Teaching Your Dog to Down

August 2019

Audience: Foster Caregivers, Public, Shelter/Rescue Staff & Volunteers

Goal: Teach your dog lie down on the ground when you give the cue "down."

When and where to use "down"

  • "Down" can help teach self control in a dog and help them learn to settle.
  • Your dog can "down" before receiving food, bones, toys or getting a leash on. "Down" can also redirect them from other unwanted behaviors, such as jumping during greetings.
  • Add a "stay" to your "down" and you have a great cue for polite greetings and to redirect unwanted behavior. For instance, your dog can be in a "down/stay" for guests coming to the door or when visiting friends or out in public.
  • A "down/stay" can also help teach your dog independence as they learn to relax and "down/stay" further away from you.

What you need

  • Have 20-30 of your dog's favorite treats or a toy they love ready.
  • Have your dog on 6 foot leash in a quiet room.
  • It's helpful if your dog knows "sit" first.

How to Train the cue 'down'

Luring

  • Stand in front of your dog while they're on a loose leash. Hold a treat between your thumb and fingers so they can't get it. Ask your dog to sit, and place your hand at or within an inch of their nose, fingers pointing down, palm facing down. If you're luring with a toy, hide it first.
  • Lure your dog by slowly bringing your hand down to the floor between the dog's front legs. Make sure your dogs nose stays with your treat hand.
  • If your dog lies down to follow the treat, praise them and release the treat or toy.
  • If your dog doesn't lie down right away, push the treat slowly toward them along the floor until they lie down then treat.
  • Also you can pull the treat slowly away from your dog along the floor. Often the body will naturally follow into a down position.
  • If your dog's rear end goes up when the treat moves forward or back, start again.
  • Step back or to the side and coax your dog up again. Repeat the "down" exercise 8-10 times.
  • Once your dog has followed the treat into a down 8-10 times, start using the same hand motion but without a treat in hand for them to follow. They will still follow the hand movement.
  • Continue to praise them and feed the treat from your other hand. Repeat 8-10 times.
  • Add the verbal cue, "down" and use the hand signal for "down" (hand facing down towards your dog, moving from their nose down to ground) Continue to praise and reward from your other hand each time your dog does a "down".

Capturing

  • When hanging out with your dog in normal everyday situations, notice when they lie down on their own. Many dogs will lie down for comfort when waiting, resting, bored or tired. When they "down" naturally, praise and reward them.
  • Especially notice when they go to lie down on a bed, mat and/or crate, a sure way to capture the position.

Tips and Next Steps

  • Only say the word "down" once. If we repeatedly say "down, down, down," your dog will think that's the cue for "down". That's why we add a verbal cue when the behavior is happening reliably.
  • If your dog hasn't succeeded, go back to the step they were succeeding at and practice it again for a few minutes. Then try moving on again.
  • If your dog will not move into position with luring, try training on a bed or a mat.
  • Some dogs may be shy or fearful and don't like the pressure of having to lie down near you. Try capturing instead until they become more comfortable with you.
  • Refrain from pushing your dog's shoulders down or jerking down on the leash to help get them into a "down." This can scare some dogs and/or be painful.
  • Start out in a kneeling position as you do the hand signal for down. Eventually the signal should be your hand going in a down motion from your waist while you stand straight up.
  • Once your dog is 90-95% successful in low distraction area, gradually add in distractions. More about improving your dog's response to cues
  • Add "stay" to the cue "down." This will help you use "down" for times you need your dog to settle.
  • Use the cue "down" for the dog's body lying down. Use a different cue like "off" for getting off furniture, a person or counters.

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