Teaching your dog to lie down is an essential command that is quite easy to teach. It’s a great command to use when you want your dog to relax or be low-key when you are out and about with him. If you take your dog to work or your local coffee shop, you’ll be using this one a lot. Down is also the first step to several dog tricks, like play dead or roll over.
When your dog is in the proper down position, his chest, elbows, and hocks are all in contact with the ground. Watch for the fake out hover that some dogs like to do and only reward your dog when he is truly lying down. Ideally, your dog will remain down until you release him (you can practice this with a release command like “all done”.) If your dog has already mastered the sit command, this is your next step!
Before you begin, make sure you have plenty of small, tasty training treats to offer your dog. Set aside 5-10 minutes in a quiet area free of distractions. If you use clicker training with your dog, grab your clicker too.
Get your dog’s attention and show him that you have a treat in your hand.
Hold the treat in front your dog’s nose.
Slowly move the treat towards the ground.
As soon as your dog’s elbows and hocks are on the ground, give your dog the treat followed by a praise party.
Once your dog is consistently doing the down motion with the treat, add in the verbal cue. Say the word “down” clearly and firmly while moving the treat to the ground.
Continue to repeat the sequence until your dog lies down with only the verbal cue. Make sure you mark the behavior with a “yes!”, “good dog!”, or a click every time he lies down and immediately offer him a treat.
For every command you teach your dog, you’ll want to have a verbal cue and a hand signal. Hand signals are important if you have to communicate with your dog from a distance or in a loud environment.
Your hand signal for “down” will be a lowered, outstretched hand. Practice your down sequence doing just the hand signal with one hand and then marking and rewarding the behavior.
Once your dog responds quickly to the down cue, gradually add distractions and work on training the command in various locations with varying levels of distractions.
Once your dog becomes an expert at lying down, you won't have to give him a treat every time. But it is a good idea to give treats occasionally, and randomly give your dog a lot of treats, to continue to reinforce the behavior. And rewarding with praise and a pat on the head is always a good idea.
Hold short training sessions throughout the day in various locations, both inside your house and outside. You want to train for 5-10 minutes, 2-3 times per day.
Always try to end your training sessions on a win. You want to end on a positive note. If your dog struggles with this one at first, you can bring in a command he already knows, like “sit” and end the training session with that.
If your dog is slow to catch on, avoid pushing him down into position or yelling at him. This won’t help your training (and it won’t be any fun for you or your dog.) Try higher value treats (hot dog pieces, anyone?) and remember to be patient.
If you are still having trouble getting your dog to lie down with treats, try catching the behavior and marking it that way. Grab some treats and watch your dog. Anytime he lies down, say the word “down” and then praise and reward him. You can also use your clicker to mark his action when you see him starting to lie down and then praise him. Next time he naturally lies down, say “down,” then praise and reward him. Try this every time you catch him lying down.