In today’s article, we’re going to look at how to teach a dog to lie down.
Training your dog to lie down is a very rewarding process, and once mastered it can be used in a number of situations, not to mention being pivotal to your dog’s safety.
Still, it can be a tricky and complicated task, and training incorrectly can result in more problems than it fixes.
Teaching The “Down” Command – Why It’s So Important
There’s no denying that the “down” command is slightly more difficult to teach compared to the “sit” command. This is because it’s a position most dogs consider submissive, so a fearful or nervous pup may be uncomfortable with it. Still, it’s a useful one nonetheless.
It can help keep your dog well-behaved when you are out and about, or when you need them to be calm and collected. It’s also a great position to train the “stay” command in as well, and it’s a relaxing position for a pup to rest in for longer periods of time.
To help you with your training efforts, we have put together a guide on teaching the “down” command to your pup easily and correctly. Here’s how to teach a dog to lie down.
Determining The Cue or “Down” Command
The first step that you need to take before even starting the actual training is determining what command or cue you are going to use for this command. It’s important to be consistent with the cue you are using so as to avoid any confusion on your dog’s part.
Choose a simple word or short phrase that is easy to say, recognize and remember. You have to choose a word that isn’t currently associated with anything else.
For example, if you go for the command “down”, you should not currently be using “down” for anything else – like telling your dog to put their paws down or to get them to stop jumping on you.
This is important as you want your dog to only associate the cue you use with that specific lying down position, and nothing else.
If you would like to add or sub in a hand signal instead of a verbal cue, you should add this in after your dog already understands the verbal cue and responds to it well, as it is much easier to train this way than with a hand signal from the start. (Of course, if you have a dog with deafness, you will be using hand cues from the beginning!)
In most cases with more modern techniques for dog training, the cue – whether verbal or otherwise – is added in after your dog has already learned the correct position to get into.
This is because this will help the pup associate the cue very quickly with their learned position. With that being said, let’s move on to training the correct position.
How To Teach A Dog To Lie Down
1. The Lure Method
This is the most common and recommended method for teaching a new trick to a dog. To begin with, grab a treat in one hand and have your dog assume the sit position. Hold out the hand with the treat in it so your pup can smell it, then slowly lower the treat onto the floor, still in your hand.
We definitely recommend that your pup already knows “sit” by now so you can start from a sitting position, but if you haven’t and your dog is standing when you start luring, you may find that your dog’s front goes down but his backside remains in the air.
In this case, use a fold back technique to gently push your dog into the position you want, moving the treat hand towards the floor at an angle in front of their nose.
No matter which way your pup gets to lay down, as soon as your dog’s stomach touches the ground, allow them to have the treat.
The most important part of this method of training is to get rid of needing the lure – in this case, a treat – very quickly, so your dog learns to do this without receiving a treat. After your pup successfully earns a treat three or four times with this position, switch to using an empty hand.
To do this, have a treat nearby or in your other hand. Then, take your empty hand and show your pup that it is empty, then close it and repeat lowering it to the ground as you have before. As soon as your pup lowers, give him the treat from the other hand.
It will take some practice, but soon holding out a closed hand in front of your pup’s nose will lead to a lying down position.
2. The Capturing Method
This method is best if you have lots of free time and a small space to work with. What you have to do is essentially “capture” a snapshot of sorts of your dog naturally doing the behavior you want to see. It’s especially best for pups that naturally lie down very often.
Get comfortable with your dog in the same room and wait. When your pup lies down naturally on their own, immediately give them positive reinforcement through words like “yes”, “good”, or with a clicker and then throw them a small treat immediately.
Make sure that your verbal praise is very obviously happy and stands out from your normal conversational voice. Yes, your pup will probably get up the moment they receive the rewards, but don’t worry.
After about three or four times that you have suddenly rewarded your pup for lying down, you will notice your dog beginning to understand that something they are doing is earning the rewards. They will start to pay more attention to what they are doing that earns the rewards.
