Teaching a dog to lie down on command can be tricky and it is made even harder when we make simple mistakes in HOW we teach it to our dogs. We might not even realise we are making these mistakes and simply struggle to understand why our dogs are just not getting it. For the most part, it's because we have not made what we want clear or we have confused them in some way.
Here I have detailed the 8 most common mistakes and simple ways to avoid making them.
Common mistakes & how to avoid them
Mistake #1 - Bad timing.
Dogs learn best when they can focus in a familiar, low distraction environment plus, laying down is a calm, relaxing activity which makes it a difficult activity to teach if the dog is highly energetic and just wants to run and play. To set yourself and your dog up for success, choose wisely when you teach and practice this activity so your dog is calm enough to be able to focus on the down activity. You may want to wait until after your daily walk and avoid your dogs most playful times until you have established a training routine. And you definitely want to avoid situations when your dog is stressed or anxious as they can't focus then either.
Mistake #2 - Wrong environment.
Your dog is less likely to want to lay down if they have to do so on wet grass, cold pavers or a hard floor. Your dog may understand the down activity but just not want to do it, and I wouldn't want to lay down on the cold, wet ground either. So instead, practice somewhere comfy like a carpeted area in your home or even on their dog bed. The soft landing will be a much better incentive for your dog to practise the down activity.
Mistake #3 - Down from a sit.
It might seem easier to teach your dog to lay down from a sit position, but it will make this activity much harder in the long term. A dog can naturally and easily fold down into the down or drop position from standing. If you teach them to sit first, this is a more awkward movement for the dog to lay down, plus you will have to give them two commands, one to sit and the second to down.
Mistake #4 - Giving up too soon.
Learning how to lay down on command is not easy for many dogs. Sometimes they don't know what you are wanting them to do and for energetic dogs and puppies, they may not initially want to lay down. So don't give up! Stick with it. Once your dog understands that they can be rewarded for laying down and that this is an activity that leads to other fun things or is what you want from them, they will be happier to offer this behaviour to you.
Mistake #5 - Using the wrong command.
What is your command? Drop or down? And did you use the right one? Using the wrong command can confuse your dog and they might not follow through with laying down if they are not sure if that was actually what you asked them to do. Choose the command you are most likely to use and be consistent!
Mistake #6 - Forgetting the hand signal.
Most people, when training their dog to lay down on command will incorporate some kind of hand signal or gesture along with the verbal command. This is often completely unintentional and most of the time people are not even aware that they have done so but your dog will definitely notice. Dog's are masters of body language and find it easy to pick up our body language cues. Be aware of the gestures you are making like pointing to the floor and use these as a command for your dog to go into the down position.
Mistake #7 - Not using a release cue.
Your dog won't know how long to remain in the down position unless you tell them when to stop. If you leave it up to your dog, they will likely have a very different time frame in mind than you do. A release cue is a signal you can give your dog to let them know the activity is over. This means they can get up out of the down position.
Mistake #8 - High expectations.
Just because your dog understands the action required when given the down command, doesn't mean that they can stay in that position for long periods of time or in different situations. You need to work on building up the time they spend in the down position before you expect them to remain in position, especially if you are walking around or doing other things.
The down activity is one of the commands people think they need to teach their dog but other than for obedience trials no one is really sure how to use it in everyday life. Luckily, I have four different areas where you can incorporate the down activity into your everyday life with your dog.
For the sake of this post, I'm going to refer to the lying down command and activity as "down" but if you prefer "drop" just swap this out.
1. Training activity
Teaching your dog new skills and activities will help to keep their brains active and engaged as well as helping to drain excess mental energy. This can have the added benefit of reducing unwanted boredom related behaviours. The down is a fun way to add an obedience activity into your training routine.
2. Use instead of sit
The sit is a default activity the most dogs learn early on in life and they use this in a variety of different scenarios throughout the day. The down can be used to replace the sit in almost all of the same activities. When your dog is waiting for their dinner, have them wait in the down position instead. During the fetch game, have your dog go into the down position before throwing the ball. Or have your dog go into the down position while waiting at the kerb before crossing the road.
3. Calming activity
For most dogs, lying down is a calming activity, that promotes relaxation and sleep. We can use the down activity to help our dogs get into this calm and relaxed mode, especially when we increase the time they remain in this position. This is a good activity is you are wanting your dog to remain in position for longer periods of time while waiting for something. Just make sure you are not too strict on your dog and you let them lean slightly to one side.
