Teach Your Dog Down in Four Simple Steps

Step 3: Phase Out the Hand Signal

Once your dog is following an empty hand into a down, you can decrease the hand signal. Start by moving your hand all the way to the floor when you give the command; over time, stop the gesture further from the floor, say at ankle height. If this is successful, the next time bend only to calf height and so on. Eventually you should be able to stand up straight and use only a small downward motion of your hand to indicate that your dog should lie down. If your dog doesn’t go into a down right away on the hand signal, wait a few seconds; most dogs will eventually slide into the down if they have the time to think it out. However, if he doesn’t go into the down, ask again and move your hand closer to the ground on the next try.

Step 4: Add a Verbal Cue

Add a verbal command by saying “down” one second before you give the hand signal to go into the down. Repeat many times in a row; soon your dog should be pairing the word and the hand signal. Eventually, your dog should begin to respond just to the verbal command. If he doesn’t, delay the time between the word and the hand signal a little longer. Dogs are very visual; to get your dog to pay attention to a vocal cue, like “down,” you will need to say the word before you give the visual signal.

For dogs who are hesitant to lie down all the way, I use a leg bridge: I sit on the floor and extend my leg, with my heel on the floor and my knee slightly raised, to create a "bridge." I hold the treat on the other side of my leg so that the dog has to bend down and crawl under my raised knee to get it. If the dog tries to go around or over my leg, rather than under, I remove the treat and get him back on the original side. You may need to hold your leg closer to the ground to get a smaller dog to move all the way into a down. As your dog’s body moves into the down, immediately mark with a "good" and give him a jackpot of treats. Repeat a few times and then try without the leg bridge, as most dogs will master the down after a few successful tries crawling under your leg.


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