THE DOWN COMMAND
EQUIPMENT: A HANDFUL OF TRAINING TREATS, A CLICKER (OPTIONAL)
TRAINING SESSIONS: 5-10 MINUTES A DAY 2-3 TIMES A DAY.
“Down" is an essential command for your pup to know. It’ll come in handy when you want your pup to relax or be low key when you have friends over. You’ll use it when you go to cafes with your dog or bring him to the office with you. “Down" is also the first step to several dog tricks, like play dead or roll over.
What Does Down Look Like?
When your dog is in the proper down position, his chest, elbows, and lower legs will all be 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 and in contact with the floor.
Note: “Down” is easier to teach if your dog already knows “sit” so you’ll want to make sure your dog has that one down before you tackle this one. If you’re not there yet, back up a step and work on that first.
Training Your Dog to Lie Down
As always, you’ll want to start your training in a quiet area that is free of distractions. Put the toys away, lock your roommate or your kids out of the room (sorry!), and shut the door if possible. You’ll only work on this for 10 minutes at a time and everyone will be fine without your attention for that long. It’s time to focus on training.
Make sure you have plenty of small, tasty training treats to offer your dog. If you’re using a clicker, grab that too.
Okay, let’s go!
Step 1: Lure
Get Charlie's attention and show him that you have a treat in your hand. Let him smell it.
Ask him to “sit” and praise him when he does, but don’t give him the treat yet. This will let Charlie know that he’s not done yet and will keep his attention on you.
Bring the treat up to Charlie's nose and slowly move it down toward the ground, close to his body. Once you reach the floor, slowly pull it away from him, along the floor.
Charlie should be following the treat with his nose and in an ideal world, he will eventually fall into a “down” position. Mark it with a “yes!” and praise him when he does!
*This is going to take some patience. Your puppy is not likely to magically fall into “down” on his first try - he has no idea what you want from him yet! Just keep repeating the luring motion.
If your pup stands up out of his sit, say “oops!”, which will be your way of telling him that he did not earn a treat, ask him to sit again, and then try to lure him down with the treat. He’s not going to get that treat until he is in a “down” position, no matter how cute he is. Be strong!
Resist the urge to push your dog down into position. Not only will this stir up fear in your dog (imagine if someone did that to you!), but it will also make this process take longer. You want your pup to be able to freely move his body, think about what you’re asking, and make decisions on his own.
As soon as your dog is fully in a “down” position, mark it with a “yes!” and give him a treat. You know what? Give him lots of treats! Pile on the praise and be very excited for Charlie. He’s learning!
After this initial hurdle, things will get easier for you both.
Repeat this lure step at least 12 times. I know, It’s a lot. Just keep doing it! Note that we aren’t saying “down” yet. We’re just luring and rewarding.
Step 2: Signal
After your dog has successfully completed step one at least 12 times, you’re ready to introduce the hand signal.
Grab a treat with your left hand now and hold it behind your back. Show Charlie that you don’t have a treat with your right hand, but continue to do the exact same motion with your right hand that you were doing before. Take your hand in a fist and slowly lower it to the ground.
Did your dog lie down? I bet he did! (If he didn’t, go back to step one.)
Repeat this action for a few times and then start to introduce the hand signal for “down,” which is an open palm, fingers pointing toward the floor, palm facing toward you.
Repeat the hand signal now 12 times, making sure you mark the correct behavior every time with a “yes!” followed by a treat and praise. If Charlie doesn’t lie down when you ask him to, say “oops” and reset him by asking him to “sit."
Step 3: Ask
Now you’re ready to add in the cue word. You’re going to repeat what you were doing before, but now when you do the hand motion, you’ll also say “down.” Since Charlie has already learned the motion and the hand signal, when you introduce the word, it’ll be easier for him to understand what it means.
Repeat this several times, using the word "down" each time you do the hand signal. Make sure you continue to mark the action “yes!” as soon as he sits and then enthusiastically offer praise and a treat. Good boy!
Once you’ve done this at least 12 times, set up for the trick like normal - left hand behind your back - but now just say the word “down!” once and look at Charlie. It will likely take him a few seconds to think about what he should do, but hopefully at this point he lies down. Mark the behavior “yes!” and give him a few treats with enthusiastic praise! This is a big moment!
If you try to say just the verbal cue and your pup isn’t getting it, don’t worry about it! He's just not quite ready yet. Go one step back and practice doing the motion with the verbal cue several more times before trying again.
Step 4: Practice
Once your dog responds quickly to the down cue while you are in a quiet place, gradually add distractions and work on training the command in various locations. Remember that asking for a “down” outside is way harder than asking for one inside, so be patient. You can always back up all the way to step one if your pup isn’t getting it.
Once your dog becomes an expert at lying down, you will no longer have to lure him with treats or reward him with treats. You can start to introduce “life rewards,” like going out for a walk, jumping up on the couch with you, or playing with his favorite toy. Ask him to “sit” and then “down” before he gets to do any of these fun things and he’ll soon learn that listening to you always pays off.
Training Tips & Common Problems
Make sure your training sessions are short and upbeat. If you can sense that your pup is starting to lose interest, ask him for one last “sit” and then give him the treat so you can end on a win.
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.
It can take longer for smaller dogs to offer a “down” using this method because they are already so close to the ground. If you aren’t getting anywhere, try this: sit on the ground with your legs in front of you, knees bent. Ask you dog to sit on one side of you facing your legs, drag the treat to the floor, and then pull it along the floor under your legs. You dog will have to crawl under your legs to get the treat and will inadvertently give you the “down” you are looking for!
- 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.