Down can be a very difficult lesson to teach dogs. If your dog doesn’t respect you as a pack leader they won’t submiss to you. Also, it can have a depressing effect on dogs. So to teach this, make sure you’re patient and relaxed.
There’s a few different methods you can try when teaching your dog to ‘down’. Every dog is different so as with all training, tailor your training methods to your dog’s personality.
Have your dog sit. Get a treat or favorite toy to give your dog something to focus on. Stand about two feet in front of your dog and face them. Now slowly bend down. Bring your hand from in front of their nose straight down to the ground. Then slowly drag your hand along the ground, away from your dog and toward yourself as you say ‘doooowwwwn‘. Your dog should follow your hand crawling into the down position. It’s OK to let them lick at the treat as they slowly slide toward you, it’s actually a good distraction for them. Make sure you’ve left your dog enough room to go down. If you’re positioned too close to your dog they won’t have enough room. Their bodies are long so they need room to slide into the down position.
Be patient! Your dog doesn’t know what you’re asking them to do. They may try a bunch of different things in an attempt to figure out what you want. So when they do lie down make sure you give tons of praise for a ‘good down‘ then give the treat or toy.
Have your dog sit on your left side. Drop to your left knee. Again, slowly lower your hand from the front of their nose straight down to the ground, then away from them in an L shape pattern. Pat the floor and say ‘down‘. Use your left hand to keep their back end down if they start to rise. If they do get up start again from the sit position. Repeat until your dog starts to understand what you are asking. Say ‘dooowwwn’ repeatedly but keep your voice calm and friendly.
Sit them on your left side. Reach over your dog, lift up their left paw and as you gently pull it forward. Now slide them in to the down position. Either that or take one paw in each hand and gently pull forward sliding them into the down. As you do this, repeat the word ‘dooowwwn’ so they relate the position with the word. With this lesson you cannot yank or pull them hard. Slow, gentle movements are key.
*Never force your dog into a down position. Physically forcing them breaks their trust in you and lowers their self confidence. It’s also the perfect way to potentially get bit, so just don’t do it! If you’re having a tough time with this lesson it’ll be for one of two reasons; 1) you’re doing it wrong, 2) your dog has dominance issues or doesn’t trust you. Either way it might be time to consult a certified dog trainer.
Vary the routine
When teaching this, or any lesson, vary the routine. once your dog will down on command in the privacy of your own home, take the lesson out to the backyard. Don’t be surprised if once you change the surroundings your dog looks at you with a confused stare. They think in photographs, change the scenery and it’s a whole new photo. So likely, they genuinely don’t have a clue what you’re asking. But by going over the lesson in a variety of locations, even dog parks, your dog will effectively learn that down means belly on the floor no matter where they are. If you only ever practice at home, your dog will only learn to down at home.
Hand signal for down
Once your dog understands what the word down means its time to teach the hand signal. Put your arm straight out in front of you and slightly up above your head with your hand open and straight (like you’re pointing at something in the distance only all your fingers are straight out as well). At the exact same time as you show the signal say the word ‘down’.
Keep lessons short
This exercise can have a depressing effect on dogs. To them, going down on command is a complete acknowledgement that they’re submissive to you and at your mercy. So don’t keep it up for long periods of time. And make sure once you release them you lavish them with praise and a playtime!
Written by Brenda McBurnie, Certified Dog Trainer and Natural Nutrition
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