Pet Column: Teach ‘Down’ Without Words

By Neil Copeland

Special to The Insider

So many trainers use “down” as a behavior to use with commands and luring with food. Yes, food is a great motivator and tool for shaping behavior.

Commands are great to signal to our pets what we would like for them to perform. But commands in most cases are just for humans and not exactly the best way to communicate to our animals.

I’m going to go over a simple way to shape the “down” without getting into those little arguments that we, as humans, create with our pets when commanding.

I first teach the sit behavior and ensure my pet has a true understanding. Side note would be that the “down” can come from a standing position as well.

I use the “sit” because the pet’s mind will be somewhat slowed and focused. The sit behavior is a passive position. From the sit, I will lure the pet into a “down” without saying the word “down.” Keep doing this over and over until your pet starts to offer the behavior.

Luring is connecting the nose to the treat and going toward the floor slowly until the pet lays down. 

I really use the saying “less is more” concerning verbal commands. I use the power of the food to give motivation to perform and learn. Using verbals can quickly start an argument. So many humans want to command and not teach.

Once you have seen that your pup is connecting, withholding the treat for a few seconds will trigger a down response. You are ready then to move onto walking, sitting and then allowing the pet to go into the down without using any commands. Just wait there for a couple minutes or seconds and your pet will relax and go down. I will use a treat once the pup goes into the down position without anyone saying “down.”

As you and your furry friend get better at this, his mind will settle faster as you stop to talk with people on the street, around the house or out for that morning walk. We are always shaping the larger picture of impulse control using behaviors to handle the ever-evolving environment. 

I hope this helps. Happy training.

Neil Copeland is owner of Seven Lakes Kennels.