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You’ve got a lively and energetic puppy that you need to start drilling some obedience commands into. Before you can get him to ‘wait’ or ‘roll over’ though, you need to master the basic commands, such as ‘down.’ However, he’s somewhat on the large side for a puppy and you don’t want to add to his weight unnecessarily. You do need to find a way to train the basic commands whilst he’s young and receptive, though. Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can train him to perform down without the use of treats.
Getting this training right is important for the future of his training. Master the basics and further down the line you’ll be able to train him to flip over and even swim underwater. You’ll also find obedience training like this will cement your position as pack leader.
Normally, training your dog to perform ‘down’ isn’t too tricky, but that is with the use of tasty food to motivate him. Luckily, you can still train him to hit the ground without any mouth-watering treats. Instead, you’ll need to find other ways to motivate him, such as toys. Training will consist of initially getting him excited about the reward, whatever it may be. Then you’ll lead him through the trick and give him plenty of praise. If he’s an energetic puppy, training may prove successful in just a couple of days. If he’s older and not so keen on following instructions then you may need up to a week to fully master the ‘down.’
Succeeding with this training is more than simply getting him to lie down. It will help set the tone for how many other commands you’ll be able to teach him. So determination at this point will be rewarded further down the line.
Before you can get to work you’ll need to collect a few bits. First, invest in some new toys and a tennis ball that you can use to motivate him. For one of the methods, a clicker will also be needed.
Then you’ll need to set aside 5 minutes each day to dedicate to training. Consistency is key if you want quick results, so try and practice daily. You’ll also need a quiet place to train. A living room that doesn’t have people watching TV or chatting will be ideal. You want his attention solely on you.
With all of those boxes ticked, you can grab your canine pal and get to work!
The Toy Lure Method
Get him excited
Take a new toy and play around with it for a few minutes each day. Play tug of war and leave it in your dog's bed so it smells like him. Once he’s really excited by the mere sight of it, it's ready to play the incentive.
Kneel in front of him and hold the toy in your hand. Hold it in front of his face but make sure he can’t quite get to it. You want to capture his attention at this point and ensure his eyes are solely on you and the toy.
Issue the command in a clear but upbeat voice. You want to make it feel like one big game. The more fun he’s having the more keen he will be to play again. You can use any word or phrase you like, dogs can learn hundreds of different commands.
Once you’ve given the command, lead him to the ground with the toy. Move it slowly under his face so he has to come down to get it. The first few times, you may need to gently push his bottom down too.
Reward and practice
As soon as he is fully on the ground, give him the toy and shower him with verbal praise. Now repeat this for 5 minutes each day until he gets the hang of it. Once he drops quickly every time, you can stop using the toy as a lure.
The Physical Cue Method
Kneel in front of him and capture his attention. To do this, be calm and quiet. Dogs reflect their owner's behavior, so he will be quiet and peer up at you inquisitively if you stay silent.
You are going to show him how to perform ‘down’ by leading him with your index finger. Stretch your finger out as if you were going to point at something and hold it so it’s nearly touching his nose. Then lead him very slowly to the ground. He will naturally want to follow your finger. You may need to gently push his bottom down the first few times to help him there.
As soon as he is properly on the ground, go from silent to animated. Give him loads of verbal praise, cuddle him and play around with him. The difference between the silence and the playfulness will be enough of a reward. He will also learn that in future, quiet you means you want him to do something.
Practice this several times each session over the next few days. If you want rapid results you need to be consistent and practice religiously. Make sure you always get him calm with silence first and really focus on using that finger as a lead. You can then use the point to teach him other commands later on.
To make sure he’s really mastered the trick you need to practice in a variety of situations. That means trying the trick on walks, when there’s other people in the room, and when other pets are around. When he performs the down in all of these situations you know you’ll always be able to rely on him to perform the down correctly.
The Clicker Method
Get him familiar with the clicker
You don’t have to use food to reward dogs, a tennis ball will do the job. A clicker is a quick and easy way to signal to your dog that he’s done something right. They can be bought online and from local pet stores. Use this clicker whenever he performs a ‘sit’ or any other command correctly.
Be tennis ball ready
Take a tennis ball and, while standing in front of him, slowly lead him to the ground. Hold the ball in front of his nose and move it slowly towards the ground. Make sure he can’t get his mouth around it until he touches the ground.
At the same time, issue a ‘down’ command in a clear voice. Keep it upbeat and playful. You can use any word or phrase you like as long it hasn’t already been used in conjunction with another command.
As soon as he reaches the ground, click with the clicker to signal that was the correct behavior. Once you’ve given him the signal that he’s performed correctly, you can give him the ball to play around with for a minute or so.
Now simply repeat this training for a few minutes each day. The ball will be his treat at the end so anytime spent throwing it for him afterwards will only cement his desire to want to work for it next time. Ensure you use the clicker when training other commands as well, this will speed up the learning process.
Written by James Barra
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 11/07/2017, edited: 01/08/2021