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Teach your dog to lie down

By Michele Welton, Dog Trainer, Breed Selection Consultant, Author of 15 Dog Books

pup lying downThe reason we've waited this long to teach "Lie Down" is that some dogs resist it. It goes much more smoothly after you've had time to establish rules, predictable routines, and a solid leader-follower relationship. Good follower dogs have no problems with Lie Down.

When dogs resist this exercise, it's usually because they have other behavior issues that you've not yet gotten under control.

I recommend that before you tackle Lie Down, you get your dog walking on leash politely, staying quietly on his bed, waiting at doors and gates, coming when called, and sitting and standing patiently while you handle him.

What should "Down" mean?

"Down" should tell your dog to assume a lying down position. Try to use the word only for that purpose.

For example, don't use "Down" to mean stop jumping on people. Any behavior that is a no-no at all times (like jumping on people) simply needs "No" or "AH-ah", followed by a corrective technique.

Similarly, don't use "Down" to mean get off the furniture. If he's not allowed on the furniture at all,  you should correct getting on the furniture  the same way you would correct any undesirable behavior – "No" or "AH-ah", followed by a corrective technique.

However, suppose it's okay with you that your dog is on the furniture most of the time. But on occasion, you might want to sit in that chair yourself, or you might have friends over who need the space.

Then use "Off" instead of "No." That lets him know that he's not doing anything that's completely prohibited, but that this is just not a good time for him to be up there.

Getting your dog to lie down

Just as when teaching Sit, we'll begin by luring with food. This method works with most dogs.

  1. Have him sit on your left side, on leash. Place your left palm on top of his shoulders. Hold a treat in your right hand.
  2. Say "Down" as you lower the treat from his nose to the floor in a sweeping motion (that's the hand signal). At the same time press down gently on his shoulders. If he goes down, say "Good" and let him have the treat.
  3. After many successful repetitions over time, try it without luring. Say "Down" and do the same sweeping hand signal, but without holding a treat. If he goes down, say "Good" and then reach into your pocket and pull out the treat.

    Command → dog lies down → praise → reach for the treat

  4. Now you can phase out the treats by progressing from constant treating (every time) to variable treating (every other time, or every 3rd time) to random treating (only occasionally).

If your dog isn't motivated by food, or if he absolutely refuses to go down unless you have a treat, try this second method....

Say, "Down" and do your sweeping hand signal. Then with your right hand, grasp the leash very close to his collar (just below the clip). Press down on his shoulders at the same time as you pull the leash downward and slightly forward and to the right.

Why slightly forward and to the right? Because pulling straight down makes it easier for him to brace and resist. If it works, say "Good!" then pull a treat out of your pocket.

If he still doesn't go down....

I recommend giving up for the moment. Study my Summary article at the end of my training program and work on anything that your dog might not be doing well. Once you get him into a better follower mindset, give "Lie down" another try.

Getting your dog to STAY down

cairn terrier lying downAt first, just having your dog lie down, even with help, is fine. It's okay if he jumps right back up.

But over time, you definitely want him to STAY lying down. Follow the same steps as when you were teaching Sit-Stay.

Michele Welton with BuffyAbout the author: Michele Welton has over 40 years of experience as a Dog Trainer, Dog Breed Consultant, and founder of three Dog Training Centers. An expert researcher and author of 15 books about dogs, she loves helping people choose, train, and care for their dogs.

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