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There are just a few different methods for training down. The three main ones are:

  1. Reward - Using food to lure the dog into down.

  2. Force - Pulling down on the leash or pushing down on the dog’s shoulders.

  3. Capturing - When the dog downs on their own praise and reward them.

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) - Make sure your dog is tired enough that they naturally want to down. You don't want them bouncing off the walls for this.

2. A to B Rule - Start by luring your dog and work to upright positions and then begin distance training (Super Proofing).

Beginning Training

To teach down, using a food reward to start is easiest.

  1. With the dog in the sitting position first is easiest. Lure a piece of kibble from dog’s nose straight down to the ground (sometimes it helps to lure down toward their front paws).

  2. Do this lure slowly. Make sure their nose is staying in contact with your luring hand. The dog will tend to crouch down and then you can lure the kibble on the floor away from the dog. This often gets the dog to lay down.

  3. If your dog is on a slippery floor you can sometimes lure the food towards their paws once they have crouched down from following the kibble from their nose in a sit. This will sometimes cause the dog to slide into a down where their back end slides out.

  4. Small or energetic dogs may be quick to stand when trying to lure down. First confirm these items: Is the dog too hyper? If yes exercise more. Does the dog have little to no hair on their belly and if so are you trying to make them down on a cool floor? If yes try using carpet or a rug as this makes a big difference.

    Otherwise we find it is best if you sit on the floor and extend your legs out in front of you. Lift your knees up so your legs are bent thus creating a tunnel for your dog to go through. Take some kibble and lure the dog under your legs. By having to crawl some dogs will go into a down. When the dog does go down, reward immediately and lots.

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.

  1. You began by luring the dog into a down with kibble.
  2. As the dog understands step one you will lure them into a down but have your hand a couple inches above the ground as you lure them down.
  3. Work your way a bit higher with the command a few inches at a time until the dog downs from a standing hand signal.
  4. It is often easiest to go from luring to the ground to a fully upright hand signal in one step. A lot of dogs will make the connection that quickly. This is done according to Speed Reading Rules which is a part of the A to B Rule.
  5. Introduce the verbal command “down” once the dog will down right away with a hand signal. Say “down” and then follow with the hand signal. Praise and reward when the dog goes down. Repeat this a few times. Then say “down” and wait a few seconds before giving the hand signal. The dog will start to learn that the verbal command “down” means the same thing as the hand signal.

Proofing Down

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.

Distance Commands

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

  • Dog is hyper, jumping up, squirming a lot - Exercise the dog a bit first. Check out the article on Core Rule: Energy Spectrum - Hyper vs Tired.
  • Dog is not too hyper but still jumps up a lot - Commonly when people lure the dog into a down with food they move their hand on an angle away from the dog. This can cause them to stand. Make sure you lure straight down to the ground and then move your hand out.
  • Dog nips constantly at the hand - See the article on Nipping.
  • Dog is getting frustrated - Sometimes it helps to take a break by playing a game of fetch or tug. You may also want to work on something that requires higher energy or lower energy according to the Energy Spectrum.

Luring to Down - Most common and easiest method

Down lure 1 Down lure 2 Down lure 3 Down lure 4 Down lure 5

Small or Energetic Dogs - If the above method doesn’t work, try this

Down lure under leg 1 Down lure under leg 2 Down lure under leg 3 Down lure under leg 4 Down lure under leg 5 Down lure under leg 6 Down lure under leg 7 Down lure under leg 8 Down lure under leg 9

Down Standing Hand Command

Start by standing, bent over and hold your hand an inch or two off the ground.

Down standing command 1 Down standing command 2 Down standing command 3 Down standing command 4 Down standing command 5 Down standing command 6 Down standing command 7 Down standing command 8 Down standing command 9

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.

Down standing command 10 Down standing command 11 Down standing command 12 Down standing command 13 Down standing command 14 Down standing command 15 Down standing command 16 Down standing command 17 Down standing command 18 Down standing command 19 Down standing command 20

Leash Pressure for Down

Down leash pressure 1 Down leash pressure 2 Down leash pressure 3 Down leash pressure 4 Down leash pressure 5