Elbows Down Please: Tips for Teaching Your Dog to Go All the Way Down

This tip is brought to us by Sue Kotlarek of Michigan, who competes very successfully with her two All-American Dogs in a variety of sports. Both Jazz and Rodger have earned the AKC Utility Dog title in Obedience and the Rally Advanced Excellent title in AKC Rally. Rodger is the first mixed-breed dog to earn the AKC Versatility Companion Dog title for having titles in Agility, Obedience and Tracking! Sue has some great tips for those dogs that go down but keep their elbows just enough off the floor to get the dreaded non-qualifying score.

I would like to share a training tip for the dog that doesn’t like to put his elbows ALL the way down for the Utility Signal exercise. This may also help with the Open exercise of the Drop on Recall.

Many times small dogs (and some larger dogs too) don’t like to put their elbows all the way on the ground. They may just hover, without their elbows on the ground. The dog may do this due to the coldness of the floor; it may be uncomfortable lying on the cement floor or wet grass; or it may be due to the pressure of the judge standing near the dog. Whatever the reason, here are the steps I have taken with my little dog, Rodger, to try to get him to have a more solid down position.

I am going to assume that your dog knows the down command either by signal or verbal.

  1. Put your dog in down position in front of the bar. The bar I have made for Rodger is approximately 7” high and 3’ wide. It is made out of PVC. You would make the size bar appropriate for your dog. You want just enough space that your dog can “duck” his head under the bar without touching the bar.
  2. I am going to lure Rodgers head just in front and under the bar. I am going to either click or use my reward marker to let him know that is the behavior I want.
  3. Be sure to keep your criteria/rules high so that your dog does not let his elbows rise. My criterion with Rodger is that I have to see his eyes under the bar.  (viewing him from the front).
  4. Once you are getting the behavior reliably with the luring motion, you can start naming the behavior. I use the word “duck”. Remember you want to give the command first and then immediately follow that command with the lure.

When giving the down command, try holding your down signal just a bit longer than normal. The dog will (hopefully) offer the new "duck" behavior. Your end result will look like the following: give the dog the down/duck command; give your sit signal and give your recall signal.

In addition to Obedience and Rally, Sue's dogs hold many titles in agility, coursing, flyball, weight pull and tracking. Sue says: "Jasmine Anne UD GO VER RAE OA OAJ AXP AJP NF NFP CA FDCH is a 30 pound staffy-mix that my husband and I adopted from the Dearborn Animal Shelter in Dearborn, MI. Jazz is my Novice A dog and my first sports dog! Rodger Rowbinawitz UD RAE OJP OAP NF NFP CA FDCH is a 15 pound Italian greyhound mix. Rodger was adopted from Almost Home rescue in Canton, MI. I am very fortunate that I have a husband and a great group of dog training friends and instructors that offer me support and guidance."

Keep reading for more information on joining the AKC Canine Partners community for all dogs, including mixed-breeds and rescues.