Obedience Training: Reinforce the DOWN Command

At some point during the teaching phase, your dog will begin to DOWN as you bend over to provide the physical assistance. Praise heartily with “good DOWN.” If you find your dog downing with little physical assistance or you have been baiting your dog in a DOWN for two weeks (as prescribed in the Ten-Week Training Recipe later in the chapter), begin the reinforcement phase of training.

To reinforce the DOWN command, remove the physical assistance and introduce a corrective NO. Stand up straight and give the verbal command and hand signal DOWN. If your dog completes the DOWN command, praise heartily with “good DOWN” and reward with a treat. If your dog does not complete the DOWN command, give a corrective NO and repeat the DOWN command. If your dog fails to DOWN, bait him using food in the right hand into the DOWN position. You only want to correct once at this time.

The direction of the leash correction for the corrective NO is especially important for the DOWN command. The leash correction should be delivered by a sideways snap. Since your left hand is already on the leash, place your left hand adjacent to your left knee. When you snap, move your left arm like a pendulum towards your right knee and returning to your left knee. This correction should be made in a neutral direction, not downwards. This would introduce dominance into the experience.

After two weeks of teaching and one week of reinforcing with some assistance, your dog should be ready to perform the DOWN command completely on his own. Give the verbal command and hand signal DOWN, praise verbally, and reward with random food but do not bait. Wait to deliver the food reward until your dog has completed the command. If your dog does not complete the command, correct with NO and repeat DOWN.

If your dog begins to curl in front of you, adjustments may be required on the direction of the correction. First, make sure you are not pulling your dog across your body with a slow or forceful correction. If your dog still curls in front of your body, try correcting backwards towards your dog’s tail instead of in front of your body. Correct with the same low horizontal motion, just towards the tail.

Make sure you don’t make the DOWN a personal issue between you and your dog. Maintain absolutely neutral vocal tones while commanding and correcting. Do not look your dog in the eyes. Instead, divert your gaze to the ground where you want your dog to DOWN. Looking at the ground instead of in your dog’s eyes is another way of keeping the focus on the command and not making correction personal.

DOWN by teaching DOWN from a stand. Start with your dog in a BREAK (so your dog will probably be standing), sidle up to your dog so he is on your left-hand side, and give the DOWN command and hand signal. Praise if your dog DOWNS and correct if he doesn’t. Your dog may be slightly confused at first. He is has been conditioned to DOWN from the SIT position. Having him DOWN from a standing position will reinforce the idea that commands are positions and not actions. This concept is important in developing mental discipline in your dog.

Test the DOWN command

DOWN in motion is the first test of the DOWN position. It is more difficult because it combines the DOWN skill with position holding and HEEL. (Practice this test after some position-holding skills have been developed.) Start in HEEL and slow down so your dog is guessing if you are going to stop or not. Give the DOWN command and momentarily march in place as your dog downs. Once he is down, praise and resume forward movement. If your dog breaks the DOWN command with forward movement, correct him with NO and re-command.

Extend the motion command for SIT and DOWN. As your dog gets better at SIT in motion and DOWN in motion, increase your HEEL speed and decrease how long you march in place while your dog completes the command. The goal of these commands would be to maintain normal HEEL speed, give your dog the SIT or DOWN command without slowing, and have your dog remain in his position while you continue to walk away.