“Down” is a foundation behavior.
What Is It?
It’s what I like to call a Building Block behavior that all good dogs need to know. Down is simply when the dog lies on the floor on his belly. We don’t need to teach dogs how to lie down, they already know that. What we do need to teach them is how we ask them to do the behavior.
When and Why to Use Down in Everyday Life
Down is a good still behavior. It’s like a pause button for your dog. If your dog is lying on the floor, he can’t also be lunging at another dog, jumping on you, or counter surfing. In other words, it’s a great alternate behavior for your dog to do instead of all those pesky behaviors he does.
How to Teach Down
To teach your dog to lie on the floor, follow these simple steps.
- Ask your dog to sit.
- As soon as he sits, put your flat hand (palm down) directly in front of his nose and slowly lower your hand to the floor or ground.
- Click and treat when your dog lies down.
Add the Word
When you’re ready to bet me $100 that your dog will lie down when you move your hand to the floor, it’s time to add the word for “down.” Simply say the word “down,” then lower your hand. Adding the word too early means you’re labeling a “halfway” behavior. We wait to add the word until we know the dog is going to do the behavior and do it correctly. That will result in a much cleaner behavior and also a dog that learns to listen for the word.
Trouble Shooting and Tips
- If your dog has a hard time following your hand, you can put a small treat in your hand and have him follow the treat to the ground. THE RULES: you can use that treat as a lure only three times, then you’ve got to do it with an empty hand. Remember to click when your dog lies down and then get him the treat to reinforce his great behavior.
- Move your hand slowly from your dog’s nose straight down to between his toes.
- If your dog gets up from the sit before he lies down, simply ask him to sit again. As soon as he sits, begin the process again.
- To make it easy to reset your dog and get him ready to lie down again, toss the treat after you click so the dog has to get up to get the reinforcer.
In the video, notice that I’m crouching down instead of standing up. There’s a reason for that: I want the dog to notice only my hand movement. If I were standing straight, and had to bend at the waist to get my hand to the floor, the dog will notice the largest movement — my bending at the waist.
Down is a useful behavior and won’t take any time to teach. You’ll be pleased with how your dog can focus remain calm when he’s in the down position if you practice in real-life scenarios. Happy training!
Leave a comment with a “down” success stories. When did down save the day for you and your dog?
Or simply ask a question or leave a comment — we’d love to hear from you.
Stacey Van Horn says
Really great tips on teaching a basic … thanks!
Laurie Luck says
Thanks, Stacey! I appreciate you taking time to leave a comment (and a nice one, at that)! 🙂
Stacey Van Horn says
Thank You! The technique worked! I was having trouble teaching Nadie down. She would sit but we were struggling with down. She is a stubborn dog so trying to push her down did not work. But by using the treat method you explain above, I was able to get her to understand what I wanted without a struggle. She is responding to the down command now but we aren’t ready to bet $100 bucks quite yet.
Laurie Luck says
Yay! So glad to hear it.
Dog’s have what’s called an opposition reflex — if you push down, they tend to resist the pushing. It’s just what dogs do, they don’t do it to be obstinate or stubborn. So if they run into resistance at the end of the leash, they’re also keen to push against it. Which is one of the reasons polite walking can be a tough skill to teach to dogs. Happy to hear the training is progressing!
Remember to get that food out of your hand to get the dog into a down. What you’re working toward (quickly) is that the hand motion *alone* is the cue for the dog to get into the down position *AND THEN* the click happens and the treat appears. Hope that makes sense!
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