Our dogs are geniuses. The simple fact that they can read our minds is a gift in itself. In fact, how many of us could hear the same word over and over again and decipher that it means all different actions. Yes…we are talking about the word “down”.
How often do you hear yourself saying to your dog – “get down from there”, “lie down” or “sit down”. We expect each of these requests to be met with compliance. We expect our dogs to stop sniffing at the counters with the same word we use to ask them to lie down beside us. In fact, some dog owners think their dogs are so clever that they will simply figure out if we mean they should go into a down, or instead just sit. Very clever indeed.
For most dogs, it is luck of the draw and many of them keep their fingers crossed that they are doing the right thing. In fact, a lot of dogs do get it right. These are usually older, experienced dogs that have learned to not only listen to us, but to take into account the situation at the moment. As they stand with their nose in the family dinner on the counter, and hear the word “down”, their most likely assumption is to stop what they are doing, not to lie down. Wouldn’t it be easier to say what we mean and mean what we say when we are teaching our dogs? Let’s use one word per action to make things more clear to our dogs.
When teaching the word “down” we will assume it means lie down, not get off me. To do this, the use of a lure is commonly used and still a great technique. Have your pup in a sit and put a treat very close to his nose. Draw the treat directly down to his toes while he watches. His head should be tilted down at this stage. As your pup follows the treat, slowly draw it out from his toes along the floor and he should end up lying on the floor. As soon as there is no space under his belly and his elbows are flat, mark this behaviour with a click or a “yes” and let him have the treat. Repeat a few times and as soon as he is catching on, you can start to say the word “down”.
Keep in mind that there is never any reason to force your dog into a down by pushing them from their back or by using a leash under your foot. It is easy to teach this with a reward and equally as easy to wean them off once they understand what you are asking. Teach rather than force is always the best solution.
The next stage for our clever pups is to try to outsmart us. Once they get the hang of lying down for a reward, they try to wait us out. As soon as your pup understands the action of lying down, start to delay the presentation of the treat. Still mark the action with a click or yes, but don’t present the treat immediately. By delaying the treat, your pup will learn to hold this position for longer. By using the word “stay” in conjunction with the word “down”, you will soon be able to leave your dog on his mat while you calmly eat your dinner. An exciting concept for most dog parents.
It is always a joy to see dogs out in public in a down/stay. When I go into my bank, I take my dogs and ask them to lie down in the corner, where I can keep an eye on them. The comments are of delight and amazement. Many comments from the public include the word “wish”. I smile as I hear “I wish my dog would do that”. As we all know, it is not about wishing, it is about action and teaching a stable down. Asking your dog to hold that position requires practice and patience but it is always worth the effort.
K9 COACH GILLIAN RIDGEWAY
is the Director of Who’s Walking Who Dog Training Centres in Toronto and Ajax, Ontario. She has been featured on many radio and television programs and penned a monthly column in Dogs in Canada Magazine for nine years. Gillian is also a guest lecturer at the University of Toronto, using dogs to shed light on learning theory to psychology students. She shares her home with two dogs, and is involved in dog sports and canine performance teams.