How To Teach Your Dog to Lie Down

The Second Step in Obedience Training

The following instructions are based on positive reward-based techniques. To get the most out of this training method, you should also read my articles on how dogs communicate and how dogs learn.

The definition of “down” should be to put your belly on the ground. Down is a behavior that is very natural for the dog. It also gives you control over the dog's movement, so you can control his activity level. Dogs lie down all the time by themselves when they are calm. Your goal should be to get him to lie down on command and then increase the time he stays still.

  1. Begin by luring your dog into the down positions. Use a reward that is small enough to keep the dog from grabbing it from your hand. You must be able to hide it in the palm of your hand. Ask the dog to “sit”, and praise him. Hold the reward with your palm facing down in front of the dog's nose. Slowly lower your hand to the floor. Close your hand so the dog cannot take the reward. Move the reward down between the dog’s paws, keeping it close to his body. This should cause your dog to lower his head to the floor. Move the reward slightly toward the dog causing him to lie down. Use a positive marker such as the word “yes”, open your hand to give him the reward and praise him.

  2. If this does not work, then change your technique. Once the reward is on the floor, try moving it forward away from the dog, or lower the reward to the floor at a angle to the outside of the dog's paw, causing him to slightly curl and lie down on his hip. Do not use your positive marker or open your hand to release the reward until your dog is on the floor. With some dogs you will have to simply hold your closed hand on the floor until your dog figures it out and lies down on his own. Then use your positive marker and open your hand to give him the reward and praise him.

  3. Continue repetitions. Repeat whichever method works best again and again until the dog is lying down without being lured. At this point he should be offering the behavior without your asking.

  4. Now you are ready to add a verbal command. When you know the dog is going to lie down because he wants the reward you have, then begin saying “down” as he offers the behavior. Do not, at this point, ask for the behavior before he thinks about doing it. You are telling him what he is doing, giving it a name. Say it only one time as he performs the behavior. Repeat this until you see he is beginning to lose interest. Do not continue once your dog loses interest. Repeat steps 1 through 4 several times over one or two days before moving on.

  5. At this point you should be able to ask your dog to sit at any time. If he does not, then use your negative marker, say “no”. When you give the negative marker make sure you are quickly removing the hand holding the reward. Remember, say the command only one time. If he complies, then give your positive marker and reward. If he does not, give your negative marker and make the reward go away.

  6. Now you can change things a little. In the beginning you will be bending over and putting your hand on the floor. At this point start changing your body position until you are in a standing position. Do this a small amount at a time. Each time you ask the dog to lie down you will be only slightly taller or straighter than the time before. Continue giving him the reward each time. As you stand taller and straighter your hand will continue to move downward as a hand signal for the verbal cue “down”. With most dogs, this will take about half a dozen times. Do not be concerned if it takes longer. Proceed slowly and the dog will be performing the behavior while you are standing up straight. This step can take from one to three days.

  7. Your next step is to start fading the lure. Now that you are standing straight, using the verbal cue “down” and the hand signal, start putting the reward in the other hand, then behind your back. Then, stop giving the reward every time. Continue practicing, giving the reward less and less over a period of time until your dog is following your command followed only by your praise. Each dog is different; it may take several days or several weeks before you can completely fade the lure (reward) you are using. If you see that the dog has stopped performing the behavior consistently, then you are trying to fade the lure too quickly -- slow down.

  8. For dogs that just don’t seem to understand, use the crawl method. A dog must lie down in order to crawl. Substitute step 1 for the following method.

    • If your dog is small, you can sit on the floor and make a tunnel out of your legs. Sitting on the floor bend your knees just high enough for the dog to crawl under. If it is a larger dog you can use a chair or low table just high enough for the dog to crawl under. Using your reward as a lure, encourage the dog to crawl under the tunnel. As soon as his belly touches the ground use your positive marker and give him the reward.

    • Repeat this method again and again until the dog is lying down without being lured. At this point he should be offering the behavior without your asking.

Eleanor Scheidemann is CEO of The Dog Lady, Inc. You can also visit her blog, The Dog Lady Speaks, and learn more about her recommendations for natural dog food.

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