It seems like a simple cue, after all dogs lie down naturally. However, the “lie down” can actually be one of the most frustrating behaviors to teach. While dogs do lie down naturally, for some reason as soon as you are standing in front of them wanting them to do it, they have no inclination to do so!
The best thing in the world would be if your dog would offer to lie down in front of you, repeatedly, so you could just mark it – but that does not happen often.
Here are a few tricks to help get your dog to into the down position so you can mark it if you are having a hard time with the behavior.
Put your dog on a bed, couch, top of a stair, chair, etc. Anything that has a “drop” to the ground. Put a treat in your hand and lure your dog’s nose toward the edge – pulling the cookie straight down past the edge.
Most dogs will follow the cookie with their nose and when it goes past the edge, they will “fall” into a down on the platform. Just watch to make sure your dog doesn’t fly off the ledge instead. If they do, you may need to use another method. Once they are laying down without the lure, you can try to see if they will offer a down when not on the “platform” before adding the cue
2. Soft Surface
Some dogs, especially “bony” dogs like Italian greyhounds and Chihuahuas, do not like to lie down on a hard surface. If you have only been training on hard floors and your dog just won’t down, sometimes putting a pillow, dog bed, or even a blanket down can make a difference. Later, you will fade the object.
3. Under Something.
Another trick is to use a bench, chair, broomstick balanced on stool bars, etc., to create something that is just high enough that your dog cannot stand comfortable underneath it. Then, as they walk toward you and your cookie, they will naturally down to avoid the bar.
If refuse to go under, you may have the bar too low. If they just duck their head, it’s too high. If they are afraid of it, try another method.
You can also try using your own body. Sit on the floor or in a chair (depending on the size of your dog), with your legs up and out. Then lure dog under with a treat.
4. Tired Dog
If nothing is working, tire your dog out. I mean, really tired. Go for a long hike, play fetch for 30 minutes. Do whatever it is that usually knocks him out for a nap afterwards. Then, go home and wait for him to offer a down.
Note: with this method, you will have to do short training sessions, since your dog is going to be too tired to concentrate on anything for too long.
This is a more advanced way of teaching your dog down, but if you and he are both savvy, this could not only work for down, but open the doors for other tricks as well. You will need two dogs and two people for this. Have the other team start by saying a cue your dog knows already (like a nose touch). IF your dog also does the nose touch, he gets rewarded. Once your dog is immediately preforming a nose touch as soon as he sees the other dog do one, move onto another cue he knows.
Then test him with something easy that your dog does not know (a paw shake, stand, etc). If he has gotten the idea, then he should do the unknown behavior when the other dog does.
If so, you can now teach your dog to lie down via mimicry! Just have the other team do lie downs and reward your dog for following suit. When he is doing is fluidly, add the cue.
Watch for your dog to lie down whenever and immediately praise and reward (so keep those treats handy!)
When first working on lie down, don’t cue your dog to do a bunch of sits and then try to get him to lie down. These two cues are the ones most often confused by dogs, so doing a lot of the one he already knows first will just make it harder for him to go all the way down, he is going to want to sit instead.
Do you have other creative ways you taught your dog to lie down positively? Tell us in the comments!
About the Author
Based in Wilsonville, Ore., animal lover Kristina N. Lotz is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) and works as a full time trainer. She is the founder of A Fairytail House, a unique all-positive all-sport dog training facility that helps rescue dogs in her area and provides free seminars and training classes for the community. In her spare time, she trains and competes in herding, agility, obedience, rally, and conformation with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She smartly married a Veterinary Technician, who helps keep the fur kids happy and healthy, and provides a quick resource for articles.