At this point, your dog should go down whenever you give the command—if the company is visiting or when you’re eating dinner, out in the yard, or at the veterinarian. Remember, “Down” communicates two things: “Calm Down” and “I’m the Leader.” Now that he’s had time to learn the word, you can give this command from a normal upright position:
- Sit your dog, pivot perpendicular to him, and casually slide the lead under your left foot (gathering the slack in your left hand).
- Stand straight and point to the ground as you command “Down” sternly. DON’T BEND! Pull the lead under your foot continually.
- Praise for cooperation, pause, and release with “OK.” (If your dog refuses, press down on his shoulder blades.)
- Now it’s time to change your position! Pivot six inches in front of your dog.
- Slide the lead under your foot.
- Lift your arm above your head. Point swiftly to the ground as you command “Down.” Pull the lead gently if necessary. Press his shoulders if he refuses.
- Pause, praise, and release.
Once your dog’s responding well at six inches, pivot out one foot and repeat the above. Then pivot two feet, four feet, six feet, and so on. You’re on your way!
Once you can instruct your dog “Down” at three feet, command in some everyday situations. Here are some ideas (add to this list): before you sit down to pet your dog, at night while you’re watching TV or reading, or when your dog comes over for his good night kiss.
Now we’re talking! Start using the “Down” command to settle your dog whenever he gets restless or a situation feels too out of control. Here are some things that flash to my mind (add to the list!): when company’s visiting, at the veterinarian, when there’s a sudden change in the environment, outdoors, when he gets over-stimulated, and so on. Start with small distractions, such as squirrels, and work your way to big ones, such as other dogs, the mail carrier, and joggers!
More Challenging Questions about Down
Here are a few more common questions:
Should I practice “Down-Stay”? Once your dog goes “Down” willingly, you can practice “Down-Stay.” Copy the “Sit-Stay” procedure. My dog scoots forward when I command “Down” at a distance. What should I do? You may be moving out too quickly. Scooting is often a sign of separation anxiety. Corrections only intensify it. Return to a distance that your dog’s comfortable with and work back slowly. If the scooting continues, however, you may try the following: Just before you give the command, lean forward, and re-command “Stay”. Quickly command “down” with a big hand signal. If your dog responds, stand straight, pause, and return to release. Position your dog in the original spot if necessary.
Why do you start using discipline at this stage? If you keep positioning your dog, he won’t learn your expectations. It’s like teaching a child to tie her shoe. Eventually, she’s going to have to tie it on her own. “No” lets your dog know your expectations.
We learned “Settle Down”. When do we use it versus “Down”? “Down” is given when you’re requesting an immediate response. “Settle Down” instructs the dog to move to a specific spot and stay until released, whether that spot is the dog’s bed across the room or by your side when the situation calls for it.
My dog scoots around on his belly when there’s something stimulating. How do I correct him? You try not to. Ignoring often helps, unless he scoots completely out of place. Then stepping on the lead can do the trick. If all else fails, wait until he’s out of place, act astonished, and reposition him sternly with “Shhh!”
My dog doesn’t listen when other dogs are around. Join the club. A class taught by a competent teacher is your best bet. It’s a lot of fun, great socialization, and very helpful if you have the right teacher. Ask around your neighborhood or call your veterinarian. If you have some choices, view ongoing classes before you select one.