Cheryl May's Basic Dog Obedience

Copyright by Cheryl May. May be reprinted without permission 1) if used in its entirety without editing; and 2) provided copyright notice remains in place.

Obedience -- The Down

The Puppy Down

Teaching the down is relatively simple. Deciding how to do so, and thinking about why you teach it the way you do, is more complex. First, let's go over the basics.

With a puppy, for example, teach the down from both a sit and from a standing position. Place the puppy so his rear end is up against a wall. Take your treat (make it a good one -- hot dog, Rollover, etc.) Show the puppy the treat and place it close to his nose. Move your hand from his nose down to his chest. Push the treat in toward his chest so he has to slump down to get the treat. Move your hand in an exaggerated "L" like the Lexus logo. Tell him "down" as he folds into the down position. You'll still want to teach the puppy to down using one of the following methods as well.

Why Place the Dog In A Down When He'll Do It On His Own?

You'll probably also want to teach the dog to down using some physical manipulation. The down is what trainers call a "socially significant exercise." It establishes you as the leader of your pack.

Physical Handling Important

So, the traditional, somewhat compulsive, ways to teach the down are still valid. If you know you can get your dog to down, give your command word. Always tell the dog what you want him to do before you expect him to do it. Dogs may be smart, but they can't read your mind! Dogs learn with repetition. Be patient, please.

Here are several methods to teach the down:
Method 1) Have the dog sit. From behind, reach around to the front of the dog, take one leg in each hand and place the dog in a down position as you say "down."

Method 2) Have the dog sit. Lift either the left or right paw. The dog is now slightly off balance. Push on the shoulder opposite the paw you are holding. Push the dog into a down as you say "down."

Method 3) Have the dog sit. You sit in front of the dog. Lift dog's front legs and lower him into a down as you give the command.

Practice placing the dog in a down and having him stay there with you while you both watch your favorite half hour TV show. Snuggling with your dog while you relax will improve your bond with your dog and will establish you as pack leader.

Two Downs -- Which One When?

Obedience trainers teach the sphinx down and the hip roll down. The theory is that a dog can get up quickly from the former and be comfortable and stay down with the latter. If you are interested in obedience competition, you'll need both downs for your competitive dog.

Problems With the Stay

Most stay problems result from progressing too quickly. To work on a sit-stay or a down-stay, you must first communicate to the dog that you want him to stay where you leave him. This means you must pay total attention to him every time you give the stay command.

Too often, people tell their dogs "stay" when they mean "wait around in this general area for a while until I call you." For the second, I use the word "wait." This distinguishes hanging out in the vicinity from the formal stay.

To begin teaching the stay, put the dog in a sit or down position and use your command word, "stay." Step to the front of the dog -- and no further. Reward after a few seconds. Give the treat while the dog remains in position and tell the dog "good stay." When I am starting to teach this exercise, I do not mind if I need to give a treat every few seconds. We want to reward success and enable the dog to do the exercise correctly. Release with an "OK" or "free" -- do not be too exuberant. You do not want the release to be more rewarding than staying. Gradually increase the length of time the dog stays.

There are three variables to the stay -- time, distance and distraction. Change any of these and it's a whole new exercise to the dog. Increase distance only after the dog is willing to stay for two minutes with you up close. When you change locations or increase distractions, move back in close and reduce the amount of time.

Give the dog the opportunity to be successful. I ask match judges to give my dogs treats about halfway through the long sit. This results in dogs who are looking at the judge and stewards with an expectant, happy expression. They know that someone might come and bring them a treat at any time. I try not to anthropomorphize too much, but I do imagine my dogs thinking, "Hey, someone I don't even know is going to bring me a cookie -- I wonder who it could be." They aren't fearful when someone walks past them because, hey, it could be the cookie person!

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