"Down" or "lie down" is an important basic command for your dog to learn. Ideally, all dogs should know how to lie down when asked by their owners. The "down" command can be very useful when you need your dog to relax in a hectic situation or to keep him in a stay position for a long period of time. It's also the first step in some dog tricks, including the popular rollover. Luckily, teaching "down" to your dog is almost as simple as training your dog to sit.
When your dog is in the proper down position, its chest, elbows, and hocks are in contact with the ground. Ideally, it should stay there until you release it. With practice, you can get your dog to perfect its down, and it is an easy command to teach.
How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down
Before you begin, make sure you have plenty of delicious training treats to offer your dog. Ideally, the treats should be small, soft, and delicious to your dog. Reserve these treats for training sessions only and use different treats for general rewards.
Set aside five to ten minutes in an area free of distractions. If you use clicker training with your dog, be sure to have your clicker handy.
- Begin by getting your dog’s attention. Show him that you have a treat in your hand.
- Hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose but don't let him get it yet. Next, slowly move the treat towards the ground, letting your dog follow it.
- Repeat this motion until your dog is all the way down. Try pulling the treat away a little bit if your dog isn't following it down with his body.
- Once your dog is fully lying down (meaning his elbows and hocks are on the ground) give your dog the treat followed by petting and praise.
- 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.
- Repeat this until your dog lies down with only the verbal cue and no treat-guiding. Continue to reward with a treat after your dog lies down.
It's best to have short training sessions once or twice a day. Have the sessions in various locations, including both indoor and outdoor areas. Always try to end the sessions on a positive note. If needed, find another cue that your dog knows (like sit) and end with that followed by a treat.
Add the Release
When your dog can successfully lie down on command, it's time to introduce your release word. This is what you'll say when you give permission for your dog to get up. Many people use the word "OK" for the release cue, but any word you want to use will work as long as you're consistent.
Start with small increments of time, making your dog lie down for no more than 30 seconds before releasing him. To instill this, you can use the "stay" command and then your release command when you're ready to let the dog go. Work your way up to longer periods of time so your dog will stay down until you say "OK," no matter how long it is.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
If you are still having trouble getting your dog to lie down with treats, you can try marking the behavior. Next time your dog naturally lies down, say “down,” then praise and reward it. Try this every time you catch it lying down. You'll probably need to carry treats with you if this is going to work. It's also fairly easy to capture behaviors with a clicker.
When your dog responds quickly to the down cue, try to gradually add in distractions. You should also proof the behavior by training in multiple locations and scenarios.
Once your dog becomes an expert at lying down, you no longer need to give a treat every time. It's a good idea to give treats occasionally to reinforce the behavior. In addition, rewarding with praise is always a good idea. After all, your dog loves to please you, the treats are just a bonus.
- If your dog does not lie down on his own after a few tries, avoid pushing him down into position. It's a common mistake that owners make and dogs generally do not learn this way.
- Do not yell at or punish your dog as this will only discourage him.
- If your dog doesn't respond well to the usual treats, try a more valuable treat, like fresh meat.