Dog training basics: The down command

Mastering the ‘down’ command is one of the basic requirements for a well-trained dog because it is a good way to train your dog to be calm and obedient, and is a precursor for teaching the dog to ‘stay’ for minutes at a time.

Once the dog has mastered the ‘sit’ command, training him to ‘down’ is the next step. To begin training, get the dog sitting by your left side and, holding a tiny piece of food in your right hand, give the command ‘down’ (or ‘drop’ if you prefer) and then lean over, holding your hand in front of the dog’s nose. Let him sniff the food, and then move your hand slowly towards the ground. The dog’s nose will follow the food. When the dog is lying down, give him the treat and praise him. Then command him to sit up again, and repeat the ‘down’ command several times, each time making your hand movement slightly faster.

Practice the new command every day during his training, and when he is consistently obeying the ‘down’ command, repeat again without the treat. Even without the treat, use your hand as a signal, placing it in front of the dog’s nose and briskly bringing it down towards the ground. By associating a hand movement with the command, the dog will soon drop when you make the hand movement, without needing the treat or a verbal command.

When the dog is comfortable and consistent with the ‘down’ command from a sit position, you can progress to using the command while the dog is walking at heel by your side. Use exactly the same hand movement, and always be consistent. As usual, with a new command, it may be necessary for a short time to revert to using a treat as an incentive for learning the new skill.

The next step is to teach the dog to ‘down’ from a sitting position by your side and to ‘stay’ in that position. (The dog should already have learned to ‘stay’ in a ‘sit’ position.) Having the dog lying down means that he can be taught to stay for longer periods because he is more comfortable. Begin by having him ‘down’ by your side, and then give the command ‘stay’. Walk forward and stand directly in front of him, holding the leash at first. As the dog learns to stay, you can drop the leash and stand progressively further away, until eventually he will stay even when you are out of sight.

Once the ‘down’ from a sit by your side and from a walking at heel position are well mastered and the dog obeys the commands happily without needing treats (a process that could take months), you can teach the dog to ‘down’ from a sit in front of you. Begin with the dog sitting beside you, then leave the dog (setting off on the right foot rather than the left so he does not follow you) and stand directly in front of him (nose to knee). Put your left hand up towards your right elbow, and your right arm up towards your left, then bring them down in a kind of scissor motion, saying ‘down’ as you do so. If necessary, pull the dog down gently until he gets the idea that he should lie down. Once this is well mastered, move a few paces back and repeat the process

If you work at this exercise, and perfect the hand movements, and gradually move further back you will be able to get your dog to drop to the down position from any distance, even when it’s running towards you. This training could save your dog’s life in some instances, such as if your dog is approaching you from the opposite side of a busy road. You can progress to the stage where he will drop when he sees the hand movements, even at very long distances away from you.

If you and your dog can master the ‘down’ command and its various uses, your dog will be a long way towards being immaculately trained.

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