Why do we need a ‘down’ command?
Down is one of the first commands I teach my puppies and I have already demonstrated and talked about teaching it. As with lots of activities you do with your dog, it is not a quick fix. It takes plenty of time and practice, which is why I am revisiting it now.
First of all, lying down is much easier for your dog to do than sitting. A sit is not a particularly natural physical position for a dog – they are much more likely to lie down to wait for you. If you want a good solid ‘wait’, then a down is a good starting point. A dog will wait much longer and be more relaxed if you ask them to wait in a down position.
Teaching your dog a ‘down’ command
In order to teach a down command, start in the house, when everything else is quiet and calm. Get your dog’s attention and give them a treat. What for? Well for being your wonderful dog of course! When they are focused on you, hold a treat in your hand and bring it from their nose to the floor, slowly. They should follow you down and with a bit of luck and patience, go into a down position. Yes! Reward!
Do it again. And again. And again. When you feel they are starting to understand, add the word you want to use – ‘Down!’ Try to use one simple word, in the same intonation, with the same emphasis. Be consistent.
Once they understand that this is the game we are playing, you can start to wait for them to go into the down, without you moving your hand in front of their nose. If they don’t do it on command, carry on with the physical prompt. Some dogs always need this.
Use the right word
Lots of people say ‘Lay down’ when they want their dog to go into a down position. This annoys me intensely, because it is grammatically incorrect. ‘Lie down’ is the correct term. But I wouldn’t say that anyway, because it is two words. One clear word is much easier to understand.
Not to be confused with ‘Off!’ as a command. Again, lots of people say ‘down’ to their dog when it jumps up. I say ‘Off’ to distinguish between these two actions. I do also say ‘off’ when the dogs are on the sofa and I want to sit down, but they mainly understand this because I am waving my hand at them and sitting on top of them if they don’t move. Lol.
If you get confused trying to stick to different words for different commands, don’t do agility! We need an increasing number of words in this dog sport. ‘Tunnel’ is no longer sufficient – we need ‘wrong end of tunnel’ as well. Hmm.
Increase the distance
The ultimate goal with the down is to have the dog ‘drop’ when they are at a distance from you. I will talk about this more a bit later on, but it is really useful way to control your dog. If they will drop into a down where they are, you can stop them from running into a road, charging into another dog, blocking the path for a cyclist and so on. You will earn the admiration of everyone, who will describe your dog as ‘well trained’ and ‘beautifully behaved’. It’s just a down command. How do you teach this?
How do you think? Yes, of course, practice it a thousand times. Top tip: it really helps a puppy to learn down at a distance if they have other dogs to copy. Once one drops, they all do. Eventually. 😀
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NB: I am not a dog trainer, or a dog behaviourist, just a dog breeder and owner. I can only offer my opinion, based on my experience.