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Have you ever seen a Service Dog at work out in public? Did you watch the dog lie down next to or underneath his seated owner for long periods of time, perhaps even hours? Did you watch the dog, as he resisted the urge to get up when other people or dogs walked by? Such high levels of training are always impressive to behold. Your dog may not be an aspiring Service Dog, but chances are your German Shepherd will need to know the 'down' command for many things.
'Down' has many practical purposes. If you would like to take your German Shepherd with you to outdoor restaurants and coffee shops, then your dog will need to know how to lie down calmly. If you would like for your dog to relax and to leave your house guests alone, then you could simply tell your dog to "down". If you would like to progress in the American Kennel Club's Obedience Trials, then your Shepherd will need to know the 'down' command. If you would like for your dog to become certified as a Canine Good Citizen or a Therapy Dog, then he will also need to know it. Not to mention all of the everyday situations, like car rides and family meals, when you need to be able to tell your German Shepherd "down" for his, or your own, convenience or safety.
In addition to being a practical command, 'down' is also a great command to teach to your German Shepherd to help him build his self-control and patience. 'Down' can be a great command to utilize when your dog is reacting to something in an inappropriate way and needs to be told what to do instead. Since 'down' is a submissive position and complying requires trust in you on your German Shepherd's part, it can be a great command to practice if respect is an issue, without having to be too confrontational toward your dog.
If your dog has ever shown any form of aggression or has ever given you any reason to believe he would bite, then do not attempt to teach this command on your own. Instead, seek out the help of a professional dog trainer or animal behaviorist in your area, with experience in dealing with aggression. Because 'down' is a submissive position, an aggressive dog is more likely to bite if he is asked to get into this position. Of the three methods, the 'Leash Pressure' method is the most confrontational, so do not use that method with an aggressive dog or with a dog that is fearful of people.
Many dogs will resist the 'down' position the first time that you attempt to have them do it. If your dog resists the first time, then simply be patient and persistent. It may take your dog thirty minutes or more to lie down at first, do not force him, simply wait him out. As the training progresses, his resistance should quickly disappear when he discovers that the 'down' position will be rewarded and that he is safe with you while in that position. Many dogs will even begin to offer the 'down' position when not told to, in hopes of receiving a reward. If you wish to teach your dog to 'stay, you can utilize that type of enthusiasm by rewarding your dog with treats for staying in the down position for long periods of time. This will build a great foundation for teaching the 'stay' command later on.
To get started you will need lots of small, tasty treats. If your dog is very food motivated then you can use your dog's own dog food in place of the treats. If you are using the 'Treat Luring' method then the training will go faster if your dog already knows the 'sit' command. If you are using the 'Capture' method then you will also need a small Ziploc bag or treat pouch, to place your treats in to keep them with you. You will also need attentiveness and patience. If you are using the 'Leash Pressure' method, you will also need a six-foot leash, a collar that your dog cannot slip out of, and physical and mental perseverance. With all of the methods you will need a calm attitude, patience, and the willingness to communicate to your dog when you are proud of him for succeeding.
The Treat Luring Method
To begin, tell your dog to sit or lure her into the 'sit' position. To lure her into the sit position, have your dog stand in a corner, with her back to the wall. Show your dog a treat. Hold the treat right above your dog's nose and slowly move the treat from above your dog's nose toward the back of her head. When your dog cannot look up any higher to watch the treat, then she will have to sit to continue watching the treat. When your dog begins to sit down, tell her "sit", and praise her and give her the treat when her bottom touches the ground. If she does not sit, then move the treat back to her nose and try again. Do this until she sits.
If your dog already knows the 'sit' command, then simply tell your dog to sit.
Show a treat
While your dog is in the 'sit' position, show your dog a treat, and let her sniff it, but do not let her eat it yet.
Lower the treat
While your dog is sniffing the treat, very slowly move the treat a few inches away from your dog and toward the ground. Do this until the treat is touching the floor and your dog begins to lie down.
When your begins to lie down, tell your dog "down", and when her chest touches the floor, praise her and offer her a treat.
