Teaching the Down command

This method of teaching the Down instruction includes the use of a hand signal,which can significantly speed up learning and is invaluable  for distance work.

With your dog seated, stand still or crouch in front of your dog. Hold a treat or favourite toy in one hand and lower it to be level with the dog’s nose. Move it down to the ground between her legs and slowly draw it forwards so she automatically goes down after it. As she reaches the required position and her elbows touch the floor, mark her action with ‘Good’ and give her the reward.

If it is difficult to persuade your dog to lie down, kneel on one knee with the other foot on the ground and move the treat/toy from the dog’s nose down and under your leg so she must go down to the ground and creep under your leg to reach the reward. Praise with ‘Good’ and treat her. Release her from the ground with the ‘Sit’ instruction or other cue, allowing her to play.

Keep practising this exercise until the dog knows what to expect and reliably performs the action. You can then start to say ‘Down’ when your dg reaches the correct position, followed by the marker word ‘Good’.

At this stage place the reward between your fingers and use the flat of your hand to indicate a downward movement to the floor. When your dog reliably follows the hand to the floor, transfer the treat to the other hand and reward from this hand once she is lying down. This helps her to recognise that the flat hand is a signal and not just the source of a reward.

Continue with the exercise, but do not always give a reward, restricting it to random occasions when the dog has performed exceptionally well.

Over time, do not take the hand all the way to the floor and ultimately you will be able to stand up straight and instruct a ‘Down’ by moving the flat of your hand downwards.

Eventually the action will become habitual and the reward can be eliminated, but always praise your dog for doing what is instructed and offer her a life reward occasionally, such as play or a toy. A treat can be offered very occasionally to keep her on her toes.

Practice this exercise with your dog in different positions relative to you, not just immediately in front of you. Please have a look at my ‘Down’ video for a demonstration of this technique.