Teaching your Dog to “Down”

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Definition:

“Lie Down.” (We recommend using the cue word “off” rather than “down” for “Get off of me” or for “Get off the bed.”)

Practical uses:

Down is the best, most comfortable position for your dog to stay in for any length of time. Down (and especially down-stay) is a wonderful calming maneuver and can also help teach your dog to be more independent.

How to teach:

Different dogs will do better with different methods of teaching this behavior. Here are three ways of teaching the behavior. You may want to experiment to find the best method for you and your dog.

Snapshot training: In this method, you simply wait for the dog to lie down – something he does naturally multiple times a day. You must be ready with your clicker and treat at all times in order to “capture” this behavior and mark it. You may be able to speed up this process by trying on of the following techniques:

Shaping: Get your clicker out and ask your dog for a few of the behaviors he knows how to do. Then wait for him to offer a new behavior – any behavior (if you’re lucky, it might be a down!). C/T for any new behavior he offers about three times. Then stop C/Ting that behavior and wait for him to again offer a new behavior, but this time, C/T only for a down. He may offer several behaviors before he gets to down, but since down is a fairly natural position, you shouldn’t have to wait long. Don’t let him get too frustrated though. If he doesn’t offer a down in a minute or so, C/T a behavior he is offering a few times and then end the game and try again later.

Luring: With the dog sitting, hold the treat right in front of his nose. Bring the treat straight down between the dog’s legs to the floor. The dog’s head should follow the treat down to the floor. Pull the treat forward along the floor, and the rest of his body should follow naturally. If pulling the treat forward makes him stand up to reach the treat, try pulling it back toward his chest. As soon as his elbows touch the floor, C/T. When using the lure method, make sure you fade out the lure quickly; otherwise your dog will only learn to follow your hand.

Adding the cue:

When the dog is offering the behavior (lying down and looking to you in anticipation of the C/T), begin saying the cue word, “down” as she lies down, so the dog associates the behavior with the word. Do this about 20 times over two different training sessions.

In your next training session, say the cue word before the dog lies down. If she lies down then she understands the cue, if not go back to saying the cue word as she lies down for a few more repetitions.

Moving On:

  1. Gradually increase the length of time your dog is in the down position before you click. Work up to about one minute before clicking. Increase the time gradually, just a couple seconds at a time, over multiple sessions. If your dog gets up before you C/T, ask for the “down” again, but make it shorter so the dog succeeds. Make sure the dog has at least five successes before you try a longer duration again. This is the beginning of the “down stay.”
  2. Once your dog is responding to the cue, start giving the cue sometimes when the dog is standing and sometimes when the dog is sitting.
  3. Variable Schedule of Reinforcement – you have been using a “continuous schedule of reinforcement” which means the dog gets a treat every time she performs the behavior. Now you’re ready to move to a variable schedule of reinforcement, meaning she only gets a treat sometimes. Only C/T every third, sixth, second, fourth, or tenth time she performs the behavior.
  4. Once your dog is performing the behavior reliably on cue (i.e., he will do the behavior at least 90% of the time when you give the verbal cue) on a variable schedule of reinforcement, you don’t really need the clicker any more for this behavior. You should still reward your dog often and variably with praise or a food treat, but you don’t need the clicker any more for this behavior.

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