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Teaching your dog to lay down means teaching them to relax their body on the floor and hold it. The down position is also an easy position to teach the stay behavior. Teaching your dog to lay down and remain calm is a great tool to have when guests come to your home.
A common mistake is mixing the cues “down” and “off.” For example, your dog is on the bed and you want them to jump off or they’re jumping on guests when entering your home. Use “off” instead of “down” in those instances. Down is looking for a body-to-the-floor behavior.
How to Teach:
Using a lure, kneel down on your knees with your torso vertical, minimizing having to bend over and hover.
Hold a food reward between your thumb and index finger, palm facing down to the floor, and the reward in front of your dog’s nose.
Slowly lower your hand with the food lure straight down toward the ground in between your dog’s front legs. As soon as their elbows touch the floor, say “yes,” and place the treat on the ground between their front paws.
You are placing the treat on the ground so that your dog is responding to the hand signal, not the food in your hand.
If you are having trouble with the down from a stand position, you can begin with your dog in a sit position, but lure them into position; do not verbally prompt them.
Practice the lure/reward technique four or five times. If your dog is following the lure and relaxing on the ground three out of four times, you can transfer to the hand signal.
To do this, take the treat away and give your dog a hand signal, which is your downward-facing palm lowering to the ground as if you are pressing down on a button (much like the lure/reward motion).
When they respond by lowering their body and relaxing on the ground, say “yes,” and reward them with a food reward from the opposite hand.
We reward our dogs with a treat from the opposite hand so that they learn to down for the hand signal, not because you have a treat in your hand.
If you are finding that your dog will only work when food is in your hand, you need to practice more without a food reward in your hand.
When your dog is responding to the hand signal three out of four times, you are ready to add the verbal cue—down.
Say “down” immediately followed by the hand signal. Say “yes,” and reward them when they are in position. Repeat three to four times.
When your dog is responding to the verbal cue/hand signal combo, you are ready to move into only a verbal cue.
Say “down,” and give your dog a couple of seconds to respond. When they do, say “yes,” and reward them. If they don't go down immediately, that's OK; this is a harder behavior to teach, and they may need to think about it for a few seconds.
If, after 5 or 6 seconds, your dog is still looking at you pondering the expectation, go back to the last successful step (verbal cue/hand signal combo) and keep practicing.