Everyone knows that having a calm, relaxed dog is easier said than done. They never seem to lay in one place when you really need them to. A great way to help your dog relax and settle down is by getting them into a down position on the ground. Teaching your dog how to lay down will give you the foundations for many future training commands and will help you avoid behaviors such as begging, jumping, and counter-surfacing while you’re making dinner.
To teach your dog to lay down, place a treat in front of their nose and gradually lower it to the ground. With their nose following the treat, your dog will lower their legs to reach the treat. This might look like a play bow position at first, but the second they lower themselves entirely down to the ground, say “Yes!” and offer them the treat.
The steps of teaching lay down are quite simple but there are a few issues that may arise during training such as your dog not wanting to stay in the down position or not wanting to follow the treat in your hand. I’ll tackle each of these areas as well as give you some helpful tips to troubleshoot so of the most common issues that happen when teaching lay down.
Teaching Lay Down
If you have already taught your dog sit, this may seem like that next trick to teach your dog. It’s important to note that while this may seem like a trick to show off, lay down is an important skill to build upon throughout your training. The down position will be fundamental to future commands such as “Place”, “Stay”, and “Settle”. Using a clicker for this particular command is also a good idea as it helps you mark the exact moment your dog enters the down position.
Begin by enticing your dog with a treat in your hand. Let them smell the treat and slowly lower the treat to the ground, all the while making sure their nose is close to your hand. It can be helpful to be kneeling on the ground to help you communicate to your dog that the floor is where you want their body to end up. The moment the dog has all four of their legs and their belly touching the ground, reward them immediately with a treat and saying the word “down”. Repeat this several times until your dog begins to associate the downward lure motion with a treat.
When working with your dog on the down position, make sure to pay attention to their read end and only provide rewards if they truly are resting on the floor. A lot of dogs have the tendency to “pop up” rather than settling into the full down position. To nip this before it becomes a habit, reward your dog only when they are fully down and give them the treat as close to the ground as possible. You can also place the treat in between their paws so that they remain focused on the ground.
Depending on your dog, they may be more or less willing to enter the “down position” as for some dogs, this can be vulnerable for them. A method I like to use for this is to have a training mat or dedicated rug that you use only for training sessions. This can help your dog understand your intentions for having them lay down and it doesn’t hurt to warm up a bit by practicing any commands that they may already know. I like to do a couple of “look at me” rounds and “sits” before getting into “lay down” work.
For dogs that are not as interested in traditional treats, you can use either a high value food such as lunch meat or their favorite toy to get them motivated to learn the new command. With the toy method, get your dog to hold on to the toy and hold it close to the ground. If they are tugging, gently pull them towards the ground with the toy. The second all of their legs are on the ground, reward them with “Yes!” and either give them a treat or begin vigorously playing with them with the toy.
Lay down is a valuable command for your dog to know as it creates a platform for a quiet, well-behaved dog. Consistently reinforcing lay down with treats and praise will reassure your dog that this is a good behavior that is worth repeating. Do not underestimate the power of this command as it is the true foundation for future obedience, no matter the environment you may find yourself in.