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Teaching Your Dog "Down" with Positive Reinforcement.

Updated: Nov 23, 2023

Dog laying down on command

Positive reinforcement training is a humane and effective method of teaching your dog various commands and behaviors. One important command to teach your dog is "down." Teaching your dog to lie down on command not only enhances their obedience but also promotes calmness and self-control. In this article, we will guide you through a step-by-step process of teaching your dog "down" using positive reinforcement techniques, with a focus on gradually moving the dog's body downwards and rewarding slight down movements.

Remember to cultivate patience and to go at your dogs pace, so the training is a fun experience for everyone. If you practice this with enough consistency and patience, you can use it in your photo session, allowing me to capture some super adorable photos!

Concepts this trick grows in your dogs brain: Focus, engagement, adaptability, tenacity, calmness, confidence, stimulation down, self-control and optimism. That's a lot of positive growth with one trick!

Step 1: Preparation.

Before beginning the training process, gather the necessary supplies: treats, a clicker (optional), a comfortable floor space for you and your dog, and a quiet and distraction-free training area to facilitate better focus and learning. I use a portion of my dogs daily food allowance. Most dogs are EAGER to learn new tricks as it really works their brains, so why not make them work for their food instead! It's important to keep training sessions short and positive, so your dog remains engaged and eager to participate.

Step 2: Start with the "Sit" Command

The "down" command is an extension of the "sit" command, so make sure your dog has mastered sitting on cue before moving forward. If your dog doesn't know how to sit yet, start by teaching them this basic command using positive reinforcement.

Step 3: Luring into the "Down" Position

Hold a treat close to your dog's nose and slowly move it downwards towards the ground, between their front paws. The goal is to encourage your dog to follow the treat with their nose while simultaneously lowering their body towards the ground. As your dog's head lowers, their body will naturally follow.

Step 4: Rewarding Slight Downward Movements

As your dog starts to lower their head and shoulders even slightly towards the ground, praise/click and reward them with the treat. It's important to reward small increments of progress to reinforce the desired behavior. This could include rewarding even a slight dip of the head or a slight bend of the front legs. Remember to keep your praise happy and exciting! They're learning something new that they''ll be able to do for the rest of their lives!

Step 5: Gradual Progression

Continue to practice steps 3 and 4, gradually lowering the treat closer to the ground and rewarding your dog's downward movements. Encourage them to lower their body more and more until they achieve the full "down" position. Always reward and praise your dog for any progress they make. Remember to go at your dogs pace. Its OK for them to fail as they're trying really hard to understand what we want them to do. Just reset and try again. You may notice your dogs eyes going red from all the brain power they're using!

Step 6: Hand Signals and Verbal Cues.

Now that your dog can effectively lay down and associate down with the treat and reward system, introduce a hand signal. A finger pointing down or bringing your hand down flat to the floor are good signals to associate down with. Dogs are masters at reading body language, they will understand hand signals much easier than verbal cues! Use the treat in one hand and use the other for the hand signal as your lure them to the floor. Keep doing this until you're able to just use your hand signal without using a treat.

Dogs are masters at reading body language, they will understand hand signals much easier than verbal cues!

Mark the down position with a verbal cue such as "down" or "lie down" at the moment their body touches the ground. Repeat this step consistently so that your dog begins to associate the command with the action. If your dog is a quick learner you can combine the hand signal and verbal cue while still using the treat to reinforce both cue and signal.

Step 7: Verbal Cue without Luring

Once your dog starts to understand the concept of "down" and is responding to the verbal cue and hand signal, begin to eliminate the lure. Use the verbal cue and hand signal alone, without holding a treat, and wait for your dog to perform the behavior. Praise and reward them immediately when they lie down. If they are struggling go back to step 6 and practice consistently.

Step 8: Practice and Generalize

Practice the "down" command in various locations and gradually introduce distractions to help your dog generalize the behavior. Reinforce the behavior with praise and occasional treats to maintain their enthusiasm. Some locations will be more difficult for your dog to perform the command, such as the garden or park. These locations have a variety of smells, sounds a visual distractions that will capture your dogs attention. Use the treats to capture your dogs focus and start with steps 5 and 6 again to reinforce the desired behavior. Remember to keep this step fun and positive as we've just added a layer of difficulty for our dogs and their brains will be working extra hard! If your dog is struggling then limit the distractions and add them in gradually.

Remember to be patient, consistent, and always end training sessions on a positive note. We want to set our dogs up for success!

Teaching your dog the "down" command through positive reinforcement training involves gradually moving their body downwards and rewarding slight down movements. By breaking down the behavior into small steps and rewarding your dog's progress, you can effectively teach them to lie down on command. Remember to be patient, consistent, and always end training sessions on a positive note. We want to set our dogs up for success! With time and practice, your dog will become proficient in responding to the "down" command, which will become a foundation skill that will enhance their overall training and well-being.

Stay in the know for my next post on how to teach "Lady"!

Enjoy the journey of training and bonding with your dog, and celebrate each small achievement along the way. Dogs work really hard to understand us and deserve to be praised for all that focused brain power. Once your dog can do this successfully it can be transferred into a photo shoot! Happy training!

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