4. Trick training
Being in the down position is a precursor to some fun tricks you can teach your dog like how to roll over, play dead, commando crawling and doggy push ups. These different tricks put a fun spin on the down activity and are a great way to show off to your family and friends. This is sure to impress people with just how smart your dog is, not to mention your dog training skills!
One of the most confusing aspects of teaching your dog to lie down, is which command word do you use? Is it drop or down? Well, it can be either and it is completely up to personal preference.
Before you decide, think about what other commands you might use for your dog to make sure there is no double up. For some people, they will use the command "drop" when they want their dog to let go of something they have in their mouth. In that case, using "down" would be a better option for the lying down command.
Whichever command word you decide to go with, make sure you are ALWAYS consistent with it as using different words will have your dog looking very confused.
For the sake of this post, I'm going to refer to the lying down command and activity as "down" but if you prefer "drop" just swap this out, especially when it comes to the how to section.
How to teach your dog "down"
First things first, the correct way to teach your dog to lie down is from a STANDING position not from a sitting position. Your dog should fold back into down position back legs first rather than sliding forward from a sit. This means that only one command is needed and you don't have to give the sit command first.
Step 1: Get in position.
Have your dog standing in front of you with their head near your dominant hand. They can either be facing your front on or standing perpendicular to you.
Step 2: Lure down.
When you are ready to start, have a couple of treats in your dominant hand and put your hand to your dogs nose. Then you are going to lure your dog into the down position by moving your hand back and downwards at a roughly 45 degree angle between their front paws. Your dogs nose should follow the food which will push their butts up in the air. Hold your hand down in this position without letting your dog at the treats until they fold back and put their butt on the ground.
As soon as they are in the down position use your marker word ("yes" or "good") then give them the food treat.
Step 3: Remain in place.
When first teaching this activity I like to keep the dog in the down position for a few seconds before I release them from the position to help reinforce being in this position. Every couple of seconds I will say the marker word again and give the dog another food reward. If your dog finds being in the down position rewarding, they are more likely to offer it again and again as an easy way for them to get a treat!
Step 4: Release cue.
When it's time to end the activity you need to let your dog know so they can get back up. To do this, use a release cue which signals to your dog that the activity is finished. I use "free" as my release cue and you can use any short word you like. When I say my release cue, I also move away slightly and hold another food treat in my extended arm to encourage my dog to get up from the down position.
Step 5: Repeat.
Your dog may not understand how to get into the position the first time and you may need to try luring down a few times before they get it. Don't give up though, as once they understand the action and are rewarded for it, the next time will be much easier. Keep practising until your dog easily folds back into the down position.
Step 6: Adding the command.
Once your dog is able to go into position, it is now time to add the command. When you are ready to begin give your command "down" or "drop", wait for a second or two to see if your dog will offer the behaviour since you have just been practising it! If after 2 seconds your dog hasn't started to move, proceed to lure down like normal but don't give the food treat yet. After 2-3 seconds in the down position where you have said your marker word, give your release cue to your dog then give the food treat one they are standing up again.
This Wednesday 26 August is National Dog Day and it was created to raise awareness of the number of dogs living with rescue agencies and to encourage people to adopt these dogs.
Now I know you all have dogs already and many of them are rescues so unless you are looking at getting a second (or third . . .) dog you might not be looking to adopt a new dog just yet. But don't worry, there are still many things you can do to celebrate National Dog Day this year and just in case, I've got some suggestions for you!
Support your local dog rescue
We are very lucky here in WA to have several dog rescue agencies with no-kill policies. That means that unless the dog has a severe injury they will do their best to rehabilitate and rehome the animal. Most rescue agencies rely on donations from the public to operate and the money made from adoptions really only covers the basic medal treatment most dogs receive.
Ways you can support your local dog rescue or shelter:
Being a foster carer is a rewarding experience and you might even end up finding a new addition to your own family like we did.
For more information about how to sign up to be a foster carer contact your local shelter (I'll also include a list at the end of this email).
Spoil your dog!
Another way to celebrate National Dog Day, is to spoil your own dog! Celebrate the special brand of joy that only a dog can bring into your life by showing your appreciation with one of the following activities:
I hope you and your dog have a wonderful National Dog Day.
K9 Rescue Group
Dogs' Refuge Home
Desperate for Love Rescue
Animal Protection Society
Best Friends Animal Rescue
WA Pet Project
This is not a complete list but it is a place to start. There are also breed specific rescue agencies especially for Greyhounds.
