Training Your Dog Down Command
The down command is a very useful command throughout our everyday life and it is one of the main commands in dog obedience training and dog competitions. It is a more reinforcing and reliable position than a sit position and it can’t be left out.
In practical, everyday life there are many situations other than just basic obedience training in which we will use dog training commands like the down command. There are many dogs that are unable to hold a sit position for a long period of time. If a distraction is too challenging and the instinct too strong, they will leave the sit command and run. This is more difficult when they are in the down position, and there is a bigger window of opportunity to correct them if they try to break the down command.
There is a psychological effect involved as well. Dogs in a down position are more relaxed. Some dog trainers and dog behaviorists call this a “submissive state”. Submission does indeed play a role in this scenario and is more obvious in some situations than in others. Nevertheless don’t think of the submission as something frightening or stressful, it is not, this is a normal natural animal reaction in this position.
There are a few different approaches to a training your dog the down command; whichever one you prefer may depend mostly on your dog’s purpose. Training your family pet to lie down on command and training a competitive sport dog the down command is not done the same way.
The difference is that competitive dogs use different techniques to lie down, sit or stand up. In a dog sport world, the dog’s shoulder has to be aligned with your left leg as perfectly as possible. If you are standing in one spot and performing sit, down and stay commands and your dog is trained in the family pet way, within a few repetitions your dog will move from his location and he will end up a few inches in front of you, which is not correct in some dog sports, and would lose points.To avoid this, competitive sport dogs are trained to perform these tasks using different techniques.
If you are into dog sports you can check out the muscular memory and advanced dog obedience training pages, there I will explain different ways of training down or sit positions.
Here, on this page, we will use standard techniques and methods to train your dog the down command.
Remember what I told you on the sit command page? A dog’s nose will always go in the opposite direction of his hind end. We will use this law of physics, to shape our training here as well.
This is where you will introduce the concept of the down command to your dog. This can be done through a few different techniques, and I will explain them here.
The First Method
The first method is by luring your dog with a reward. To do this, lure your dog with a reward in your hand, position him to be facing you straight on and then lower the hand holding your treat, to the ground. Your dog will follow it; his hind end will probably still remain in the air, therefore wait for this to also touch the ground and then open your hand and reward your dog.
Just like with the sit command we will add the verbal cue of “down” only after we are satisfied with the performance.Remember that any obedience or other type of dog training will always be much easier if you are using marker training. Marker training is easy to learn and will help you train your dog effectively.
You can teach your dog the down position from a standing position or you can sit your dog first and then move to the down command. The principle is the same, lure your dog into the down position with your hand and once the dog is down open your hand and reward him.
TIP: If you train your dog both the sit and down positions together, he will end up in a down position every time you say “sit”, as he will connect both commands because they were given too close together. He will sit and then proceed immediately to the down position. Again don’t forget that dogs have strong anticipation habits. So to avoid this, be sure to teach these two commands separately, make sure that your dog understands the sit command, before teaching the down, or vice -verse.
The Second Method
The second method of teaching your dog the down command involves a more physical approach, and is known as an ‘old school’ technique. Place your dog at your side, lower yourself down by crouching, and say the command “down” while applying pressure on the leash in a pulling down motion (you can also apply a gentle push with your other hand on your dog’s shoulders if you choose), until your dog follows through and lies down. Remember to release the leash’s tension (and your other hand) when your dog starts moving into the down position.
Many dog owners also use praise while “pulling” their dog down, but this is not necessary and in fact may only make your dog more nervous and confused. Only start praising your dog once he is in the down position so that he can have a better chance at understanding the result that you want from him.
You may find this way more difficult than the luring technique, especially if you have a larger dog or you don’t have enough experience. I would recommend that if you wish to train your dog a down command using this method, read the page about appropriate use of leash where I have detailed how to correctly apply leash pressure.
The reason that I mention the term “old school” is because this is how most trainings were done before marker training became popular. The key in this older type of training is to apply pressure on the dog, and as soon as the dog moves or performs the wanted action, the pressure is gone. I wouldn’t recommend this older type of training if you don’t already have enough experience with it.
TIP: With this technique, you may find it easier to begin from a sit position with your dog, rather than from a standing position, especially if you have a larger dog.
The Third Method
The third method is with free shaping. Just as with the sit command, you can also use the free-shaping technique for the down command. Again, you would simply reward your dog’s mid-steps on his way to the down position, (he may first stretch a paw out and then make some head movements towards down, then a ‘bow’, etc…). When your dog reaches the final step and is down, reward and encourage him to repeat it. Once you are satisfied with the performance you can add the verbal cue of ‘down’.
The next phase of the down command training is to build duration and gradually implement distractions.This is much easier if you are using marker training , as this type of training already builds the predisposition in the dog to wait for his releasing marker.
Building duration in a down position is easy, just start to add a few seconds at a time at first and then a bit longer. Once you have reached 10 - 15 seconds or so in duration, try adding some distraction by moving while your dog is still down. Then progress to circling around your dog while he stays in the down position.
TIP: Do not jump or run or make any quick movements that will make your dog break his down command, remember that at this point he is in the learning stage you will add more distractions later, after you are more confident in your dog’s
down command ability.
If properly trained, you will probably find that the down command is one of the best dog obedience training commands, and you will start using it everywhere and anytime.
Just like with any dog obedience training, when you are training your dog to sit, the best method to use is always the one that works best for you and your dog. You need to be comfortable with the training technique so that you can teach it to your dog with a positive and open mind. Some dogs will react and learn quicker to certain techniques rather than others, but ultimately, your dog can indeed be receptive to whichever style you prefer, as long as you are receptive to its success.
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