Why it is so hard to teach the “down” command? Well, I think it comes down to two things, and both are important for you to understand before you try and teach the command.
First, down is a submissive position for a dog. Many dogs that fall into the anxious or fearful category will think of themselves as more of a target in the down position. I find this in lots of group classes where dogs are for the first time expected to work in the presence of up to five or six other dogs and 10 to 12 strange people. Stop and think of it this way: What is the most submissive position a dog can offer? It’s on their back, and that, my friends, is just a different way to do a down. So, what does this mean to you? Be patient when teaching down! If it takes a couple weeks, no worries. Let the dog learn as he becomes more comfortable and trusts the situation more.
Second, we always teach sit first. Once we have a command that is working we, the humans, get in the habit of practicing what we are good at instead of what we need to practice and what is going to be harder to train (the down command).
The Benefits Of Training Your Dog To Lie Down
So, what are the benefits of the down command? First off, once taught, down is a more reliable way to get your dog to stay than sit. Think about it: A dog sitting is usually looking at the world and pretty much ready to be distracted. Whereas a dog lying down in a relaxed state is more than willing to just keep lying there and chill. Over the years, I have gone to teaching sit as a way of saying please and requesting something (a pet, permission to get on a piece of furniture or go out a door, etc.) and using down as my primary stay command.
Teach Your Dog To Lie Down In Two Simple Steps
So how do we teach down? The nuts and bolts of the command are simple to do, but in many cases damn hard to master. So, let’s head in with lots of patience and some yummy treats!
Start with a sit. Your target will become the space right between the front paws. I want you to slowly (that means at least three times slower than you think) move the treat and your hand to that spot between the front paws of the dog (while the dog is sitting). If you need help on teaching your dog to sit, click here.
Now you have two choices (depending on your dog). Either:
a) push the treat slowly toward the tail, or
b) pull the treat away from the dog.
In some cases, when you slowly push the treat toward the tail, the dog’s butt will slide back and the dog will kind of just collapse into the down position. But with other dogs, you will have to slowly pull the treat away from the dog (while still keeping the treat low to the ground), and the dog will stretch out into the down position.
In either case, you are just luring the dog from a sitting command into a down position. The biggest mistake people make is moving their hand with the treat to fast. When I say slow, I am talking “Super Slow-Mo” speed. You are just going to have to grab some treats and feel out which of these techniques are going to be better for your pooch.
What if neither of these ideas works? Remember, this can be an uncomfortable command for some dogs to perform. First off, be patient, and under no circumstance push the dog into a down and offer a cookie as the reward. While that might still seem like a positive and/or reasonable alternative, I would say it’s more like taking someone who fears spiders and telling them that pouring 10 to 12 of the little buggers in their hair will help them get over their fear!
Next, relax. I still have several tricks you can use to help coax your four-legged friend into trying the down position.
- Try working on hardwood floor. In many cases dog’s bodies will slide easier on hardwood, making both the pushing and pulling technique way easier.
- Use an elevated platform (couch, bed or even stairs). This one is sneaky. Place the dog on an elevated platform, and as you are luring with treat in hand, simply lower your hand below the elevated platform. For the dog’s nose to follow the treat he will have to lie down. All you have to do is reward and repeat.
- Try the “Under The Leg” trick. This one will require you to sit on the floor but works great with smaller dogs. Just sit on the floor and raise your knee. This will create a triangle-shaped space under your knee. Now, just lure the dog under that space with a treat! As he gets better at going under your knee, begin to lower your knee a little. The dog will eventually have to lie down and army crawl under your leg. Once there, you are back to just reward and repeat to show the pup this is fun!
- Throw a rug down or work on carpet. Some dogs really do not like working on hard surfaces (common with smaller or short haired breeds). I have seen dogs “refuse” to do a down and then magically do it once we move to a softer work environment.
- Make it distraction-free. Make sure the working environment is quiet and calm to begin with — not crazy, stressful or intimidating. I would definitely start teaching this skill in the least distracting environment possible and then move on to more challenging areas as you progress.
Every dog is different and you — not the dog — must be flexible and patient while teaching the down command. But I promise that if you do, your stays will become so much more reliable, and your dog will actually have some fun during the process of learning the down command.