‘down’ often
There will be times around your house when you see your dog lying down. Take advantage of this! Praise them, saying ‘good down’. This will help them understand what the word ‘down’ means and reinforce a good behavior. Be patient when you’re first teaching. They may try a bunch of different things in an attempt to try to figure out what you’re asking them to do. As soon as they ‘down’ give tons of praise. Release and give them the treat or toy.
Vary the routine
When training, vary the routine. Once your dog understands ‘down’ give it at times other than when they’re sitting. Direct your dog to respond no matter what is going on. If you become predictable your dog will learn the order of everything and they won’t have to pay attention to you.
Hand signal for ‘down’
Once they will ‘down’ on command, start using the hand signal. Put your arm straight up in the air in front of you with your hand open and straight. Say ‘down’ and give the signal at the same time. When your dog starts to recognize the hand signal, vary it. Sometimes use only the hand signal and sometimes only your voice.
Keep training sessions short
This exercise can have a depressing effect on dogs so don’t keep at it for long periods of time. Be sure to praise lavishly and offer lots of encouragement when they’re doing well. Be careful how you praise , though. If you’re excited, that will surely encourage them to get up. Keep your praise calm and slow. Once you’re dog gets better at it, start holding them in the position for longer periods of time. This will help your dog to understand that they’re to hold the position until released and it will also help your dog to learn patience.
Always end on a positive note
If you’re using a toy to help your dog with this lesson, have a playtime after the lesson is over. If you don’t, your dog might become discouraged and learn not to trust you. Your dog needs the reward if they’re going to do the work.
Also, if you’re using a treat give it to your dog while they are in the ‘down’ position, then release them and let them play. Be sure, however, to wean out the treat or toy. Your goal is to have your dog do this for your praise and acceptance, not a treat or a toy. Those are only used to teach them the position. Practice this exercise every day at least three times a day. Use repetitions of five to ten times until your dog really gets it. And remember, always keep it positive!
PLEASE BE WARNED THAT MANY DOGS FIGHT THIS LESSON BECAUSE TO DOGS, THIS MEANS TOTAL SUBMISSION. If there’s any question about whom is alpha – you or your dog – your dog will likely not ‘down’. Your dog needs to understand that you are the alpha in your family before you can successfully teach this.
Please subscribe to Askthedogexpert, and feel free to comment: