An important basic command, 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 it in a stay position for a long period of time. It's also the first step in certain dog tricks, including the popular rollover. Luckily, teaching the "down" cue 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.
Steps to Teach the Down Command
Before you begin, make sure you have plenty of tasty training treats to offer your dog. Ideally, the treats should be small, soft, and delicious to your dog. Reserve these treat for training purposes only and use your standard (less delicious) treats for general rewards.
Set aside five to 10 minutes in a quiet 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 it that you have a treat in your hand.
- Offer the treat. Hold the treat in front of your dog’s nose. Slowly move the treat toward the ground. As soon as your dog’s elbows and hocks are on the ground, give your dog the treat followed by petting and praise.
- Add the verbal command. 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. However, it's best to still give the treat at the end to reward the behavior.
Hold short training sessions throughout the day in various locations, both indoor and outdoors. You want to train for five to 10 minutes, two to three times per day. Try to end the sessions positively. 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 it. 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 its own after a few tries, avoid pushing it 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.
- If the dog doesn't respond well to the usual treats, try a more valuable treat, like fresh meat.