There are also several other animal rescues for cats, birds and wildlife as well.
In a previous post, I outlined the many wonderful benefits for ditching the dog food bowl and feeding your dog using food games and toys. Feeding your dog without a bowl can help slow down a dog who eats to fast, can provide much needed physical and mental stimulation while keeping boredom at bay.
Today, I going to show you how to use the Kong classic or the Kong Extreme to replace your dog's food bowl. Whether you feed your dog dry biscuits, a commercial raw food mix or make one of your own, the Kong classic can be used for each.
Dog biscuits (dry food)
If you feed your dog biscuits, you might not immediately think of the Kong Classic as a good option for these, given they are likely to fall out pretty quickly and with little effort. And you would be correct they definitely do. BUT, if you add water and freeze it to create a popsicle type scenario, this ups the difficulty factor AND stops the biscuits from falling out.
Raw food mix
Like many of you, we are a pretty busy household and I don't often have time (i.e. almost never) to make up my own homemade raw food mix for our dogs. Instead I use a premade one that we purchase from the pet store. These come frozen so I defrost them first, stuff into the Kong, then refreeze. Voila, I frozen meat popsicle. Our dogs LOVE these and we try to do this 4-5 times per week. We use Big Dog Products BARF mix for those who are interested.
Leftovers (homemade mix)
The great thing about dogs is that there are plenty of human foods that they enjoy too. In this case, I used some cooked pumpkin and a leftover (slightly wilted) kale branch and some cooked chicken to make this mix. There are many different variations of this mix that you can make up, as long as you use food items that are safe for your dog and that you make sure you are meeting your dog's nutritional needs. Do your research to make sure you have everything covered. I would only use a meal like this once or twice a week maximum since it is not covering all they need in one meal but would be great as part of a meal plan.
Filling a Kong with your dog's normal meal is a quick and easy way to replace their dog food bowl and provide them with something fun to do. I sincerely hope you give this a try, your dog will definitely thank you.
So, you decided to go for it and ditch your dogs food bowl? Good for you! You won't regret it, I promise. It might be a bit more effort especially to start with while you try out different feeding methods, but it will be so worth it. Your dog will be much happier, more calm and satisfied. And to help make the transition much easier, I have put together 4 easy ways to feed your dog without a food bowl.
Ways to ditch the food bowl!
A bowl full of food is a bowl full of rewards and lost opportunities so why not use these to your advantage? By using a portion of your dogs daily food intake you can reinforce desired behaviour around the home or even train new skills.
There are a couple of really easy ways to do this. I like to have small bowls of our dogs dry food in strategic places in our home so we are quickly able to reward good behaviour when we see it. A training pouch or even a handful of dry food in your pockets also works well, you may be surprised how many individual rewards you can get through.
Train as you go: Build in training and reward opportunities into everyday life. This is by far the easiest way to achieve great manners and focus around the home. Use your dogs normal food to reinforce everyday actions like when your dog chooses to go and lie on their mat, when they sit for you to put the lead on for a walk or when they wait at the door to be let in or outside.
Short training sessions: If you are short on time or working on a specific skill with your dog, short training sessions a couple of times a day can work really well. These can also fit around your families busy schedule. 2 x5 min sessions a day can provide plenty of opportunities for your dog to earn rewards while learning something new.
Trick training: Why not teach your dog a new trick? Trick training can be an incredibly fun activity that the whole family can enjoy. Make sure you choose a trick that your dog is physically able to manage and one that they will have fun learning. There are so many different tricks you could teach your dog ranging from simple tricks like high five, spin and weave to more complicated activities like putting away their toys.
2. Out of a walk
Taking food rewards out on a walk is easily the most underutilized reinforcement opportunity. Not only can you use food treats to reward your dog for loose lead walking, but you can also use the food to reward behaviour like heeling, sitting at the kerbside, focus and choosing to look away from distractions. There are plenty of opportunities to reinforce behaviour out on an ordinary walk but if you want to take things to the next level, you could incorporate a quick 5 min training session or two into your walk to work on other training goals. Fancy practising high fives or drop in the park anyone?
3. Food games
I love to set up food games for my dogs. These are quick and easy ways to feed your dog and don't take long to set up which make them great options for those about to rush out the door to work or school. Plus food games have the extra benefit of encouraging your dog to scent out their food which uses a lot of physical and mental energy. Here are a couple of my favourite food games.
The Scavenger Hunt. Hide small piles of food around the back yard or patio. A dog-specific sandpit is also a good place to bury food (though better if in a food toy). Your dog will spend time searching out the food piles and will receive a jackpot of rewards for their effort!
