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Your dog may be small but he's full of character, which manifests itself as running to greet visitors and jumping up. Normally this isn't too much of a problem, but you are concerned because some elderly neighbors are due to visit and you're worried the dog will scratch their legs.
A dog-owning friend suggested it's a good idea to teach the dog to lay down on command. That way, when the dog starts to run for the door, you could command the dog to lay down. You like this plan because it could also stop the dog running out and getting hit by a passing vehicle.
However, you quickly learn that good ideas are all very well, but teaching a small lively dog to lay down is not as easy as it at first sounds. Not only is the dog energetic and easily distracted, but he's so physically small that he doesn't seem to naturally spend time laying down in the same way big dogs do. Teaching him is an uphill task.
Teaching a dog to lay down on command is a valuable skill. While the dog is in the down position, this prevents the dog from running away or getting into other trouble. It can also be combined with other commands so that the dog learns to go and lay down on a mat some distance from the door, hence allowing visitors to enter without the dog escaping.
Any dog over the age of 8 - 12 weeks can start to learn how to lay down. Reward-based training methods use treats to lure the pup into performing the desired action, so he voluntarily offers certain actions on command in order to earn a treat. Once the dog is regularly obeying the command, you can start phasing out the treats and use voice praise and fuss alone as motivation, interspersed with the occasional treat to keep him interested.
To teach this command you will need:
- A collar and leash
- A cushion on which to sit
- A treat bag to wear on your belt
The Down Under Method
Understand the idea
Small dogs can be difficult to train to lay down because the dog is already low to the ground and it's difficult to be sure what they're doing. The "Down Under" method lures the dog with a treat, under a low object, such as your outstretched legs (when sitting on the ground). This way the dog has to lie down to pass under the low object and you can use this to train 'lie down'.
Have the dog on a leash
If the dog is likely to get distracted and run off, keep him on a collar and leash so that you can prevent this.
Sit on the floor
Wearing jeans or pants, make yourself comfortable sitting on the floor. Perhaps support your back against a wall and sit on a cushion with your legs straight out in front of you. Raise your knees slightly, say 6 - 9 inches off the ground, depending on the size of your dog.
Lure the dog with a treat
Show the dog a tasty treat and engage his interest by holding it near to his nose. Slowly move the treat so that the dog follows it. Pass the treat beneath your knees, passing it from one hand to the other as you find most comfortable.
Encourage the dog to crawl beneath Your Knees
Continue to lure the dog with the treat, such that he has to lay flat on his belly to follow it under your knees. As soon as he is lying down, give the 'down' command and reward him with the treat.
As the dog gets the idea, raise your knees slightly so that the laying down becomes a voluntary action rather than forced through necessity. Once the dog is offering the 'down' in this way, you can try the command without using your legs as a prop.
The Lure With a Treat Method
Understand the idea
By using a treat and moving it in a certain way, you can encourage a small dog to lay down without applying any pressure to their delicate body. Once the dog is in the down position you label the action with the 'down' command and reward the dog.
Choose a comfortable place to train
Make sure both you and the dog are comfortable and can interact fully. In these early stages, you don't want to be standing at your full height with the dog on the floor, as this will make you distant to the dog and make things more difficult. Instead, either sit or kneel on the floor, or place the dog on a low table covered with a non-slip mat.
Get the dog's attention with a treat
Hold the treat near the dog's nose, so he can smell it but not eat it. Have the dog 'sit' (if he doesn't yet know this command, lure him with the treat, moving it in an arc above his head).
Lure the dog to lie down
With the dog sitting (this stops him walking backward), hold the treat close to his brisket so that his nose points downward to try and get it. Keep moving the treat down, traveling it towards the floor. The dog should follow it with his nose and lay down, as this is the easiest position for him to get access to the treat.
Label the position 'down'
Once the dog's belly is in contact with the ground, label the action as "down" and let him have the treat. Keep practicing. Eventually, the dog will anticipate that "Down" means laying down and will offer this behavior in order to earn a treat.
The What NOT to Do Method
Do NOT use force
Small dogs have delicate bones and even more delicate spines. Never apply force to the dog's rear end (or any other part of his body) in order to force him to lay down.
Do NOT punish the dog
If the dog is slow to catch on or seems willfully disobedient, do not punish him. To do so will only make him wary of you, and could well cause him distress and loss of trust. Instead, know that you are probably the one at fault for not showing the dog clearly enough what you want him to do.
Don't overtire the dog
Keep your training sessions relatively short, and stop before the dog starts to lose concentration. Around ten minutes per session is a good average time. Avoid long sessions as the dog will get tired and start making mistakes.
Don't only train in one place
Teaching a dog to lay down in one spot is all very well, but the command is only useful when you can get the dog to lay down on command, no matter where he is. To do this, practice in different locations, so the dog learns to focus on what you are saying, rather than linking the action to one specific location
Don't end on a bad note
If the dog is struggling then bring the session to a close. However, always end on a positive note, with a command the dog knows and can do, so that you can reward him and leave things in a positive frame of mind.
By Pippa Elliott
Published: 11/29/2017, edited: 01/08/2021