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First the good news: your dog already knows how to lie down. In fact, he probably does it all the time. Now the bad news: this may be one of the more challenging commands for your dog to learn, but with patience and a large supply of his favorite treats, you can overcome the challenge.
Dogs who know how to lie down on command are far more welcome in public places and can be a lot more enjoyable to have at home. One thing to keep in mind, especially when you have a high-energy dog, it takes far more energy to stand up from the down position and most dogs will remain lying down on their own once they learn the command.
The command most people use to teach their dog to lie down is simply one word, "down" or depending on the situation "Go lie down". However, the latter is used mostly at home to get the dog to go somewhere else before he lies down. The most important thing to remember is that you are not just teaching your dog to lie down, you are teaching him a vital skill that will keep him out of trouble and out of the way of other people he is around. It is also a good command for him to know when you take him out in public places such as outdoor cafés and parks.
Teaching your dog to lie down from standing can be more difficult than teaching 'down' from a sitting position, when your dog is more likely to be focused and somewhat relaxed already. It can take several months of regular training sessions before your dog obeys the command every time you give it.
The big thing here is perseverance. Of all the things your dog needs to learn, being told to lie down is probably going to be one of his least favorite as it locks him in place until he is told to get up. While most dogs spend a large portion of their lives lying down, most don't really like being told they have to--in much the same way as a child doesn't want to be told to go take a nap. You can, of course, teach any age dog to do this, but the younger you start the faster your pup will learn.
Much like any other command you are trying to teach your pup to obey, you need a nice quiet and distraction-free area to work in at first. This way your dog's attention is focused on you and the commands you are giving and nothing else. The presence of other people or animals may be the most common distractions, but even "background noise" can make it tough to focus, like street traffic, the sound of children playing, lawn mowers, and the list goes on. Try to choose a time of day when it is quiet and start training indoors rather than outside as there is likely to be fewer distractions. As with any other command you are trying to teach your pup, always use a firm "no nonsense" voice to ensure he knows you mean business and expect him to comply. Be ready with plenty of praise and have a large supply of his favorite treats to reward your dog when he gets it right.
The Treat Method
Standing positions, please
With your pup in a standing position, hold a treat near his nose and say "Down" or your particular command word.
Lower your hand
Lower you hand, holding the treat, to the floor to lure your pooch down.
Follow the treat
If you are lucky, your pup will lie down so he can get to the treat. If he does so, praise him and give him his well-earned treat.
What if he doesn't lie down?
If he doesn't lie down, keep your hand over the treat on the floor and give him a couple of minutes to see if he figures out what you expect. Chances are good he will do so soon. When he does, heap praise on him and let him have his treat.
If he still won't lie down, repeat the process several more times until he does. Repeat this training until he will lie down on command without the need for a treat, but always be ready to let him know he's a good boy when he does.
The Shoulder Press Method
Standing positions first
Start with your dog in the standing position and command him to sit.
Kneel down next to him and place a hand on his shoulders.
Use gentle pressure
Now while applying gentle pressure, give the command, "Down". You may have to gently scoop his front legs out from underneath him at first to help him get the idea.
Once he complies
Once he lies down, praise him and give him a treat.
Practice regularly, gradually reducing the guidance and pressure you're providing, but still ending with a treat when he gets it right.
Skip the 'sit'
When he is consistently lying down from the sitting position, begin to give the command while your dog is still standing. You may need to give a gentle tap or light pressure on his shoulders as a reminder.
Rinse and repeat
Rinse and repeat as necessary until he will go from standing to lying down when you give the command. Be prepared to continue this training for a while.
The Lead & Lure Method
Starting positions, please
Starting with your dog in the standing position on your left side.
Keep a treat in your right hand and hook a couple of fingers through his collar.
Command and lure
Slowly lower the treat while giving the "Down" command and gently guide down with his collar.
If he lies down, praise him and give him the treat.
Continue to practice this several times in a row over the course of several days or weeks, gradually reducing both the lead and the lure until he will lie down from the standing position.
By PB Getz
Published: 02/21/2018, edited: 01/08/2021