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Teaching Your Dog "Down"

By Team ECAD. August 19, 2012 | See Comments

Teaching Your Dog Down

Commands like "down" and "stay" can help curb bad habits that often develop when dogs are bored or unattended. Learn how to train your dog with the professional trainers at ECAD.

Now that you have effectively taught your dog how to sit, it is now time to teach him how to lay down on command. Sit and Down are known as controlled positions for your dog. Controlled positions tell your dog what they should be doing when your attention is not focused on them. For example, you may be on the phone, watching TV, or doing the dishes, and the “Down and Stay” command will show your dog that this is not an opportunity to explore.

Leaving your dog with the freedom to decide what to do when you are not focused on him may lead to him developing bad habits. The causes of bad habits are not limited to boredom or lack of direction, it is also important that your dog does not develop a habit of deciding what he should be doing next. Therefore, depending on the age of your dog, their attention span might be limited to a few short minutes. So if you find yourself needing uninterrupted focus on your task, you may want to put your dog in their kennel until you are able to focus on him again.

Remember in tip 8, the kennel is not a negative place for your dog; rather, it is their sanctuary, as long as you use it appropriately. If you choose to allow your dog freedom when you are not able to focus on him and he rummage through the garbage, do not correct your dog by putting them in their crate. By using the crate as a correction method, you are teaching your dog that their sanctuary is now a dungeon, and your dog will begin to resist kenneling on command. Controlled positions help prevent bad habits, so let’s learn how teach your dog to lay down on command.

Command 11 – “Down” or “Lay Down”

“Down” or “Lay Down” means the dog belly is touching the ground. Note: Use when you’re going to be in one place for more than a minute or two.

Teaching Method:

In the beginning, teaching your dog “down” is easiest when they are already sitting. Once your dog understands what “Down” means, you can begin to fade this step out.

  Step 1: Tell your dog to sit, once they sit, give them a treat.

  Step 2: With a treat in your hand, say “down” as you are simultaneously moving your hand to the floor slowly. 


  Step 3: The moment your dog’s elbows touch the floor, say “Yes” as you are simultaneously give them the treat. 

Your dog may pop back into a sit as soon as you give the treat; this is okay because your dog is still learning what the command “down” means. Instead of correcting your dog for doing being excited and popping up, repeat steps 1 through 3, maximizing their positive energy.

Step 4: Repeat steps two and three for a minimum of three consecutive times, include step one as needed.

Step 5: Similar to teaching your dog to sit, you will begin to decrease the hand motion, add gentle scratching and petting his back when Buddy lays down. This reinforces that laying down not only provides food and verbal reward, but also offers a physical connection.

Once your dog is laying down without targeting and hand motions, you can up the level of difficulty by adding the “Stay” command to the sequence from tip #10.

Last Week’s Lesson 

How to Teach Your Dog to Stay and Sit

Next Week's Lesson

Teaching Your Dog "Show Belly"

Back to 20 Dog Commands You Need to Know

All training tips in this series are from ECAD (Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities), a non-profit organization dedicated to training service dogs for veterans with disabilities. Learn more about ECAD.

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