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.
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!