Dog Obedience Training: Teaching the Down Command

Whoa, Nellie! That’s what the “Down” command says. Once you can get your dog to do this, you’re really on your way. “Down” is also a sign of respect. Sound dreamy? It’s easier said than taught, however, because the issue of trust also comes into play. For a dog to lower himself into a submissive, vulnerable position, he must be really sure you’re the competent leader you say you are. Will you stand up to the scrutiny? We’ll see…

Your dog’s first “Down” lesson will be simple. You expect nothing; you’re just showing your dog what the word means. You say it and help him to position it over and over until he gets the picture. There are different strokes for different folks; pick the procedure that suits you best. Once you decide, practice 2-3 times daily, four “Downs” per session.

The Easy Slide: This one is great for easy-going dogs or pups.

1. Instruct “Sit” and kneel down at your dog’s right side.

2. Draw a quick line from your dog’s nose to the floor and say “Down.”

3. Place your left thumb between his shoulder blades and…

Gently lift a paw forward with your right hand as you firmly press between the shoulder blades. Your dog should slide himself to the floor.

Look, No Hands

Does your dog think he’s Jaws? If so, try this options:

1. Sit your dog and stand perpendicular to his right side.

2. Drop the leash-slack on the floor and calmly slide it under your left foot. Fold the remaining slack in your left hand.

3. Command “Down” as you point to the floor.

4. Pull up on the lead continually, forcing your dog’s head down.

5. Most give in at this point. If yours does, praise verbally, pause, and release with “OK!”

6. If your dog doesn’t respond, press his shoulder blades until he collapses into position. Hold the slack under your foot for five seconds. Release and praise.


Troubleshooting the Basic Down Command:

Here are a few questions you might have:

What if my dog growls when I’m positioning him?

Go to the phone immediately and get help from a professional dog trainer or behaviorist. You have a dominant dog who may bite when he doesn’t agree with you.

What do I do when my dog mouths me?

First of all, don’t try to correct him! It turns the command into a challenge game. Your dog’s anxious. Let him know there’s nothing to fear by ignoring it. Yes, I’m serious. Allow your hand to go limp, staring at the wall in front of you, and ignore the situation until he settles. You’re reassuring your dog that everything’s cool. If it really hurts, take your hand away slowly and try the “Look, No Hands” method.

What if my dog rolls over when I give the “Down” command?

Whatever you do, don’t pet his belly! You’re falling into the “game” trap. Stare at the wall and ignore the situation until he’s upright. Then praise him quietly. Release him only when he’s in the proper position.

My dog’s a pop-tart!

She goes down and then pops right up again. As soon as she’s down, hold your hand to her shoulder blades and slide the lead under your foot so she can’t move. Release and praise her warmly after she stops struggling.

Can you command “Down” more than once?

No. “Down” is like “Sit.” If you keep repeating it, it becomes a different issue altogether.

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