How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
Teaching your dog or young puppy how to lay down might be one of the most daunting tasks some dog owners face! But training your dog doesn’t have to be difficult.
Sounds silly, right? Laying down is natural and should be easy to train during your training sessions; but the truth is that many dogs and especially young puppies resist this command or cue because it makes them uneasy.
I have had many puppy owners and adult dog owners in my classes that have struggled with how to train a dog to lay down. They struggle and fight and still the dog or puppy resists!
And, I will admit, I have real problems physically “forcing” a puppy into a down position, it takes away the trust that the dog and owner feel and it can create complications and even aggression from the puppy. Physical force and correction is definitely not the way to teach a puppy, especially, anything that we want to train them to do or teach them to learn.
There are local dog training classes and puppy training classes that automatically put prong collars, or pinch collars, or spiked collars, on every dog or even young puppy that walks through the door. I am horrified by such a lack of knowledge and training on their part. This training organizations should know better! Corrections, especially physical corrections are proven to be the lease effective way to learn. And, corrections and physical corrections can create fear and fear aggression, and just plain aggression in puppies when they are big enough to challenge their owners!
I will, on occasion, help an adult dog physically into a down position, but it is rare. We will get into how to do that and why there is a difference, a bit later in this article.
First, let us try and understand our canine companions and why they might avoid the “down” command or cue, especially in certain situations.
I am a firm believer that good dog trainers put themselves into their dogs’ paws and try to be understanding of their often complex behaviors, first.
You see, dogs are animals. I know that sounds like common sense, but yet, so rarely do people or dog owners take a step back and think about behavior and training in animal terms or terms from a different species.
We, as humans, are so busy in our lives; doing our own things that we just expect our dogs to have common knowledge and common feelings. But, nothing is further from the truth. Your dog doesn’t spring from the womb knowing how to please you and/or how to communicate with you.
Sure, laying down is a natural behavior, but it is not natural for all dog to perform it on cue or in certain places.
Let us understand, the why’s.
Laying down makes very submissive or fearful dogs or puppies feel exposed and essentially more vulnerable.
Imagine someone running at you wanting to engage in a physical fight; would you drop and lay down or would you plant your feet and prepare for the oncoming fight or test?
I am guessing there are very few people who would lay down.
Laying down, actually demonstrates the action of totally giving up. Waving the white flag, if you do.
That is why the “take down” in sports like MMA are so crucial and so important. To find out more about take downs in MMA click here.
Never have I seen a professional fighter flop into a down position after fists are bumped. And, those that fight avoid the “take down” tooth and nail until it is no longer, really, an option. Often their bodies are just giving up, because the other fighter is winning.
I understand that life is full of mostly pleasures and wonderful things and usually, in the right neighborhoods, is not full of fights and fighting; but some puppies are just more nervous than others and have trouble getting into this position for their owners.
If your puppy is nervous, he may need more confidence in himself and in your relationship before you will be ultimately successful with the down command or the down cue.
Remember that your relationship is important with many of these dogs! Make sure to have a positive relationship based on treats, time together, positive reinforcement and fun.
These puppies take time to warm up and learn trusting behaviors. But any good relationship, those with spouses, children, friends, they all take time and effort, is that not right?
Don’t let your puppy raise himself! Puppies grow up before you know it and they have critical phases where they need to socialize and be exposed to many or a variety of things. Be there for his growing and his training, it is crucial.
For more on remembering or even learning about your puppy’s developmental stages of behavior needs click here.
Dominant Dogs and Dominant Puppies
Okay, okay I will be the first to say I HATE the word “dominant” because there has been such a negative association made for this word through the dog training world. It is often used waaaaay too much and way too often and blamed for all dog and puppy behavior problems.
But, the truth is, as much as I have learned to despise the word, I am coming back around to it, because it often is the best way to describe certain behaviors.
Dominant behavior is, by no means, a bad thing! I will say that again for those of you reading this; Dominant behavior is, by no means, a bad thing!
On the other hand, Submissive behavior is, by no means a bad thing or a preferential behavior.
The dictionary defines dominant as: Adjective: most important, powerful, or influential. Synonyms: Ruling, controlling, commanding.
None of those things are really bad things or bad behaviors unless they are misused.
Submissive as defined by the dictionary: Adjective: ready to conform to authority or the will of others; meekly obedient or passive. Synonyms: compliant, yielding, malleable or acquiescent, accommodating.
