How Can I Teach My Dachshund to Lie Down?
Q. My Dachshund is so long-bodied that it’s almost impossible to get her into a down and to get her to stay for long in the lying position. How can I teach her to lie down on command and stay there without popping back up right away?
A. Your plight is not uncommon; I've noticed in my training classes that it can be a challenge to get longer-bodied dogs, such as Dachshunds and Corgis, to lie down and stay there. These breeds are intelligent — and thus able to learn to follow commands — but their body structure makes the down position challenging for several reasons.
Long-bodied dogs are so low to the ground that it’s often difficult to discern whether they are lying down or standing. Unlike dogs with longer legs, their short legs make it a challenge to reward small movements (which can be hard to see) when luring them into a down. Their longer bodies also make it harder for these dogs to slide into a down when the lure is pushed behind their front paws. Finally, long-bodied breeds are so low to the ground that it’s easy for them to pop back into a stand, often without their pet parents noticing that they’ve gotten up again.
Use a Clicker to Teach a Down
There are various ways to teach your long-bodied dog to lie down, but luring her into a down is not always the best method. One of my favorite ways to teach these dogs to lie down is through clicker training, which relies on “capturing” the behavior, or waiting for it to occur naturally and rewarding it immediately.
1. Put your dog in a situation where she is likely to lie down. The more comfortable the environment, the more likely your dog will be to relax and lie down. Since it’s difficult to tell when a longer-bodied dog is lying down, it helps to get down closer to her leg level, either by sitting with her on a couch or bed, or getting down to her level on the floor. Softer areas, such as carpeting, mats or grass, work better than cooler, harder surfaces, such as tile or wood, which are less inviting to lie down on (for both you and your dog).
2. Wait for a down. This may require some patience. Clip a leash on your dog with enough slack that she can lie down, but not enough slack for her to walk around. Hold your clicker in one hand and your treats in the other. Then, wait. Your dog may take anywhere from 30 seconds to 10 minutes to spontaneously lie down. Ignore any attempts to interact with you, and simply watch out of the corner of your eye for the moment she goes into a lying position.
3. Encourage the down. As soon as your dog’s belly hits the ground, click and place a treat on the floor right in front of where she is lying. If she remains in the down after you click, continue to randomly treat her as long as she stays down, in order to encourage and reinforce the behavior.
4. Repetition is key. If your dog stands up, start over and wait for the down to occur naturally again. Once she repeats the behavior, immediately click and reward. After a few repetitions, your dog will figure out that lying down reaps big rewards, and she will start to increase the frequency of lying down and the speed with which she goes from a standing position into a down.
5. Add a verbal command. As soon as your dog is going into a down position with ease, add a word to the behavior, such as “down.” Say this as she is moving into the down position. Once she is readily going into a down and is associating the word with the behavior, you can start to use the word to encourage her to lie down by saying the word just before you anticipate her lying down. Eventually, you will move to only treating the downs that are initiated by the verbal command.
Once your dog has mastered lying down in response to a verbal command, practice the behavior in other rooms of your house and outside and, eventually, in distracting situations, such as on walks.
If your dog has a habit of standing up to eat her treat, rather than staying in the down position, extend the time between when she lies down and when you click. Once she understands down, wait a second or two between when she goes into the down and when you click.
Use these simple strategies, and your dog should be lying down — and staying there — in no time.