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Teaching down

For teaching down, one of the most important things we can advice is to make the command “happy” and encourage the dog to really enjoy obeying you. Mainly remember what we always say: have fun with your dog !

To explain more: with Capri we used a deep, commanding voice and if she did not obey the command, we gently pushed her down. Therefore the command has never been a “fun” one for her, more of a necessity. She knows she
has to obey, even though she doesn’t always want to. She goes down very slowly and at times seems a bit annoyed at us.

With Vera, we wanted to encourage her to really enjoy obeying the “down” command and thus never touched her while she was learning (petting and belly scratches excluded). We wanted her to obey out of her own will. We used a happier voice and lots of treats and positive encouragement. Now Vera goes down like lightning with her tail wagging and the “down” command is associated with fun-treats-fun-treats-fun-fun-fun.

It is much more rewarding to watch Vera obey the “down” command than Capri, who does not get as much pleasure from obeying us with this particular command.

So, the best advice we can give is never force the dog to go down but always make it fun and use lots of positive encouragement.

For teaching down, there are a few tricks.

Trick 1:

1. The easiest way to teach down is to crouch down in front of the puppy with a smelly treat in your closed hand.

2. Place the treat on floor level in front of the puppy and keep your hand closed around the treat.
-The puppy will try and get to the treat in your hand. He may gnaw a bit, lick it, or try and get it with his paws, but do not give in: keep the fist closed.
-In the process of trying to get the treat, the puppy will often lie down on the ground so that he has easier access to licking/gnawing/pawing your hand (so that his neck is not at an awkward angle)

3. When the puppy lies down, say “down” and give the treat.
-You can keep saying “down, good boy, down” while the dog lies on the ground eating the treat.
-The idea is to associate the sound “down” with the end result of the puppy on the ground, so in the beginning it does not matter if you repeat the command a few times. However, stop repeating as soon as the puppy knows what the sound “down” means. You don’t want the dog to learn that “down-good boy-down-down” is the command and not just “down”.


4. When the puppy knows what is expected you can place the treat on the ground, and the second the puppy starts to lie down, move the treat a bit further away, so that the puppy has to lie on the ground
before he gets the treat. Reward the puppy as soon as he goes down. Only use one command. And remember to use a happy voice and be very excited when the puppy obeys you.

When the dog knows the command really well, you don’t need to crouch down. We have a hand signal associated with the “down” command (front finger pointing to the ground), so we use the signal and say with a happy voice “down” and the dog flops on the ground as quickly as she can, knowing that she did a great job and praise is on the way.

Once your dog sort of knows what is expected from the "down", change it into a more exciting game.

Play with your dog, then run a few steps away from him, crouch down (with treat in hand and hand on ground) and say ”down”. Once your dog hits the ground, immediately open your hand to give the treat and praise a lot (sounding like it's the best thing in the world!), get up, run a few steps further (letting your dog chase you), crouch down quickly again with the "down" command. The second he's down, run and play with him. Continue like this for a while (but stop before he gets too tired to run after you).

The point of the exercise is to praise the
movement rather than the end position. By playing this quick up, run, down, up, run, down -game, your dog will learn to do an instant down (as after the quick down he gets the praise and fun), rather than always taking his/her time going down (as he'll learn that it doesn't really matter how long it takes as long as the end position is correct). So if you're planning to compete, or just show off your dog's really quick, fun, and fast down - train it with the play-game :-).

Note to when you praise the dog, it's supposed to be a fun game, so you can speak and encourage the dog to follow you (like you would normally when you play together), as long as you do give a distinct command. By a distinct command, I don't mean a shout, but take a second or two before and after you say the fun "down" command. And don't stop to pet your dog on the head in this game, rather try and get him more and more enthousiastic by for example petting him relatively hard on his sides, as you would in a normal wrestle with your dog.

Trick 2:

If the above instructions did not work, there is another thing you can try. We have never actually really tried this but we learnt the technique at a waterwork camp a couple of years ago.

1. Crouch down as the picture “You” in the picture below with a treat in your hand.
-The idea is to make the space under your leg so small that the dog has to crouch down as well to get the treat.

2. Show the treat to the puppy and guide it under your leg.
-The puppy will follow the treat and in the process lie down to get closer to the treat.

3. As soon as the puppy starts to lie down, give the command and the treat. Praise the dog a lot.



(c) Salmelin