Teaching your dog to lay down on command, also known as the “down” command, can be a fun game. It is also a valuable command that will help keep your pet both calm and secure. A dog that is lying down is less likely to get up and move when something catches its eye, which can be useful while you are answering the phone, waiting outside a restaurant, or welcoming guests.
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When is the Right Time to Teach your Dog to Lay Down?
Although puppies have short attention spans, they are capable of learning simple commands such as “sit,” “down,” and “wait” at a young age. Many trainers start teaching dogs the fundamentals when they are as young as 8-10 weeks old.
Things to Keep in Mind Before Teaching the Down
Patience and Positivity: Teaching a dog something new should be based on positive reinforcement. You’ll need to be patient, positive, and practical. Punishment and anger will cause a dog to be confused and will harm your relationship with your pup – especially when you are teaching something new that your dog does not yet understand.
Keep the Sessions Brief : Training sessions should be limited to 5-15 minutes to keep them fun and engaging. And if the session was not a good one, make sure to finish on a good note.
If your dog is having difficulty learning to the down, you should finish the training session by running over something they already know and rewarding them when your dog completes the mission. This is important so that your dog associates training / learning new behaviors with positive outcomes.
How Long Will It Take to Teach a Dog to Down
Some dogs may learn the down in one session while others may take a few sessions. While most dogs will learn this behavior in just a few training sessions, you need to be patient and consistent with your dog’s training to get the best results.
Before Starting your Training Session
Pick a Cue: Choose a word to be your dog’s command to down – we will use “down” as our verbal cue for the rest of this article but feel free to pick any word. As always, best practice is to make sure it doesn’t sound too similar to another command you use with your dog or your dog’s name.
Choose a Reward: Choose something that your dog enjoys; the more appealing the treat, the easier it will be to train your dog. If your dog enjoys playing, you can use their favorite toy and engage in some playtime as a reward. On the other hand, treats are the most successful way to train a dog for most people. The best treats are those that your dog enjoys, which are also easy to carry, split into bits, and nutritious.
Marker Training: You should use a “marker” to tell your dog that he has done something correctly. Since the clicker produces a clear, distinct sound that is consistent, it is very effective. If you don’t have a clicker, you can also use a verbal marker such as “yes” or “good.”
Steps to Teach a Dog to Lay Down
Part 1 of Training
Method A: Luring
Step 1: Use your dog’s nose
Pick one starting position, sitting or standing, and teach the down from that position. We recommend not mixing starting positions until you have completed Step 2 (this will be covered in step 3).
- Keep some treats in your hand and make sure to keep this alluring reward right next to your dog’s nose so he can take a good sniff! This will alert the dog and spark some curiosity and interest in the activity.
- Move the reward from the dog’s nose to the ground in front of him steadily with a straight arm. You’re drawing a diagonal line between the dog’s nose and front paws.
- Your dog will adjust its front legs so that its nose will follow it to the ground. Keep your hand steady and wait until the dog has laid down appropriately and then click or use your verbal marker and give your dog the reward.
- Repeat the process several times, rewarding the dog with encouragement and a treat each time they get it right.
Step 2: Introduce the verbal cue
Once your dog has mastered step 1, you should say the verbal cue, “down” and then repeat Step 1. Eventually your dog will learn that the verbal cue is going to result in you luring him into a down – he will then start to rely solely on the verbal cue and should “down” on command.
Step 3: Teach the down from the other position
- If you started Step 1 from a sit, now repeat Steps 1 & 2 from a stand (vice versa if you started from a stand). This will teach your dog to “down” from any position.
Method B: Capturing
Step 1: Capture the behavior
You can capture a down by rewarding your dog any time they do it on their own. Always be prepared with a toy or treats in your pocket and whenever you see your pup moving into a down naturally, mark the behavior and offer them a reward. After you capture enough downs, your pup will start to lie down in front of you on purpose, hoping to earn a reward.
Step 2: Add a hand signal and / or your verbal cue
Now you can add a hand signal or verbal cue right as they lie down. Your dog will learn to associate your word or gesture with their action and soon you will be able to ask for the down at any time.
Part 2 of Training
For both methods (luring and capturing):
Add a release command
When your dog can successfully lie down on command, it’s time to introduce a release word. This is what you’ll say when you want your dog to get up. Many people use the word “OK” or “break” for the release cue, but any word you want to use will work as long as you’re consistent. Note: this can be used when training other positions as well, such as the “sit.”
Start with small increments of time in the down position.. 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.
Gradually increase the difficulty by going to new locations to train and by increasing the duration of the down as well as the distance between you and your dog when you tell him to “down.”
Pro Tips and Troubleshooting
- Reward your dog while they are in the down position. Placement of rewards is important because it helps to emphasize and clarify what your puppy has done right. If you always give your pup their treat when they sit up again, you are really rewarding sitting rather than lying down. That causes the push-up problem where your puppy lies down for a brief moment before popping up again. Although, the “push-up” might be a cool trick to teach your dog as well!
- 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 often make negative associations when taught this way. Patience is key – keep trying! Try increasing the value of the food reward to something your dog likes even more.
- Some dog body types make the luring method uncomfortable for them to follow. With Greyhounds for example, guiding them with the lure so they’re lying down in a more curved position to lessen pressure on their chest from the floor might work better. For short-legged breeds, such as Corgis or Dachshunds, the capturing method might work better. Play around with your lure movement and speed to see what might entice your dog to settle into the down position.