How To Teach Your Dog The “Down” Command… - Brandon McMillan's Canine Minded
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How To Teach Your Dog The “Down” Command…

How To Teach Your Dog The “Down” Command…

If there’s one command out there that’s often underrated I’d say it’s the “Down” command. There are so many great uses for this behavior but most people look at it as just a simple way to lay their dog down. First and foremost it’s the ultimate form of control for an out of control dog. We all know someone with an out of control, wild animal that rules their household. I get 50 calls a week from people in this situation and there’s one command I tell them their dog needs; the “Down.” Now like every command there’s countless ways to get to the prize. The technique I’ll describe today is very simple and very easy for most dogs to grasp.

For this technique we’ll need just a few things to effectively train it. First things we need is a regular 6 ft leash and then a few different options of their favorite treats. And always we make sure the dog is hungry. Not too hungry but definitely enough to keep a really solid focus. The last thing we’ll need is the ideal location to train this. You’ll need to find somewhere with a solid pole or fence and a nice, large and flat area in front of it. Your coffee table in your living room could actually work if it’s heavy enough and there’s a good 8 foot of space in front of it. Now that we’re geared up and have the ideal location let’s break this down step by step…

Step 1: loop the leash within itself around the BOTTOM of the pole or coffee table. (whichever you chose) Attach the other end to the dog wearing a flat collar. Don’t use a choke or prong for this technique. A simple flat collar will do trick.

Step 2: Using a treat, lure the dog towards you so they’re extended to the end of the leash.

Step 3: Put the dog on a “Sit” command. This isn’t totally necessary but it’s a pretty good help if they do.

Step 4: From the sit command take the hand with the treat in it, place it at head level about 6 inches away from dog’s mouth. Notice how they can’t lunge forward to grab the treat. That’s the point of the locked off leash in this technique. It’s such a simple fix to a common problem while training this.

Step 5: This is the most important step so pay attention. Take the treat hand and lower it straight to the ground while saying the word “Down.” Some dogs will go straight into the down command. If they do, calmly praise and reward them immediately. Many dogs will drop their front half of their body while keeping their back half up in the air as if they’re bowing before an audience. This is now a game of patience. You’ve gotten the dog to go into an awkward position and now they have to make 3 decisions; to hold their body in that position, stand up or lie down. Very few will stand up because it’ll take their mouth further away from the prize they want so bad. Most will hold that position for a period of time. Some for a long time, others for a shorter period. Whatever the case may be you’re simply gonna wait them out. Trust me when I say they’ll eventually give up and lie down. The moment they do you’re going to calmly praise and treat them. The dog learns through trial and error that the down position is where they get the prize.

Step 6: Now they’re down you’re going to continue to calmly praise and treat them in this position. Give them long, soothing strokes from the head down their back and calmly let them know they did well. This will lock it in their memory bank that that’s what gets them the prize. If they happen to stand back up in the process simply repeat the steps till they’re back down.

Step 7: After a couple days of doing this with the leash on it’s time to remove it. Here’s how we do this. We don’t just try it one day without the leash. We’re gonna trick your dog so do the command a few times exactly how you’ve been doing it but on the 4th time I want you to ever so sneakily unclip the leash from their collar. Don’t make it obvious, just simply praise them after they do it correctly and unclip it as you’re petting them. From here you’re gonna repeat the entire process and see how your dog performs. When that leash comes off some dogs know and they’ll begin lunging again. These dogs aren’t ready to come off the leash yet. Give them a few more days of perfecting the behavior until that leash has done its job. Trust me, that leash will eventually do its work and the problem will be solved. For the ones that are lying down with no locked off leash…congrats! Your dog now has a down command.