Again, none of those things are a bad thing unless shown or used to the extreme.
Take me for instance, I am, what looks like a very dominant person. I hold my shoulders back, my eyes forward and I will not necessarily back down from a challenge. At one point in my life I was going to leave the dog world and become part of the “blue” or police world. I took some tests and passed with flying colors and was very close to sacrificing one for the other, until I had the opportunity to start my own 501(c)(3) nonprofit training Service Dogs. My dominance would have made me a great cop.
I recently was speaking to a new friend, when I mentioned I have literally never been in a physical fight. She was oddly surprised, I suppose because of my dominance in tough situations. But you don’t have to be a fighter to be dominant.
I am also, quite submissive in some situations. I would sacrifice or do just about anything in a relationship or friendship. I once worked 6 weekends in a row after one employee was fired so that my work family could have some of their time off with their friends and family on the weekends. I am also very non-confrontational and pretty passive in relationships in my life. I am anything but dominant in these situations.
Different situations dictate different actions, in my world, and to have the best balance out of life and get the most out of friends and family while not being taken advantage of in the world.
So, long story short, yes dominant puppies and dominant dogs are more difficult to get into the down position.
A very confident, powerful and commanding dog or puppy doesn’t necessarily like being told what to do, at all. But as described above, the behavior of laying down is slightly more submissive because it makes the dog more vulnerable.
Laying Down is not Conducive to Excitement
A lot of puppies just have simple excitement problems or the inability to adequately control his impulses.
Laying down, the behavior on cue, probably isn’t going to happen if your puppy is over excited or over stimulated.
So with every puppy there is an ideal time or place to train and many times that are not ideal or conducive to training such a rigid and solitary behavior.
So how do you know which puppy or dog you have?
The puppy or dog described in the first example was fearful. He isn’t confident in new situations so he is too nervous to lay down.
The puppy in the second example is probably over or too confident in most new situations. He doesn’t want to lay down because he has better things to do than listen to you!
The puppy in the third example is over excited and over stimulated. He doesn’t want to lay down because he simply doesn’t want to hold still.
I see all of these puppies in my puppy socialization classes. The scared puppy who can’t perform in class, the dominant and nippy puppy with the other puppies and his owners, and the over excited just can’t learn because he is over stimulated.
And, yes, there is a happy medium puppy or dog who has no trouble laying down 😉 this makes the easiest puppy or dog to teach!
The Bests Way to Teach
So let us talk about the best ways to teach, any of the three basic types of puppies mention in the previous section, your puppy to lay down.
These are actually the best ways to teach or train your dog to do anything that you might ever need him to do for you in training. Remember that in order for your dog to learn, you have to teach your dog.
This is a pretty simple, and probably one of the easiest ways to teach your dog or teach your puppy a behavior.
This is usually seen first in owners who teach their dog to sit.
Luring is when you put a treat in your hands, then put the treat up to the dog’s nose and encourage him into a certain situation or behaviors.
In terms of teaching your dog to sit, we put the treat in our hands and lure his nose upwards toward the ceiling. In most training situations, pulling the dog’s nose upward forces the pup tush toward the ground and into the sit position.
It is at this moment that we mark the behavior with a clicker and clicker training or a clicker and a verbal marker so that the dog understands that the behavior of sitting is actually rewarding. Dogs and puppies in general tend to be easily lured into the sit position because it is pretty natural.
But, I can also lure my dog into heel position, I can lure him forward, I can lure him back and teach him to follow those treats.
By using positive reinforcement and the clicker you teach the dog to trust the lure and to show a multitude of behaviors so that he can be more easily trained.
This is a much better idea than physically forcing your dog into a sit with a leash correction or by forcing his bottom down into the sit position.
Add the verbal command or the verbal cue once the puppy’s behavior is reliable and consistent.
I saved this description for second to be defined because I think most people don’t realize how crucial “capturing” a behavior can be to our training sessions and methods.
Most people almost naturally know how to lure certain behaviors and then just give a treat, but capturing takes a whole new line of thinking and training and REQUIRES a marker (i.e. clicker) which is a good thing! After all, we need it to communicate with our dogs and puppies; since they don’t speak English.
Markers are a way of teaching and communicating what we WANT to our dogs. This kind of training is essential. Don’t get in the habit of just focusing on correcting bad behavior. Instead, you need to reward or capture good behavior.
Need to learn more about markers or clickers, click here to learn from the master herself, Karen Pryor.
