Training a dog to lay down is one of the most fundamental commands a pet owner can master. Not only does it allow you to calm and control your dog in any situation, but it is also the foundation to more complex tricks such as “roll over” and “bang”.
What You’ll Need
To train a dog to lay down, you’ll need:
- A pocket full of treats
- Ample space free from distraction
- Time, preferably ten-minute sessions over a few weeks
How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
Step One: Train Your Dog to Sit
Training a dog to lay down is much easier to accomplish when he’s seated. Follow this process to get your dog to sit:
- Move to your dog’s eye level, whether on the floor or in a chair.
- Hold a treat near his nose until his eyes lock onto it.
- Move your hand into the air so his eyes, and head, follow. His rear should lower as his head follows the treat.
- Once his rear hits the ground, give him the treat and praise him.
Repeat this step over time, introducing the verbal “Sit” command as he gets more comfortable.
Step Two: Bait Your Dog to Follow the Treat
Once your dog is in a seated position you can begin the process of guiding him to lay down.
- Hold a treat just one inch above your dog’s nose and allow him to sniff it.
- With his eyes focused on the treat, move your hand toward the ground two inches in front of his feet.
- Your dog’s nose should be close to your hand the entire time. If he moves it away, say “nope!” or “nuh-uh!” and stand up to take the treat away. This acts as a mild punishment by moving the reward out of reach.
Repeat this step a few more times until he can focus on the treat.
Step Three: Move the Treat to the Ground
Now that your dog is successfully following the treat, it’s time to move it—along with his body—to the ground.
- Once your dog is able to focus on and follow the treat all the way to the ground, move the treat slowly away from his feet.
- Your dog should then lie down. A dog is considered down on the ground when his rear and elbows hit the ground.
- The moment his elbows touch the ground, praise him accordingly and lavish him with several treats on the ground. It’s important to place the treats on the ground to create positive association with this position.
- Before he gets up, praise him again.
Practice Steps One through Three over a few days until your dog is comfortable with these commands. Start to introduce the verbal “Down” command when he hits the ground to associate this movement with the word. You may also find it useful to introduce a release command, such as “Okay!” after feeding him the treat.
Step Four: Focus on the Verbal Command
So your dog is accustomed to following your voice, and your hand, in order to lay down. Congratulations—you did it! Now it’s time to focus solely on your voice.
Repeat Steps One through Three speaking out the verbal commands before you move your hand. Reward your dog once he is completely down on the ground.
After several rounds of practice, your dog will expect to see your hand move, following the verbal command. Remove the hand signals completely and just wait a few seconds after saying “Sit” and “Down”. Your dog might take a few seconds thinking about what to do. If he seems confused, use the proper hand motion and try again.
Once your dog moves to the ground without using the hand signals you can start to focus on performance. Offer better treats for faster response times. And don’t forget to lavish on the praise!
What Not to Do
The most important thing to remember is to never force your dog down on the ground. It may seem natural to push your dog into position, but this could lead him to lose trust in you—or even to become aggressive.
Although training a dog to lay down can be difficult, remember that this is also great bonding time for you and your pup. Have a good time with it, and your dog is sure to respond. If you find yourself getting stressed out, break the process down into small steps over several days. Enjoy yourselves!