Teaching your dog to Lay Down is a good transition to more difficult tricks. First, it requires your dog to sit, then to distinguish sitting from a different command, ‘Down’. Once your dog can distinguish different words, he starts to understand that there are other commands to learn and will naturally become more obedient and alert.
It’s best to use one word like ‘Down’ or ‘Lie’ because it is a simpler sound. I prefer ‘Down’ because it is more forceful.
First, read my previous article on teaching your dog how to sit. Once your dog can do this, you can teach him to lay down. If you’ve already taught him to shake, you are ahead of the game in your home dog obedience classes! Now your dog is already beginning to understand how to distinguish different commands.
Try and train your dog in a quiet area like your backyard. Put him on a leash and tell him to sit. Next, say ‘Down’ and hold the treat in your hand and place your hand on the ground in front of him. I’ve found the best way to get him down is to pull on the leash towards the ground and press on his upper back. If you just pull the leash, your dog will try and escape by standing on his hind legs and scooting back. Then you’re back to step one.
Once he is on the ground, give him the treat. Repeat this step multiple times. You’ll notice the more you do it, the less you have to pull his leash or push on his back. I’ve noticed that when training a dog to sit, you can stop pulling on the leash first, but will need to keep pushing on his back a few time before he gets it.
Make sure to say ‘Down’ loud and clear so he understands that as the command. Repeat a few more times, and he will begin to lay down automatically without any influence. When he does this, you can take him off the leash and repeat.
At this point, you will still probably have to keep putting your hand on the ground for your dog to fully lie down. To wean him of this, don’t give him the treat right away. Have him lie down, move your hand slowly away, then give him the treat. Soon, you’ll be able to have him lie down without moving your hand. When this happens, start doing the trick while standing up, a foot or so in front of the dog.
To reinforce this habit in your dog, you can add distractions and repeat. Patience, love, and repetition are what is needed to train your dog to lie down.
Remember, never punish your dog if he doesn’t get it right away or forgets your training, or you will be sending him mixed signals and he’ll start to associate you training him with confusion or fear. He wants to obey your commands, but even the smartest dog only has the mental capacity of a two-year old human. It just takes time for him to understand what to do!
The process of training should be rewarding in itself. Try not to look at it as a frustrating task, even though sometimes it can be, or your dog will pick up on your frustration and become uneasy. Dogs communicate primarily through body language, not words, so think about what your own body language is saying to your dog as you train him.
Rather, look at dog training as a way to spend quality time with your pet. When you spend enough time together, you will start to understand each other better and training will get easier and easier. In no time, you will be teaching your dog complicated routines. So get out and start the training!