The marker tells the dog that he did something good, and that a treat is coming his way.
Science has actually proven that capturing a behavior that is already being shown is better and a more powerful way of training and teaching your dog than luring! This is the best way to teach your dog.
Because some dogs and puppies learn to rely on their owners to lure them in order to learn. But if you are capturing a behavior that is already being shown it is not reliant on another person’s actions.
Let’s take sit.
To capture this behavior, I would take my clicker and treats out and simply wait until my puppy sits.
He may jump, he may flail, for a moment or two, but most likely after that he is simply going to show the natural behavior of sitting. That is when you time your click to the moment your pups rump hits the ground and then you treat.
The puppy doesn’t rely on you to shove the treat toward his nose to begin the behavior. The puppy realizes that his behavior of sitting is what brought the reward, therefore he is more likely to sit in the future.
Add the verbal command or the verbal cue once the dog or puppies behavior is reliable.
How to Train a Dog to Lay Down
I tend to lure a little differently than most dog owners or dog trainers. I have found over 25+ years of dog training experience what works best for most reluctant puppies when it comes to the down behavior.
Most dog trainers will lure the treat down between the puppy’s legs and then draw the treat out toward his paws. If you go slowly enough, this can be very effective, his body begins to lower and then his elbows hit the ground. However, if you are too quick or have an overly reluctant puppy the puppy’s bottom will rise up as the treat goes out toward his paws.
So, to avoid this I make sure that first the pup’s rump or bottom is already against a hard surface like a wall or my leg and shoe, so he can’t easily back up. Then I draw the treat downward toward his elbow and slightly in toward his body. This helps his body to crumple down and in toward the treat. Remembering as soon as those elbows hit the ground I click and release the reward. I find that this is not 100% but it is a bit more reliable than the method offered above.
Once he is doing this reliably tell him what he is doing or add the verbal command or verbal cue.
This of course is my favorite! Remember science tells us that this is the best way to train and less reliant on us (our fingers and our bodies getting down with the puppy or dog in question; which is a big problem with down!)
For more about capturing click here.
I either begin by working on “sit” and other behaviors and then I calmly wait… I know this is difficult. But, patience in dog training is essential. Waiting will help your dog show a number of behaviors without stress. If he does something I don’t like, such as jumping or barking, I simply ignore those behaviors for now.
As soon as he gets frustrated and lies down, click and reward! This is a very powerful teaching moment in dog training.
You can also exercise your puppy until he is very tired, bring him in and then wait for nature to take its course and him to lie down on his own. This can be most effective with dominant puppies!
Again add the verbal command or verbal cue once the behavior is being shown consistently.
I, personally, like the “down” behavior over almost any other behavior my dog can show. It is a more reliable behavior. I teach my puppies and my dogs that if they want something they should lay down in order to win the game. So if my dog wants your toddlers fries at the ball park, he isn’t going to knock him down and steal his fries; he is going to lay down at his feet and wait to be rewarded! After all, that is the game!
And, good dog training should be fun and rewarding. It should almost always feel like a game.
How to help an adult dog who is completely resistant:
I spoke briefly about this earlier. I refuse to do this to puppies because I think it ruins trust. But I will physically help an adult dog learn. Why the difference? A good puppy trainer teaches a puppy to think and learn and show a number of behaviors in order to be clicked and rewarded. But many adult dogs have already been taught with compulsion so they are worried about making a mistake and getting in trouble, so they are less likely to show behaviors during training.
I had to do some of these quite often when taking adult dogs from shelters and training them as Service Dogs. Want more information about Service or Assistance Dogs? Click here.
There is a pressure point right behind the shoulder blades that when pressure is applied almost makes the legs crumple. Click and treat!
The next way I try is calmly physically help. The dog must not be panicked for this to work, otherwise go back to capturing. I calmly kneel down beside the dog, put my arm over his shoulder and with my body weight slightly over his shoulder blades, I slide his arms out from under him. Click and treat as soon as the dog lies down.
I have used a leash and pinning the leash on a buckle collar, but it is my least favorite way and is usually only the resort of a dog that is choosing not to listen or nothing else has worked. Again the dog needs to not be in a panic about the behavior and situation.
How to train a dog to lay down may be more complicated than you thought, but truthfully, if you are a good positive trainer there are lots of ways for you to accomplish it in a fun and communicative manner. Training your dog should be a reward for you both and a time for you to bond!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.