Obedience Training: Teach the DOWN Command

When your dog is in the DOWN position, he is lying on the ground. He may be relaxed and on one hip or on his side but not on his back. He may not crawl around. Read and understand all the steps prior to teaching your dog DOWN.

Teach the DOWN Command

Begin with your dog at your left-hand side in a SIT command. Give the DOWN hand signal and simultaneously give the DOWN command verbally. The hand signal for the DOWN is to align your elbow directly over the top of your dog’s head (approximately two feet above his head). Extend your arm horizontally with your palm facing down. The hand signal is stationary — do not move your arm downward or lower your hand in front of your dog’s head. After you have spoken the command DOWN, remove your hand signal and place your left hand back on the leash. Only give the hand signal once.

Bend at the waist or get down on your right knee. Place your left hand very close to the leash buckle and bend your elbow so your left forearm is horizontal. Gently place the center of your forearm on top of the shoulder blades on your dog’s back. With a treat in your right hand, bait your dog just beyond and between his paws and repeat “DOWN.” As your dog begins to lie down, follow the motion with your forearm but do not push. Once your dog is in the DOWN, praise “good DOWN” and give the treat. While you are still on your knee, release your dog with BREAK and stand up.

It may seem overly directive to specify the right knee, but if you get down on your left knee, your body will open towards your dog and invite him to come snuggle in the nook your body creates. Bending on your right knee keeps a neutral body posture towards the dog. Body language is very important when teaching DOWN.

If your dog is really small or you are really tall, or bending down makes you fall, do something which you are able: teach the DOWN command using a table. Set up a card table or suitable folding table (but not your kitchen table) and go through the motions of teaching DOWN exactly the same as you would with your dog on the ground.

The biggest key to teaching your dog DOWN is that you must wait for your dog to DOWN on his own. Do not push your dog down with your forearm or elbow. Do not pull your dog down with your left hand. These hand positions are presented as a guide only to remove other options to performing the DOWN. Never physically force your dog into the DOWN. Watch that your forearm or elbow is on the shoulders of your dog and not the neck. Any of these errors will immediately add dominance and make the DOWN command unenjoyable for your dog.

This idea is so important we are going to present it another way. Body assistance on the shoulder blades is not to provide any downward pressure or movement. Body assistance is provided solely to guide your dog. Once your dog begins to move down, your body should follow. If he attempts to stand back up, your arm should provide resistance toward the upward movement. Don’t push him down, just resist the upward motion. As soon as he begins to move downward again, all pressure must release and your dog will move under his own power.

If your dog tries to move forward to get the treat, brace him backwards with your left arm on your dog’s shoulders. If your dog does get all the way up, do not say anything, but quickly place your dog back into the SIT and repeat the command DOWN.

Hand signals can be distracting while you are teaching. Give the DOWN hand signal only once. Place your left hand back on the leash and keep it there.

Once your dog gets more comfort- able with the DOWN command, increase the duration your dog remains in the DOWN position. Prepare yourself with three pieces of treats in your right hand. Give one piece every three seconds while repeating “good DOWN.” While your dog is in the DOWN position, gradually remove your left forearm from his shoulders and have your dog hold the DOWN position on his own. You may give your dog light praise and affection while repeating “good DOWN.”

Providing some light affection while your dog is in a DOWN can help assign a positive experience with the DOWN command. While your dog is in a DOWN, pet him lightly down the length of the neck or shoulders while praising “good DOWN.”

The next milestone is to see if you can stand up. Once your dog seems settled in the DOWN command, slowly stand up. If your dog gets up, say NO, bend at the waist, and repeat the DOWN baiting. Bait without food this time and simply touch the ground with your fingers. Once your dog is DOWN, praise and stand back up.

If you need some additional physical assistance, use the back of your left hand on your dog’s shoulders instead of your left forearm. This may be particularly useful when attempting to stand up from your teaching position while assisting your dog to remain in the DOWN position.