After your dog has learned the “sit” command, it’s time to teach “down.” Start in a familiar place, like your house or yard, where there aren’t any tempting distractions.
How to teach “down”: The food lure method
- Holding a tasty treat in your hand, ask your dog to sit.
- Waggle the treat in front of your dog’s nose and lower it straight down
- As soon as her belly hits the floor, praise her and offer the treat.
- Repeat the exercise several times.
- Once your dog is quickly lying down when you lure her with the treat, introduce the verbal cue: Tell her “down” just before you move the treat from in front of her nose down to the floor.
- As your dog begins to get the hang of the “down” command, begin to offer treats sporadically–only for the quickest, crispest downs. Eventually you can phase out food treats entirely.
If it’s not working
Your dog stands up instead of lying down. If your dog stands up, just keep the treat closed in the palm of your hand until she lies down. If she starts to ease down to the floor, coax and encourage her. And as soon as her belly hits the floor, praise her and offer the treat.
Your dog lowers her head to the floor and raises her rump in the air. Move the treat toward her chest, and her back end should come down.
How to teach “down”: The under-the-leg method
1. Sit on the floor with your dog to your side. Keep one knee drawn up to create a tunnel big enough for your dog to crawl through.
2. Hold a treat in the hand opposite the side your dog is on. Put your hand under your drawn-up leg to show your dog the treat. Then slowly drag the treat along the floor and away from your dog, back through the tunnel you’ve created for her under your leg. Your dog will have to lie down to crawl through the tunnel if she wants the treat. As soon as her belly hits the floor, praise her and offer her the treat.
3. Repeat the exercise several times.
4. Once your dog is quickly lying down when you lure her with the treat, introduce the verbal cue: Tell her “down” just before you move the treat from in front of her nose down to the floor.
Once your dog has the hang of the “down” command, you can slowly make it more challenging. Stand a foot away from your dog when you ask her to lie down, then two feet away, and keep increasing the distance. Tell her “down” when your back is turned; when there’s another person or dog in the distance, then fairly close by, then right next to your dog; when you’re bouncing a ball; when there’s kibble scattered around her; and so on.
Add a new challenge only if your dog is responding reliably. If your dog gets confused, take away the challenge and try again, moving more slowly this time.