If your dog does not lie down when you move the treat, then have her sit again and repeat moving the treat from her nose toward the floor. Repeat this until she lies down. If she is comfortable being touched and keeps standing up when you lure her with the treat, then you can prevent her from standing up by gently holding your hand on her lower back while you move the treat toward the ground.
Practice luring your dog to the floor with a treat. Do this until she will quickly lie down on her own as soon as you tell her "down" and begin to move the treat toward the floor.
When your dog will lie down as soon as you begin to move the treat to the floor, then start to tell her "down", and wait seven seconds before moving the treat to the floor. Do this until she lies down before you move the treat.
When she will lay down when told "down", without the treat lure, then your dog has learned the command. Practice often and in different locations, around different types of distractions, and from farther away, to improve her skill. Congratulations!
The Capture Method
To begin, fill a small Ziploc bag with treats and put it into your pocket, or fill a treat pouch with treats and cover it with your shirt, so that it is out of sight. If your dog is very food motivated, then you can also use your dog's own food in place of the treats.
With your treats ready, watch your dog carefully throughout the day. Anytime that your dog begins to lie down, calmly go over to him and tell him "down", right before he touches the ground. When he touches the ground, then praise him softly, and place a treat between his front feet. It is important to do this calmly, and to place the treat between his feet, so that you do not accidentally encourage your dog to stand up again.
Tell your dog "down" and reward him whenever you see him lying down. Do this at least thirty times over the next couple of weeks. After you have done it at least thirty times, then when your dog is standing up or sitting down, tell him "down" and wait ten seconds. If he lies down during the ten seconds, then praise him and offer him five treats between his feet, placing one treat at a time.
Practice for longer
If your dog does not lie down after the ten seconds, then go back to telling him "down" when he begins to lie down on his own. After you have told him "down" when he was already beginning to lie down on his own, at least ten more times, then try telling him "down" while he is standing, again. Repeat this process until he will lie down when you tell him to while he is standing or sitting.
Continue to improve
When your dog will lie down when you simply tell him "down", then he has learned the command! To increase his skill, practice the command in lots of different locations, around different types of distractions, such as dogs and people, and from farther away. Also teach your dog how to 'stay' while in the 'down' position.
The Leash Pressure Method
Attach a leash
To begin, attach a six foot leash to your dog's collar, and make sure that your dog cannot slip out of his collar. If your dog is aggressive at all, or afraid of the leash or of wearing a collar, do not use this method.
Tell your dog "down", and then apply downward pressure to your dog's leash and collar. Maintain the downward pressure, so that the only way for your dog to get comfortable is for him to lie down. Do not force your dog all the way to the ground though, doing so could injure him and is counterproductive to training, because you want him to choose to lie down. You are simply making any position other than laying down less comfortable.
When your dog lies down, immediately release the pressure of the leash, praise him and place a treat between his front feet. The first time that you do this it might take your dog a very long time to lie down. As long as thirty minutes is possible, but most dogs will do it within five minutes. Be patient.
After your dog has eaten his treat, then tell him "OK" in a happy tone of voice, and encourage him to get up if he would like to. 'OK' simply means that the command is over, and that he does not have to lie down anymore if he does not want to.
When your dog chooses to stand up again, then repeat telling him "down", and applying pressure to the leash until he lies down. Practice this until your dog will lie down as soon as he feels you tightening the leash. Be sure to give him breaks from training after several repetitions, to keep him from becoming stressed or tired.
When your dog will lie down as soon as he feels the leash tightening, then work toward using only the command to get him to lie down. To do this, tell him to "down", then wait seven seconds before applying pressure to the leash. If he lies down before you tighten the leash, then praise him and offer him five treats between his paws, one treat at a time. Give him just one treat for the following times though. If he does not lay down by the end of the seven seconds, then show him what to do again by applying pressure to the leash. Repeat this process until he will consistently lie down when you tell him "down", before you have applied any pressure to the leash.
Practice makes perfect
When your dog will consistently lie down when you tell him "down", without having to apply any pressure to the leash, then he has learned the 'down' command! Continue to practice this command often to help your dog to improve even more. Also practice this command in lots of different locations, around different types of distractions, and from a distance, for even greater reliability. You can also add a 'stay' command to 'down', to teach him to stay in the down position for long periods of time.
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 02/20/2018, edited: 01/08/2021