Teaching “Down” Command

Overview
Lying down is one of the harder commands for dogs to learn, but it’s very useful. Dogs who understand ‘down’ are much more welcome in cafes and other public places, and much more pleasant to have near the dinner table. ‘Down’ is also a handy command if you want to keep your puppy in place for a while: it takes more energy to get up from a down than a sit, so dogs are less likely to break the position.

Steps to teaching “down”

  • Find a quiet spot free of distractions.
  • Ask your puppy to sit. (Later on you can teach him to lie down from standing, but it’s easiest to start from a sit.)
  • Holding a food lure near your pup’s nose, say “Down,” and slowly bring your hand straight down to the ground between his front paws.
  • If your puppy sinks into a down position immediately: say “Yes” in an upbeat, happy tone and reward him with a bit of food. If your pup doesn’t follow the lure right away: keep your hand on the floor, covering the food, and give him a moment to figure it out. He’ll probably lie down soon; reward him enthusiastically when he does!
  • Repeat several times.
  • Gradually make it more challenging by adding, one at a time, the three D’s: duration, distance, and distraction. First, duration: each time your pooch lies down on command, on the next try add one second to the delay between when he hits the floor and when you deliver the reward. Then, distance: stand one step further away from your puppy each time you give the command. Finally, add in distractions, such as facing a different direction or bouncing a ball.
  • Go slowly when adding challenges, and if your puppy ever goofs, go back a step until he’s getting it right again.
DogTime tip: It’s easiest to teach puppies ‘down’ from a sitting position, but as soon as your pup’s got the idea, practice the command from standing. If you ever have to give an emergency ‘Down!’ command, you’ll want your puppy to obey from any position.

Troubleshooting

Your puppy/dog just won’t lie down:
There are a few possible explanations. Some dogs, especially bony or hairless ones, find the cold, hard floor unappealing, in which case laying a bath mat or towel underneath them can help. It’s also possible they just don’t get what you’re asking. Try putting your pup on a steady chair or table, so you can bring lower the lure below his nose to make the message clearer.
Your puppy/dog won’t lie down completely:
Try bringing the treat down between your dog’s paws, and then bring it ever so slightly toward his nose. This often makes dogs sink down a little lower.
Your puppy/dog stands up and walks forward:
You may be accidentally pulling the treat forward. Make sure you’re lowering the treat from a position right in front of your puppy’s nose straight down to the ground.