Down is one of the most basic and useful behaviors to teach your puppy. It helps keep your puppy out of trouble and encourages them to calm down. But many puppies either resist getting on the ground in the first place or staying there for more than a second. How can you teach your puppy to lie down? Read on for three different techniques to train a down as well as some troubleshooting tips to ease the process.
Luring a Down
In some ways, the easiest way to train behaviors is to lure them. That means using a treat or toy to literally lure your puppy into the position or action you want. For example, if you hold a treat to your pup’s nose then move that treat in a circle parallel to the ground, your puppy will follow it and do a spin. Luring shows your puppy where you want them to go, but it’s important to fade the lure as soon as possible so your puppy responds to a hand signal or verbal cue rather than waiting to see the lure.
Use a lure your puppy is excited about to ensure they’re willing to follow it. You can also use a clicker to help communicate the exact moment your pup has done something right. Here are the steps to train down with a lure:
- With your puppy in a sitting position, hold a treat to their nose.
- Bring the treat down between your puppy’s front paws. They should lower their head to follow the treat.
- Continue moving the treat out along the ground away from your puppy. You are essentially making an “L” shape. As your puppy follows the treat, they should lie down.
- As soon as your puppy is in the down position, click and praise then immediately give them the lure as their reward.
- After several repetitions, begin to use a treat from your other hand as a reward so the lure no longer gets eaten.
- Finally, lure your puppy with an empty hand and reward with a treat from the opposite hand. Now you’ve taught a hand signal which is lowering your hand towards the ground.
- Once your puppy is responding to the hand signal you can teach a verbal cue by saying “Down” a second before you give the hand signal. In time, your puppy should respond to the verbal cue alone.
If your puppy doesn’t yet know how to sit on cue, you can lure the down from a standing position. Either lure a sit first or take the treat straight down to the ground between their front paws while they’re still standing. However, because your puppy has farther to go to get into the down position, you might find it easier to use the shaping technique.
Shaping a Down
Shaping means teaching things a step at a time. For down that would mean teaching your puppy to look at the ground, lower their elbows to the ground, and finally to lie down, or as many baby steps as your pup requires. The trick is to set up your puppy for success. Choose a first step your puppy can easily do, then increase each step slowly without jumping too far in difficulty. It’s better to make it too easy than to get both you and your puppy frustrated by asking for too much too soon.
Start by using a lure to get your puppy to look at the ground. Click and praise, then reward the look. After your puppy has mastered that, lure their head down to the ground before clicking and rewarding. Next you might ask for bent elbows, and so on. Don’t worry about fading the lure and adding a verbal cue until you’ve taught the final behavior.
Capturing a Down
Finally, you can capture a down by rewarding your puppy any time they do it on their own. Always be prepared with a toy or treats in your pocket and whenever you see your puppy in the act of lying down, click and praise them. Then offer them a reward while they are in the down position. After you capture enough downs, your pup will start to lie down in front of you on purpose, hoping to earn a reward. Now you can add a hand signal or verbal cue right before you know they are about to lie down. Your puppy will learn to associate your word or gesture with their action and soon you will be able to ask for the down at any time.
Tips for Training Down
Even with a choice of training techniques, down can still be a tough position to get your puppy into. The following tips will help:
- Train when your puppy is tired. Don’t expect your puppy to willingly lie down when they’re full of energy. Work on this behavior after a walk or a bout of play.
- Never force your puppy into a down. As tempting as it might be to “show” your puppy what you want by pushing them into the position, that will likely have the opposite effect. Your dog will want to stand even more to resist the pressure. Or you might frighten them, making the position less appealing than if they got rewarded for doing it on their own.
- Use a lure to encourage your dog to crawl under your legs. First, make a bridge with your legs – on the ground for smaller pups and with a stool for larger breeds. Take the lure from your puppy’s nose to the ground then pull the lure under your legs. Your pup will have to lie down to get to the treat. Reward as soon as they are in the correct position.
- Reward your puppy while they are in the down position. Placement of rewards is important because it helps to emphasize and clarify what your puppy has done right. If you always give your pup their treat when they sit up again, you are really rewarding sitting rather than lying down. That causes the push-up problem where your puppy lies down for a brief moment before popping up again. Be ready with the treats so you can offer them to your puppy while they are still lying down.