The classic biscuit scramble. Much like the traditional lollie scramble for kids, you just take a handful of your dog's dry food and throw or scatter the biscuits on the ground. Again this can be in your patio, backyard or even in the house. Your dog will go along and pick up all the biscuits and may even keep scenting for them after they are all eaten extending the game.
4. Food toys
Food toys are great boredom busters!! There are so many different food toys on the market that you are sure to find a toy or two to suit your dog's needs. And there are plenty of DIY ones you can make too. I like to mix it up a bit and we have different toys for wet and dry food to keep things interesting for our dogs. Food toys help your dog to problem solve, to work out how to access their food thus providing both mental and physical stimulation.
Is feeding your dog from a food bowl bad? No, not at all. But, there are so many reasons why it's right, to feed your dog via alternative methods.
By feeding your dog solely from a food bowl you are missing out on easy opportunities to enrich your dogs life and to address boredom related behaviour issues. When you ditch your dogs food bowl and try alternative methods of feeding your dog you create fun and rewarding mealtimes that can lead to a calmer, happier dog.
Reasons to ditch the food bowl!
Gone in a flash!
Dogs are notorious speedy eaters and sometimes it seems like they can devour their dinner in the blink of an eye! And I know not all dogs are like that but many are and it can be even worse in a multi-dog household or if your dog has resource guarding tendencies.
Eating too fast can cause dogs to vomit after eating and can even be a choking hazard. Plus, if they eat their food in less than a minute, what are they going to do for the rest of the day?
Using alternative feeding options can drastically reduce the speed with which a dog can consume the food. You can spread it out over both time and distance and/or make it more difficult for your dog to access the food.
Food is one of the best rewards for dogs because of the high value they place on food. All dogs are motivated by food to some extent, some more so than others but they all need food to survive. A bowl full of food is a bowl full of rewards and lost opportunities. This food could have been used to reinforce a whole range of good behaviour from your dog during the day whether you were with them or not.
Like humans, dogs can get bored. The difference is, they can't read a book or watch a show on Netflix to pass the time as we can. Many dogs spend a large portion of the day at home alone while their families are out and work and school, with the dog just waiting for everyone to get home.
A dog home alone can and will get bored easily even if they have access to all their toys. It's really not that much fun to play tug when there is no-one on the other end of the rope!
And a bored dog can be a destructive dog, a loud, barking dog or even a sad, lethargic dog. None of which are good for the dog or for the humans in their life.
Using your dog's normal food in different and interesting ways like food toys and games, will keep your dog challenged and active as these activities will take significantly more time for your dog to consume the food than if it was simply placed in the dog bowl. Not only will your dog have less time to be bored but they will also be more satisfied after expending some physical and mental energy on the game or food toy.
There is something instinctually rewarding for dogs who have to problem-solve or search out their food. Dogs love to scavenge around and you can use this to your advantage to encourage them to scent out their meal. Not only is the act of sniffing physically tiring for your dog but your dog will use a lot of brainpower to process the scent too. Plus it's a great way to burn off excess energy and an easy way for you to provide both physical and mental stimulation for your dog.
Having to think through how to access their food or to even find it in the first place is a wonderful mental challenge for your dog that will leave them happy, satisfied and tired.
I may not be a fashionista, but even I know that a good pair of heels can be used for many different occasions and is a staple in every woman's wardrobe. And like a favourite pair of heels, the dog training version of a casual heel is also great for every occasion.
The casual heel vs. the standard heel
A standard heel is also known as a focused heel or competition heel as this is used in dog obedience trials. This is a commanded obedience activity where the dog is on the left hand side of the handler, the dogs front legs are in line with the handlers legs and the dog is looking up at the handler giving complete focus.
The casual heel is a much more relaxed version of a standard heel. In a casual heel, the positioning is the same but not as strict. There can be more space between the two and the legs don't have to line up and the dog is able to look away and check where they are going. Also, the dog can be on the right side of the body instead if you want.
When to use a casual heel
Well, on your everyday dog walks of course! The casual heel is a great tool to have in your toolkit to pull out whenever needed, wherever you are.
1. Stop pulling on the lead.
Because the casual heel position is close to you and requires some focus and attention from your dog, being in a casual heel means they are not out in front of you pulling! Even though this position is not intended for a full dog walk, it is a good way to remind your dog to walk nicely on a loose lead and can be a great way to bond with your dog during an otherwise distracting outing.
