“Down” – instructing your dog to lie down – is a great cue for dogs that need to learn to relax in one place for long periods of time. It is also excellent for jumpy dogs because jumping up from a down is harder than from a sit. “Down” can also be helpful for big dogs by making them less intimidating when meeting children or people that are nervous around dogs.
For many dogs, it’s easier to start “Down” practice from a “Sit.”
How to train it:
- Say it. Hold a treat in your hand. Tell your dog, “Down” in a cheerful tone of voice.
- Show it. Pause a second (one-one thousand), then lure your dog into a down by putting the treat up to his nose and slowly moving the treat down to the ground. Keep the treat close to your dog’s nose—if you move your hand down too quickly and too far away from his mouth he may give up and lose interest.
- Pay it. As soon as your dog’s knees and elbows hit the ground, mark by saying “yes,” praise, and treat.
- Repeat it. Repeat steps 1-3 many times. When your dog gets into the down quickly, it is time to take the treat out of your hand and use the verbal cue alone. If your dog makes a mistake, first try luring without the treat. Only put the treat back in your hand if all else fails.
Tip! Only say the cue once. Say it, then pause, then lure.
If your dog immediately pops-up from his down, you can help him maintain his positon by having several small treats in your hand. Reward with a few bites of treat in quick succession to thank your dog for staying in the down. After a few seconds tell him, “Okay!” and encourage him to get up. If he gets up before you release him, say, “Ah-ah” and ask him to lie back down. Release him more quickly this time, and then keep practicing to work up to longer downs.
If you can’t quite get your dog to lie down, break the exercise into smaller steps. First treat him for following the treat to the ground, then for bending an elbow, then for bending both elbows. Make sure you treat and praise liberally when you get a full down.
When to practice:
- Before throwing a ball, giving him a toy, or handing him a treat or chewie.
- Before putting the food bowl down.
- Before opening a door, or before hopping in or out of the car.
- Before putting on a leash to go for a walk.
- Before taking off a leash at the park or beach.
- Before dishing out a belly rub or good ear scratch, or before allowing him onto the couch with you.
A good rule of thumb is to reward your dog whenever he naturally does something you are working on teaching him. So if you find him lying down, tell him, “Good down” and treat or pet him. That will also make your dog more likely to add quietly lying around to his list of hobbies.