Down is an invaluable tool. It is especially useful in situations when you need the dog to immediately settle and relax in difficult or arousing situations. Teaching a Down is straightforward, but practicing it successfully in different types of situations is harder. The key to a solid Down and Down-Stay is to teach it in ways that make the dog think and excited to learn.
1. Teach the Down position.
- Hold a treat in a closed fist. Place it on the ground.
- Mark/reward for any behavior that looks like a Down: i.e. head low to the ground, bent elbows, shifting the weight back, etc. Continue marking/rewarding successive behaviors to "shape" a full Down.
- Eventually, only mark/reward a full Down.
2. Add a verbal cue.
- Once the dog flops into a full Down, say the word "Down" before making the hand motion for Down.
3. Incorporate it into focused loose-leash walking.
- After you've mastered "Down" with a verbal and/or physical cue, incorporate it into loose-leash walks. This is similar to Automatic Sits.
- Start walking briskly. Then, immediately stop and give the cue for "Down". Reward. Then take another few brisk steps. Then, immediately stop and cue for "Down". Reward. Repeat again!
4. Now, practice fast and automatic Downs in all situations.
- Incorporate it into your daily walks.
- Practice it in a different neighborhood.
- Practice it in a business district.
- Practice it in any and every dog-friendly business, home, or area.
5. Down-Stay is just an extension of a simple Down.
- To teach Down-Stay, simply feed the dog a steady stream of treats while he's in a Down.
- Over time, you can increase the length of time between the treats. Eventually, you will only need to reward the Down-Stay sporadically.