The world is full of distractions, especially for dogs! There are so many things happening all around them and so many different things to scent. One of the main ways we use a casual heel is to get our dogs past distractions, especially if we are quick enough to notice them before our dogs do.
Here are some examples of distractions to casually heel your dog past:
If your dog likes to charge across the road, putting them in the casual heel can be a safe alternative. Plus this is almost the perfect length of time to practice the casual heel to build up the distance in this position. And, usually, a dog is happy to start off in a sit since they are at the kerbside which makes it easier to get their attention before you step off.
1. Restrict access when not at home.
It will be almost impossible to teach your dog not to jump up and sleep on your couch or bed if they have access to it when you're not around. They will be able to learn not to do it in your presence and it may still discourage them to jump up when you are not around, but they might still sneak up if they think they can get away with it. So it this is definitely not something you want your dog doing, then restrict access to this area so they don't get the chance to have a cheeky nap on the couch.
2. Lure off.
Never, ever try to physically remove your dog from your furniture. This is a sure-fire way to get on the wrong side of your dog, damaging the trust between you and it could even result in a bite. Plus there is a much easier way to get your dog off the furniture without it turning into a battle. Simply lure your dog off the couch with a food treat or toy, and offer them a further reward for remaining off the couch. See easy!
3. Put a command to it.
Give your dog a command to get OFF the furniture and use this at the same time as you lure your dog off the couch. This way you can use the command to remind your dog later that they are not supposed to be up on the couch if they forget or want to try their luck.
4. Alternative place to sleep.
This is the step where you provide your dog with a comfy, alternative place to sleep that is not your couch! I suggest you use a dog bed and place it somewhere near the couch so they can still be close to you and feel like part of the family (plus I'm sure they are into Netflix just like we are.) The closeness of their bed will also help you to easily remind them where they should sleep if they try to approach the couch.
5. Reinforce the right behaviour.
To help your dog understand that their dog bed is the best place for them to sleep, reward them whenever they go on their bed. At first you will be reminding them, but over time they will go their on their own and you should definitely reinforce that behaviour by offering them a reward for making a good choice. To keep them on their beds you can also periodically throw them a food treat to further reinforce being there or even offer them a food toy to eat while on their bed. Trust me, these rewards will work to make the bed a very happy place for your dog!
One of the reasons why I love the Kong Classic is because of all the different fillings you can use with it to keep it fun and exciting for your dog. Honestly, the options are nearly endless. But, how do you keep the contents from spilling out too easily?
Well with an agent, Binding Agent, of course!
Best binding agents
Binding agents are used to help other items like treats or dry dog food stick to the inside of the Kong to keep them from just falling out and to provide your dog with a challenge. And they can be used on their own too, especially if you are short on time.
When using a binding agent in the Kong, smear it inside the top section only so your dog is able to reach. If it goes too far down, they won't be able to get it all out. Having a bit of the binding agent on the outside of the Kong will help to entice your dog to investigate the Kong which is a great option if your dog is new to this type of toy. Here are my favourite two to use.
Peanut Butter (PB)
I mean, who doesn't like a good PB? I love the stuff and so do my dogs. Try getting a smooth version that is made with peanuts only if you can to avoid and excess salt or sugar.
Plain, Greek yoghurt is the way to go. Not only is this yoghurt packed full of vitamins and probiotics but it's low in sugar too.
1. PB and treats
Add a teaspoon or two of PB to coat the inside of the Kong. Add a handful of treats or dry biscuits, then swirl around so that the treats stick to the PB.
2. PB and banana
After adding the PB to the inside of the Kong, add chopped pieces of banana until full.
3. Yoghurt and fruit
My favourite fruit to use is either apple or blueberries and for this recipe, I'm going to use both. Add the yoghurt around the inside of the Kong then add the chopped pieces of fruit. You can adjust the difficulty level by adding more or less fruit.
4. Yogurt and leftovers
My dogs LOVE broccoli and zucchini and these are great options to use in a Kong. The great thing about vegetables is you can use them cooked or raw. Add whatever suitable leftovers you have on hand to the Kong after spreading the yoghurt around inside to help bind the ingredients.
Quick note: not all human food is suitable for dogs, so chose wisely. These recipe suggestions are for treats only and should be part of their daily food intake not in excess of or instead of an appropriate meal.
As a dog owner, dog trainer and pet sitter I have learnt many different tips and tricks over the years and I thought this would be a great way to share them with you. Enjoy!