Teaching a Dog to Down on Command
There are times when you want your dog to lay down and stay out of the way. For example, when company comes or you are eating. Teaching the down stay is not hard but does require some persistence.
The easiest way to train your dog to down stay is to start with the dog in a sitting position. Take a treat the dog really loves and slowly move it from the dog’s nose to between his front legs at the floor level while saying down. The dog should follow the treat and lay down. Give the dog the treat and praise him wildly.
The alternative way to teach the down stay is to start with the dog standing. Take a special treat and slowly move it from the dog’s nose to between his front legs at floor level and a little behind them. The dog should follow the treat and lay down in the process while reaching for the treat.
If the dog moves back to try and get the treat instead of going down, try the exercise with the dog in a corner where he cannot move back, but must move down to get the treat. Practice this three to five times in a row three times a day until the dog goes down on command. Always give the dog a treat during the training phase of learning a new command. Once the dog is reliable about going down on command, then you can start to give treats randomly instead of all the time. However, it is important to always praise the dog for obeying your command.
Frequently what happens during training is that the dog does the down, but then pops right back up. This is where the stay command comes in. When the dog lies down reliably on command you can start to teach him to stay down. You do this by putting your hand in front of his face with the palm out in a “stop” motion and tell the dog stay. You only ask the dog to stay for a few seconds, then give the dog his release command and let him up.
The release command is something you tell your dog to let him know he can stop doing whatever you told him to do. Common release commands are “okay” or “free.” Pick something you do not say frequently around the dog so that you do not inadvertently give the release command while talking to your family or friends.
Gradually increase the time you expect the dog to stay after you give the command. At first, you will probably have to tell the dog to down a number of times before you can get him to stay for a few seconds. Be sure and praise the dog for staying when you release him. Never give a treat for staying as this tends to make the dog stand up or move to eat it.
Ideally, your dog should learn to stay for five minutes at a time. You can gradually work up to as much as 30 minutes as a time. However, down stays are not a way to leave the dog for long periods of time but a way to temporarily get the dog to stay out of the way.