Once your puppy has learned to sit, the next command they should learn is to lay down. Laying down on-command is a useful tool for owners because the ‘down’ position allows your dog to naturally calm down when they just have too much energy.
When a dog is in a ‘down’ position, they have an easier time demonstrating a calm demeanor. Learning how to be ‘down’ on-command also opens then up to greater participation with family events. Imagine a family barbeque where a dog is laying down at their owner’s feet instead of jumping up and down trying to snag some food!
Despite its simplicity, teaching a dog to lay down is one of the more complicated commands your dog will learn during training. In their young minds, your dog will have to juggle a two-step command (sitting, then laying down), submission (listening to their owner), and direct focus (ignoring distractions which would typically invoke a response from untrained canines). During training, you should minimize distractions for your dog, reward even the tiniest of milestones, and practice often!
Step 1: Learn the Movement
Similar to sitting, you want your dog to master the movement of laying down before you associate the movement with a command. You also want to make sure that your dog learns to associate the command with the right movement (if they hear the command too early, your dog may associate “DOWN” with looking at you or putting their head down).
- Have your dog in a sit. Your dog should know this position, but since dogs naturally move from a sitting position to a down position, make sure your dog has already mastered the “SIT” command.
- Hold a treat near your dog’s nose. Slowly move your hand down towards the floor right between your dog’s front paws. You want your dog to follow the treat and naturally fall into a down position.
- Once the treat and their nose are near your dog’s front paws, start moving the treat along the floor away and away from your dog. Their nose should follow along until their elbows are bent and they are laying down.
- Offer praise and award your dog the treat. As your dog is moving, you may have your hand on your dog’s back to prevent them from standing up. Do not push your dog into a down position.
Step 2: Luring Without a Treat
Ultimately, you do not want your dog to become reliant on treats and the easiest way to do this is to remove the treats as soon as possible. A goal would be to only lure your dog with a treat about 6-12 times – enough where your dog can see the pattern they are supposed to follow but not enough where they associate the movement with a treat.
- Once your dog consistently follows the treat, try to lure them with just your hand. They should continue to follow your hand with the expectation of a treat.
- As they are lowering, give the command “DOWN.”
- When the dog is fully down, reward with a treat and offer verbal praise. These treats should be hidden from your dog’s sight and only brought out when they are fully laying down.
- Repeat in a variety of settings to generalize the command. You want to be able to use the “DOWN” command in any setting. To avoid your dog associating the command in a specific area, consistently practice in different locations and at different times of day. Try working on the down command during walks or when simply playing with your pup.
Step 3: Responding ONLY to Verbal Commands
After your dog has generalized the command, you want to remove the hand gesture.
- Remind your dog what they already know. Begin by saying the command “DOWN” and using your hand to lure your dog into a down position. Make sure there is a small lapse between the command and the hand lure.
- Practice without speaking. As you give the command, your dog should anticipate the hand lure and lay down without it. Acknowledge the milestone and give a big reward. Without them realizing, your dog has successfully responded to your command without a visual prompt.
- Repeat to reinforce. Continue to praise your dog for responding to your command.
- Patience is a virtue. If your dog does not lower within a few seconds of hearing the command, give a small hand gesture. If they respond correctly, reward them, but only with a small amount of praise compared to if they had laid down on their own. You want your dog to respond without luring or prompts. Especially in the beginning, the response does not need to be instantaneous as they are trying to figure out what to do when they hear you say “DOWN.”
Troubleshooting: My Dog is Still Not Laying Down!
Considering that this is one of the more difficult commands for your dog to learn, you may have to try alternate methods to show them what you want them to do. Small dogs in particular may struggle because they are already so close to the ground.
- One issue with training may simply be your treat. If your dog does not lure in response to the treat, try a different one!
- If your dog does not respond to a different treat, have a seat on the ground with one leg bent in the air. Lower the treat towards your dog’s front paws and move it under your leg. Your dog should crouch to fit in the space under your leg. When their belly touches the ground, praise them, and award the treat. This is essentially the down position!
- If your dog is nervous about moving under or around you, create a trail of treats for them to follow. Once they have successfully assumed the down position and can consistently return to it when lured, resume the typical training.
Once your dog has learned to lay down on command, they will be much easier to control, especially around other humans. A quick word of caution: do not expect immediate results. This invaluable skill takes several training sessions to master. Keep your training sessions constant but short – you do not want to lose your dog’s focus. Dogs ultimately want to please their owners so make sure to acknowledge when they take a step in the right direction. Good luck!