How To Teach “Down”

Lying down is a calm and polite behavior. Dogs who are able to settle in this fashion can join you when you want to relax, such as when it’s time for the family to sit down to a movie together. It’s also a nice behavior to ask for when you are running around the house and need your dog to stay out of your way, such as when you’re hurrying to prepare a meal. A dog that can lie down on cue can accompany you to different places like outdoor cafes without causing trouble.

Here are two simple methods to teach Fido to lie down on cue.

Method #1 – Capturing: Every dog knows how to lie down. It’s a behavior your dog performs naturally. Your dog lies down whenever he’s not standing or sitting. Your job really is to teach him how to do it on cue. One easy way of doing that is to start capturing those moments when he naturally goes into a down position. The moment you see his body drop to the floor, mark (either with your clicker or the verbal marker, “Yes”) and reward him with a tasty treat strategically placed on the ground in between his two front paws. In several 5-minute sessions, you may start to see Fido lie down over and over again in hopes of earning a click and treat. When that happens, say “down” just before he moves into position and then follow through with a click and reward. Fido will learn that “down” always precedes his body landing on the floor and that he gets a reward every time he completes this task. The next time he hears the word, “down”, he’ll start to follow the sequence and actually lie down for you.

Method #2 – Luring: To teach a dog how to lie down on cue using a food lure, start with your dog in a seated position. Take a treat (a.k.a. your lure) to his nose. Wherever the lure goes, your dog’s head should follow, as if it were a magnet. Draw the lure in a straight line down to his toes, making sure his head follows. Once you’ve reached the toes, draw a straight line out as if to complete an “L”. Fido’s body should start creeping forward. When his body drops to the floor, mark and reward him with the treat in your hand, placing the food between his paws on the ground so that his focus remains on the floor. When you feel with great certainty that Fido will go into a down position when you lure him, it’s time to add the verbal cue. Say, “down”. Pause for 3 to 5 seconds to let him process the cue. Then lure him only if necessary. Fido will learn that “down” always precedes his body landing on the floor and that he gets a reward every time he completes this task. The next time he hears the word, “down”, he’ll start to follow the sequence and actually lie down for you. He will eventually do it even without the help of a lure!

Troubleshooting Tip #1: When using the luring method, make sure that your dog’s rear end stays on the floor during the entire process. If at any point his behind comes off the ground,simply take your food lure away and start over.

Troubleshooting Tip #2: Some dogs need the luring process broken down into baby steps. If you find that your dog is having trouble understanding what it is that you want, try marking and rewarding first for a simple dip of the head towards the ground. Then next time, mark and reward if he dips lower. What you’re doing is giving him feedback, telling him he’s on the right path by rewarding successive approximations of the final behavior (a process otherwise known as “shaping”). Think of it as giving your dog partial credit.

Training Tip: Your dog is incapable of understanding that a word may have two different meanings. If you are using the cue, “down” for lying down, refrain from using it as a means of telling him to get off the couch, the kitchen table, or grandma. Instead, teach him an “off” cue, as in “get off the kitchen table”.

© Give Paw Dog Training LLC 2017

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