Teaching a Large Dog “Down”
Teaching a large dog to lie down on cue can be challenging, especially during the early stages. If a large dog becomes easily excited, teaching him this behavior can really test someone’s abilities and patience. Check out two different ways to teach a large dog to lie down without putting your hands on your dog.
2 Ways to Teach a Large Dog to Lie Down
You should teach a large dog how to lie down first before adding a verbal or visual cue. It’s important to remain completely quiet when teaching this behavior, as chitter-chatter can slow down the learning process. As a general rule, it’s best to silently teach and reward the behavior. Once a dog readily offers the behavior, then it’s time to add a cue.
What You’ll Need
You’ll need lots of chunk-sized high value treats the size of a nickel as well as a clicker (or verbal marker, such as “yes”). Do not use your hands to teach a large dog “down.” Pushing or pulling teaches your dog nothing—it’s an outdated process anyway. Using hands or hand pressure will eventually make that a cue to your dog that’s impossible to fade. Plus, it’s hard to ask a dog to lie down from across a room if your cue is hand pressure.
Option 1: Using a Food Lure
With treats in a bowl nearby, grab a large treat lure and place it right on the tip of your dog’s nose. If he tries to bite at the treat, hold it in your closed hand with a bit peeking out (like holding a piece of chalk when writing on a blackboard). Think of the food lure like a magnet; as you move the treat around, your dog’s nose will follow.
Lower the Front Half
Have your large dog either sit or stand. Place the treat lure on your dog’s nose and slowly lower your hand straight down to the ground. If you move too fast, your dog will fall off the lure, meaning his nose is no longer on the lure.
Try again, and lower the treat down slowly and wait for your dog’s head to touch the ground. The moment your dog lowers his front half down, click or say “yes” and give him the treat lure. Practice 3-4 more times, and end the session for 5-10 minutes.
Lower the Bottom Half
At this point, your dog is in a praying position. He will readily lower his front half to the ground while following a treat. Now, it’s time to teach his bottom half to follow. Grab a large treat lure, lower it straight down to the ground and wait for your dog to lower his bottom half.
As soon as he crouches down where his bottom lowers down some, click and give him the treat. If your dog pops back up into a sit or stand position, it’s no big deal. Just place the food lure on his nose and try again. Continue practicing, so he gets lower and lower to the ground. Practice 4-5 more times, then end the session for 5-10 minutes.
Get Elbows Down
Grab a treat and lure your dog’s nose to the ground. Wait for your dog to lie completely down (elbows touching the ground). The moment his elbows touch the ground, click and give him the treat lure. Continue practicing and only reward complete “downs.” Remember, no visual or verbal cue has been added yet. If your dog remains lying down (smart dog!), reset him by tossing the treat about four feet away from him, so he must get up to eat the treat.
Option 2: Capturing the Behavior
For easily excited dogs, capturing a “down” behavior is much easier than luring with treat rewards. Grab pea-sized treats, a clicker (or use a verbal marker, such as “yes”) and your dog, then head to the bathroom. If your dog is hesitant to enter the bathroom, toss a few treats to convince him it’s not bath time. Once inside, close the door and have a seat (you can multitask during this practice session 🙂 ).
Just sit and wait. Your dog will eventually lie down. The moment his elbows touch the ground, click or say “yes,” and toss his treat about six feet away from his front legs. You should toss it far enough, so he must stand up to get the treat. Now, wait for him to lie down again and repeat. Your dog will immediately lie back down and look at you for a treat. Bingo! If this happens, immediately click and reward!
Practice Makes Perfect
Continue practicing the “down” behavior for 1 minute 2-3 times per day. If you captured the behavior, wait for your dog to lie down and click/reward immediately. Once a dog training session is over, put all unused treats in the refrigerator for your next session. Put your clicker in a drawer too. This signals to your dog that the training session is over.
If your dog lies down on his own after a session has ended, you can reward with praise or ignore. This will become much easier once your dog learns the “down” cue.
The Next Step
Once your dog will readily offer or lure in a “down” behavior, it’s time to add a verbal or visual cue. Watch the video below to learn how to add a cue to the “down” behavior.