Basic Training, Part 3: Down

In part two of my Basic Training series, I talked about the command, “Sit” and how to use it in everyday life. In part three, I am going to talk about the command, “Down.”

Down is a very common command and most people will teach it to their dog right away. But surprisingly, a lot of dogs have a hard time with this one. I will go over how to teach the command to your dog, but first, I want to share some ways you can use down in everyday life.

When guests come to the door. Nothing is more annoying than going to a friend’s or family’s house and having their dog jump all over you as soon as you walk in the door. Most people don’t like having dogs paw all over them, but this is even worse if you are a young child or scared of dogs. Instead of allowing your dog to jump on people, I like to ask them for a down. If they are laying down, they can’t jump. Simple as that.

Eating dinner. Some dogs love to beg and some are very good at it. But not everybody loves Fido’s head in their lap as they are trying to enjoy their meal. Instead of allowing your dog to beg, give them a special place they can go to during meals. This place can be a mat on the floor, a bed in the room, a crate, or anything. Ask them to go to their place, lay down and then give them something to chew on such as a bully stick or a Kong filled with their favorite filling. This gives them something to do instead of annoy you and your dinner guests.

Kids are in the room. With two young kids in my house, safety is always a priority. First of all, kids are never allowed in a room with a dog unsupervised. I don’t care how good your kids or your dog are, things can happen and they can happen quickly. I like to set up gates and allow my dog to go behind the gate with something yummy to chew on. This allows my kids to be safe and allows my dog to be part of the family, but not have to be put in a situation that makes them uncomfortable. I ask my dog for a down and he can hang out with no issues.

Car rides. I love taking my dog on car rides, but it is very unsafe for a dog to be walking around the car. It can be a distraction for the driver and if there was an accident, the dog could get thrown from the car. I like to put on a special harness made for cars and ask my dog to lay down. This is also good once you open the car door. Instead of the possibility of them jumping out the door without a leash on, asking them to lay down gives you time to get their leash and harness on.

So now, let’s talk about the steps you should follow to teach your dog, “down.” I even include some help when your dog is struggling or a little hesitant.

Start with your dog in a sit position.

Hold a treat in your hand close to your dog’s nose. Very slowly, lower your hand towards the floor, staying close to your dog’s chest, and allowing your dog to lick the treat. As your hand reaches the floor, between your dog’s front paws, slowly move your hand forward. When your dog’s belly touches the ground, praise (“good!”) and reward with the treat.

If your dog is hesitant, slowly progress through the following steps, rewarding each time your dog:

  1. Lowers his head

  2. Stretches out his leg or paws at the treat

  3. Stretches out both legs, and finally

  4. Touches his belly to the floor.

  5. Repeat each step a few times before moving on to the next. If your dog “pops up,” simply return to a sit position and start again, moving very slowly.

  6. Avoid using your hands or the leash to physically pressure your dog into laying down, as this can make your dog uncomfortable with this position and possibly even afraid of your hands.

Next, start with your dog in a sit position, say “down”, and then make the same hand movement (hand close to your dog’s nose, then slowly down towards the floor, between the front paws) but without the treat in your hand. When your dog’s belly hits the floor, praise and reward with the treat.

Repeat four times.

As you practice, gradually stand in a more upright position, and modify your hand signal so your hand starts close to your dog’s nose, then makes a pushing motion (palm down) towards the floor.

Finally, start with your dog in a sit position, say the cue word “down,” and wait to see what happens! If needed, use your hand signal to help your dog get into the down position. Praise and treat!

Practice alternating between a verbal cue and a hand signal until your dog is proficient with both.

Are there any special ways that you use down with your dog?


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