Imagine your favorite dog walk passes a quaint, sidewalk cafe. Many times you think about stopping for a refreshing drink and a puppuccino for your four-legged friend, but you don't. What holds you back is knowing there's no way the dog will behave and sit quietly for that length of time. An image plays in your head of tying the leash to a table, only to have the dog take off with the table clattering after him down the street.
Instead, think what it would be like if the dog had an impeccable ‘Drop’. With a simple hand signal and a firm "Drop" command, he lies down on the ground and waits. Of course, being in a lying position means he's comfortable and halfway to settling down for a snooze while you enjoy that drink.
The difference between the two scenarios is the ‘down’ command. Teach your dog to do this on command and life becomes much easier.
"Down" has many uses. Lying down is a comfortable position for a dog, which makes it a great command when he needs to stay still for a prolonged period of time.
Each dog is an individual and some learn ‘down’ very quickly. Conversely, some dogs seem to find the idea difficult to grasp and act as if the ground is red-hot when asked to drop down. If this is the case, be prepared to be patient and work with the dog to learn each step of the ‘down’ process before challenging him with the next part.
It also helps if you have everything going in your favor, such as providing a comfortable surface to lie on and by starting out in a quiet environment with few distractions. But don't forget, you can backup your training by labeling a natural down (when the dog happens to be lying down and relaxed) by repeating "down" in a firm but happy voice. This goes some way to building a mental bridge between the word and what's expected.
Use reward-based training methods, which means encouraging the desired action and then rewarding it with treats. In the case of a failed ‘down’, do not punish the dog, but rather lure him back down and praise him.
It's helpful, but not essential, if the dog knows the ‘sit’ command already.
To get started you'll need:
Decide on the cue word such as "Drop" or "Down", and stick to it. Say the command in a firm but happy voice, so the dog knows he's expected to obey. Likewise, decide on a hand movement to trigger the action. A typical gesture is to either point at the ground or make as if to place your palm on the floor.