There are just a few different methods for training down. The three main ones are:
If you are wondering why there are different methods and the pros and cons to either method you can check out the Sit and Down Debate article. This article will go over the methods we find work best.
In the case of training down we find Reward to be the best method for beginning training. This is then followed up with a modified Force technique
Core Rules Applied
1. Energy Spectrum (Hyper vs Tired) -
2. A to B Rule -
To teach down, using a food reward to start is easiest.
Tip: You know how some dogs will down and pop right back up again? To overcome this you can “jackpot” by giving the dog one kibble right after the other for staying in the down position. The dog will quickly learn that if they stay down they get “paid” well. Most people only reward the dog once when they go down and don’t reward again. The dog may then get up and the person gets the dog to down and rewards the dog again. The issue here is the dog is learning to train the person. The dog knows if they break command the human will tell them to do another command and the dog earns a kibble. We know, we have been there before, took me a while to realize we were being trained and not the dog.
Dogs are 8 times better at reading physical cues than people are so a physical hand signal will be much easier for a dog to understand than verbal. You can use whatever hand signal you like (as long as it is different from any other hand signals you may have). We use a hand signal where your palm is facing the ground with your arm at a 45 degree angle to the floor. The reason we use this is so you can exaggerate with a big arm movement when your dog is at a far off distance. Many people like the snap and point to the ground but that is difficult for a dog to see at a distance.
Progressing to Upright Hand Signal
At the beginning you are luring the dog into a down with your hand and some kibble. You then want to progress to a standing hand signal like the one pictured above. How do you get there? Utilize the Core Rule: A to B Rule and work one little step at a time.
Now to get your dog into a very quick down and stay in down until you say “free” (see article on Release Command to learn why having a release command will increase your dog’s obedience) is done by:
1. Having the dog in a down, increase the distraction level a small amount such as playing a dog barking on the stereo at a quiet level. If the dog gets up say “Down” every second while giving small tugs down on the leash until the dog resumes down then stop and praise. This will teach the dog that they must stay in down until told otherwise. Wondering about repeating the command? See the article on Repeating Command Debate.
2. Say “free” when you want to release your dog and lure them out of the down then praise the dog.
3. Do this in small stages as you don’t want to cause your dog too much stress. Start increasing distractions until you reach whatever distractions you expect to encounter.
4. Sometimes we find it easiest to incorporate down with a fun exercise such as fetch or tug where the dog must down first and then they are given the cue to fetch or tug.
How to get a very fast down
For this you will say “down” and a half second later you give a quick tug down on the leash. This will teach the dog to down very quickly when hearing the command to try to avoid the correction. Note: this does not mean you need to yank really hard on the leash, just give a quick small tug downwards. Your goal is to train the dog with very light pressure commands.
Reward Version: A reward trainer will just reward the fastest response for down. This can get a dog to down very quickly as well. If the dog is food motivated this can be a good method.
After your dog understands Down with you close up you will want to begin doing distance commands. See the article on Distance Commands.
Put your dog on leash and have someone stand on the leash or tie the dog up (dogs seem to prefer when someone is standing on the leash instead of being tied up but they can learn to be good with it. If you are alone work on your stay command first. This will associate good things with being tied up. Then you can go back to training distance commands).
Training distance commands first in a low distraction area will make it much easier for your dog to understand their commands when you increase distractions such as going outside. Even if your dog understands their commands from a distance inside you will likely need to go right back close to your dog and even lure them with food once you have increased distractions. Even if you so much as play back the sound of dogs barking in your house on your stereo that may be enough of an increase in distraction that you will have to practice closer to your dog.
We like to train dogs to do Sits and Downs to about 250 meters. That way anything 100 meters and less seems very easy to the dog.
Introducing Leash Pressure
To proof up down and make it easier for the dog to get it right in higher distractions you can start to incorporate leash pressure downwards to mean down as well. This is how you teach that:
1. Once the dog has an understanding of down with a hand signal you will then pull down on the leash with your foot with a bit of pressure and give the command to down. As soon as the dog downs you will then release that pressure and praise.
2. Repeat many times until you can pull down on the leash gently and the dog will down.
This becomes very handy for higher distractions as you now have a physical way to communicate down with your dog. If you just give a verbal cue or use a treat you may find that you could say “down” a hundred times or have a piece of steak in front of them and they still will not down.
Problems to Encounter
Down Standing Hand Command
Start by standing, bent over and hold your hand an inch or two off the ground.
Now start with standing hand signal then go to nose level.
Start at the top and go to nose level again.
A little higher this time, right around nose level.
Now fully upright.