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Teaching a Dog to Lie Down
Teaching a dog to lie down is not easy and needs a lot of patience. To do this, you need to make the dog...
Here are some ways to achieve this:
Catch them in the act
A simple way to get them to associate a command word with the required action. Dogs lie down as a position of rest, so all you need to do is to say 'down' or whatever word you see them starting to lie down. Other popular commands are 'lie', 'flat' and 'there'.
A way to encourage this is to sit down somewhere and start to do something like read a book. Your dog may want to come and lie down next to you. When it starts to lie down, say 'down'. Then 'good dog' when it completes its action.
The right place
Teach them in a place where they will not be distracted by other things going on. Also teach them where they feel safe and attentively relaxed. Avoid places where they may be uncomfortable lying down, for example on a cold tiled or rough stony floor. A soft, carpeted floor or a rug may well be more comfortable for them.
Start with sit
Teach the dog to sit first. Then get the dog to sit before encouraging it to lie down. Sitting is a natural and non-threatening position for the dog and is often a precursor to lying down.
Beware of the dog associating 'down' as always following 'sit'. When they get the idea about lying down after sitting, teach them to go down on one command. Also if they lie down when you want them to sit (or just lie down when they realize you have food), only reward them for following the command, not pre-empting it (no matter how cutely they do it!).
Luring means moving the treat in the direction you want the dog to move.
Reduce the angle
You may be able to help the dog feel a bit safer if you get down to their level, or at least lower than standing there, towering over them. In this, you can try:
Make it a game
Dogs will sometimes 'play bow' when they want to play, lowering the front part of their body. Say 'down' when they do this and encourage them to go fully down. Make this a part of the game, for example not throwing the ball until they are completely lying down.
Place the reward so they have to lie down
Put the food somewhere they have to lie down to get, for example under a chair. In the 'leg tunnel' method, sit down with your back against a wall and hold the treat under your legs so they have to lie down to get to the food.
You can help them move towards lying down with shaping, but only ever use gentle pressure. A way to do this includes holding your hand above their shoulder, so when they begin to move down, they cannot get up again until they lie down. If they resist, do not make it a fight. The dog should not think you are pushing them -- rather, they should just feel it easier to move in one direction rather than another.
By and large, it is better to avoid physical moving them if at all possible. If you are tempted to this, first revisit the methods you are using and perhaps add some more patience and time.
Repeat in short bursts
If you can, do this 10 or so times in a row. Keep training sessions short, for only around five minutes. Do this two or three times a day, at times when the dog is more likely to be attentive and interested in food. When teaching them to lie down, focus just on this one task.
Add hand signal
When they are getting the idea, you can add a hand signal. Typically this is a palm facing towards the ground. You can hold the reward between your fingers in this hand so they pay attention to it. Later, you can move the reward to the other hand as you start to phase it out. Start with an obvious signal, then gradually reduce it until a wrist-flick is enough.
Vary where and when
When they are comfortable lying down, get the dog used to lying down on command anywhere and at any time. If you have been training indoor (often a good start place), go into another room, go outdoors, go out of the house area. Eventually they will be able to lie down anywhere, reliably, on command.
Use it as a calming command
When they are fully trained, use 'down' as a command to calm them when they are excited about something, such as having dinner or going for a walk. Now, instead of bouncing around the place, they know that lying down will get them to a wonderful reward more quickly.
Add 'stay' and 'up' commands
When they are lying down, teach them to 'stay' down for increasingly long periods, and only get up when you give the 'up' command. Give a reward for obeying these commands.
Lying down is a typical precursor to having the dog stay in one position. It is useful for keeping them in one place, and consequently away from other places. As such, it can effectively be a 'no', a preventative command.
Dogs do not like lying down because being lower is a position of inferiority. Dogs are hierarchical and need to know where they stand relative to other dogs (and people are often seen as kind of honorary dogs). They want to know who's the boss and who must always give way. When dogs meet and one lies down, it is often an indication of submission.
In the inverse, dogs like being higher up, standing at the top of the stairs, on a rock or otherwise being above others. While this means they can leap down and attack, they seldom want to do this. It is more about feeling safe and comfortable. They may even think it is a bit of fun being higher up for a change.
In other words, if lying down makes the dog feel less safe, if you want them to do so at command, you need to make sure they feel comfortable with you. Imagine the view of you from a dog's position. You are huge. They have to crane their necks just to see your face. Lying down makes you look even higher.
As with training the dog to do other things, you need to be consistent and help them to want to obey.
The word 'down' naturally is said in a lower pitch (due to the 'ow' sound). This can sound like scolding to a fearful dog. If this seems likely, try another word like 'lie'. Try to avoid a complex sequence of words, such as 'lie down', that could confuse your dog.