A few things to point out here. First thing; notice how I kept saying the word “Calmly.” When praising them for this you need to calmly praise them to keep them in 1st gear. If you get them excited they’ll perk up and instantly shift into 5th gear mode so keep your praises calm, smooth and short. Also notice what the leash does here. This is what I call a “Locked Off Leash.” This is the key element to keep the dog from lunging forward. Nothing is more annoying than teaching the “Down” while a dog is lunging and snapping at the treat. The locked off leash is the easy fix fix to such a common problem when teaching this. Next thing; I mentioned if the dog has a sit command it’ll help. This is true with some dogs and not with others. Many dogs will lie down from a standing position but for the ones that are little stubborn it might be a good idea to get them on a good sit before teaching the “Down.” Also remember when they really grasp the concept of the command to start backing up a little and posture your body more a normal position. Many people continuously train this command on their knees and the dog gets used to that so the moment they stand up and give the command it throws the dog off. So when they start getting it, start inching back up to your normal body position right away. Furthermore, when you unclip them off the locked off leash be sure to stand your ground as you give the command. This means don’t backup while telling them to lie down. This is a common mistake most people make and it’s one that really locks in a bad habit with the dog. By doing this you’re teaching your dog that “Down” means you backing up as they go down. You need to simply give the command and stand there. It’ll take a few try’s with some dogs but they’ll get it. And last but not least remember to always follow through with your command. Don’t get frustrated and give up if they’re not doing well. This is how they learn your breaking point and now you’ve created a bigger problem. Try it out and let me know how it goes. For more techniques like this you can see me on “Lucky Dog” every Saturday morning on CBS! Check your local listings for times. Ruff.

– Brandon



  • Raymon Soto
    Posted at 16:48h, 18 June Reply

    I have tried everything but using a leash I will try it just wondering if you had a video that we can watch.

    • Paul
      Posted at 02:54h, 19 February Reply

      The Anger management class was very good I found out what I was doing wrong with duechss . Now we can start to make her the good dog she should be and work on her aggression with other dog’s . thanks Paul & Sit Means Sit. Nick Ranallo

  • Christa Avampato
    Posted at 00:40h, 02 July Reply

    This post is so helpful. I’ve been trying to teach my dog, Phineas, the “Down” command but haven’t been able to successfully do that yet. (He does have a fantastic grasp of “Sit”!) I’ll give this method a try. Thanks, Brandon!

  • maureen
    Posted at 20:30h, 05 July Reply

    Hi Brandon. Seeing the episode about Popcorn today really hit home for me. My husband and i rescued a seven and half year old wire haired fox terrier named Trixie from a shelter. She was very scared and spent most of the time curled up in a tight little ball. After about 3 months, things are getting much better. We are working on the seven basic commands, as she had no training from her previous owner. She has learned sit, but we haven’t got much farther than that. Still problems with come. Its hard to get her attention when she is busy tracking in her big back yard. We are now working on down. One of the hardest things is how to reward her as she is not food driven. She’ll either take it or leave it. She’s starting to play more now. She does like her ball and she likes squeaky toys. It’s hard to find things that excite her. We have the feeling that she was in a kennel and ignored a lot of the time. Per our vet, physically she is in great condition. One of the biggest problem we have is that when we leave the house, especially in the car, she barks and jumps and scratches at the door and windows. We usually come home to a pee and a poo. She does not destroy anything, but she certainly has separation anxiety. We tried a crate, and she peed and pooped all over in it. I was so upset that she had to be in the mess until I got home. We leave her out with run of the house now. Any ideas on what to do about her anxiety? My wood floors and I thank you for any help you can give. Maureen.

  • Mike Ramirez
    Posted at 15:44h, 23 January Reply

    Thanks for all your techniques that you post. I am a fan of your show and use them to train our rescue dogs.

  • Yoga
    Posted at 03:16h, 19 February Reply

    Joslyn, April 2, 2012 at 10:27 pm not as clean as other parks ive been to but lots of areas for owners to relax while their dogs play and ftecas for fresh water!

  • Lindsay Borden
    Posted at 04:54h, 27 September Reply

    This is going well. When do I stop giving a treat?

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