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.
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!