At this point, they may be excited and may not be moving to lie down anymore. Just be patient and wait it out, and they will eventually give up and start lying down again – and they you quickly throw in your praise and a treat again.
This is why the verbal phrase of “yes” or “good” – or the clicker cue – is so vital. It will help your pup understand that this is why they are receiving a reward.
For pups that have learned commands through this method before, this will come easily. For dogs just learning with this method for the first time, expect to have to be quite patient!
3. The Shaping Method
This is a great method to use if you are using a clicker to train. It’s easier if your pup already understands the clicker and its significance, but it’s certainly not impossible for first-timers to pick up on.
You can also use this if you are okay with using frequent verbal praise instead, such as using the word “yes” or “good” with an excited, positive tone.
Shaping is simple. Pay attention to your pup. When they make a movement or any sort of behavior that looks like it’s the beginning of them lying down – whether they lower their head or upper body – you give your verbal praise or click and toss your pup a treat.
Make sure to throw the treat slightly further away from where they are so your dog has to get out of the position to get it. This will allow your dog to be able to recreate the downward movement to earn a new treat and reward.
Once your pup recognizes that moving downwards gets them a treat and a click or praise, then slowly and gradually extend your expectations.
Stop marking the little downward motions and allow them to get lower and closer to a full lying down position. Finally, work your way up to being able to have them at a fully lying down position.
Adding The Cue
Once your pup knows that the act of lying down is rewarded and is what you want them to do, you will need to add in your cue. We are assuming here that you are using verbal cues and that your cue is “down”, but this is customizable based on your preferences.
You will now say your cue a split second before your dog performs its accompanying action. For example, if you are using the luring method, you will say “down” a fraction of a second before you place your closed hand in front of your pup’s nose.
If you are using the shaping method, you will get your first successful lie-down and throw your pup a treat, then say “down” just before they repeat the action to get a reward again.
Once your dog is able to respond to the verbal cue without physical gestures, switch it up. Give them another command that they know, let them execute it, and then switch to “down”.
It may take a few lures or shapes to get your pup to recognize the cue as its own separate command. Mix it up, add in more commands your dog already knows, and alternate to get it perfect.
Don’t expect to get this in one session – it may take two, three, or even five. Be patient and consistent, and your dog will understand that your cue means he must lie down.
Honing The “Lie Down” Command
To perfect this command, you just need to bring new challenges into it at increasing levels of difficulty.
Start by randomly ordering a “down” somewhere else in the house than your normal training location. If your dog is confused and doesn’t follow, carry on with what you are doing and lure them down, then reward.
If they obey, mark with praise or a clicker and reward with a treat. Continue to do this in different spots around the home until your dog responds without fail.
Once this has worked, start bringing new distractions in for your dog to deal with. Say “down” when family members or friends are walking around nearby or right next to your pup, for example.
Work your way up slowly to make them stay in a down position longer, and you can even start to slowly build up the distance between your dog and you when you give the commands.
If your pup fails to obey at some point, try again with an easier challenge. At this stage, you must always reward with praise or a clicker and a treat.
At each new step, fade the reward treat from a large one to a small one until your pup can do it with the smallest or least valued treat possible.
Then, when you introduce a new challenge, use big, valued rewards again and reduce them as you go once more. Remember you should not completely stop giving treat rewards.
The Next Steps in Teaching a Dog to Lie Down
The next step after this is bringing this command outdoors. Start in controlled environments, like your yard or garden, and then slowly move further out.
Introduce more distractions as you go, always working in slow increments to become more and more challenging and adjusting the treat rewards as you go.
You can then start training your dog at parks or where there are plenty of distractions, but make sure they are completely comfortable with obeying in less stressful and exciting settings first before taking this large leap.
Soon, you will have a dog who flawlessly obeys the “down” command! Just be consistent, patient, and understanding, and learn to tell when your dog is tired for the day and it’s time to end a session.
We hope that by reading these tips you can teach your dog to lie down on command within a few days.