Prerequisite: Dog must know how to sit (unless he has a structural issue that makes it too difficult to sit). Have your treats ready and sit in a quiet place in your house.
The “down” is easily taught by initially luring your dog.
Lure and Reward
- Have your dog sit and use a piece of food to draw your dog’s nose down between his front legs. Hold your fist just an inch below his nose, and draw it down to a spot on the floor just at the front of his toes. Give your dog little nibbles of the treat as his head goes down.
- As his head goes down, his elbows will lower toward the floor. Give him a treat as soon as his body starts lowering.
- Reward increments of the final down position instead of waiting for him to go all the way down. Some dogs are reluctant to go into this position so need encouragement along the way. Even if you cannot get him to go all the way down, his muscles will remember how to relax and in his next session or two he’ll eventually go down.
- After 10 or 15 successful repetitions, lure without any food – just your fist. Be sure to quickly give a treat hidden in your other hand.
- Hold your fist too far forward, the dog will get up.
- Hold your fist too far back toward his chest, the dog will back up out of his sit.
You can also teach the down by waiting until your dog does it on his own. Dogs lie down all day long. Just have your treats ready.
Add the verbal cue
- Since you lured the dog with your fist moving down toward the floor, you automatically have a hand signal for this behavior. If you want to add a verbal cue then you can start saying "down", or whatever word you choose as soon as his elbows hit the floor.
- Continue using your hand signal with the verbal cue for several days, gradually fading away the hand signal.
- Choose a verbal cue that means something else to the dog. If you have been telling your dog "down" to get off furniture or to not jump on people then come up with a different word.
Duration (the automatic stay without having to say the word "stay")
- Wait one half second after your dog lies down before giving a treat. Repeat several times.
- Continue increasing the time.
- Be sure to practice duration in a distraction-free environment
- Ask for too much too soon. A laid back, easy-going dog may learn a three-minute stay in only a few training sessions. A high-energy dog make take a week.
Distraction – must train duration first
- Stand very close to your dog and have him down. Now squeak a toy or let something fall from your hand. Be subtle with your initial distractions. Some dogs are not as willing to stay in the down as they are in the sit. Repeat several times.
- If your dog breaks the down just repeat your cue and lessen your distraction. Always set him up for success, not failure.
- Get creative with your distractions:
- Wave your arms around, feign a sneeze or cough, ring the doorbell, sit on the floor, hold his food bowl, and eventually place a piece of food on the ground far away from him.
- Repeat each step several times before moving on to another distraction.
- Provide an overwhelming distraction at the beginning of your training. A hot dog placed a foot away from the dog would be more than most dogs could handle early on in their Down Stay training!
Distance – must train duration and distraction first
- While you are in standing position, have dog lie down. Take a step backward. Quickly return to dog. Give a treat. Repeat several times.
- Take a step sideways. Quickly return to dog, and treat. Repeat several times.
- Increase to two steps backward. Repeat several times.
- Continue increasing the distance.
If it suddenly seems that your dog cannot stay in position then you’ve gone too far, too fast. Go back a few steps in your training.
Dogs don’t train poorly, they just have poor trainers. You’ll be amazed at how quickly dogs learn desired behaviors with the proper training.
Janine Allen Rescue Me Dog Trainer
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