How to teach a dog to lay down

dogs laying down

Teaching your dog how to lie down or the “down” command is one of the most basic and useful behavior tricks. Ideally, every dog should learn how to lie down with their chest, elbows, and hocks making full contact with the ground. The dog should stay in that position when commanded until you release it.

Unfortunately, learning how to teach a dog to lay down isn’t quite as easy as it may sound. Most dogs are hyperactive and easily excitable. All the more reason why teaching the “down” or “lie down” command is extremely important. It helps to keep them calm and out of trouble.

Let’s take a quick look at some of the tips and tricks you can use to teach your dog to lie down, as well as some reasons why mastering this lesson is so important.

Step by Step Guide on How to Teach a Dog to Lay Down

Dog owners learn very quickly that there are several ways to get their dog to behave. As is the case with most learned behaviors, teaching your dog how to lay down can be approached from different angles.

Luring your dog down

Luring your dog with a treat is one of the most effective tricks when it comes to teaching them how to do something. This simply involves holding a treat or a toy to the dog’s nose to gain their attention and using it to lure them into the position you want them to take.

A good example is teaching your dog how to do the “spin” where you hold the treat to their nose and move it in a circle. Your dog will be obliged to follow the direction of the treat and end up doing a spin while at it.

While luring is an effective trick, it’s important to quickly fade the lure so that your dog responds to a command, or a hand gesture as opposed to the enticement of a treat.

Before you take on this challenge, make sure that the lure you use excites your dog; otherwise, they might lose interest in the middle of the process.

You can also incorporate a clicker that signals when they have done exactly what you want them to do and are therefore deserving of the treat. With that in mind, here are some steps to follow when trying to teach your dog how to lay down using the luring technique.

Luring a dog that can sit

Teaching a dog that can sit to lay down and teaching one that can’t sit are two very different things. The following steps are for dogs that can sit:

Step One: Introduce the treat

Start by holding the treat in your hand and asking the dog to sit. Once they sit, hold the treat very close to their nose and let them sniff it to get enticed. Slowly move the treat, keeping it in constant contact with the dog’s nose, towards the ground between their front paws. If the dog stands up during the process, withdraw the treat and start the process again by asking them to sit.

Do it as many times as it takes to get them to sit and follow the treat down until they are lying on the floor. As soon as they are lying down on the floor, use your clicker to signify the achievement, praise them, and reward them by letting them have the treat.

In some cases, you will find that your dog can only go down up to the point of hovering with its elbows just off the ground. While this isn’t the ideal “down” position, it could be as far as your dog is comfortable going at that very moment. This is a new position for them, after all.

If this happens, simply stand them up and try again from the start. Ask them to sit, introduce the treat, and lure them down to the ground. If they are stuck in the hovering position, reward them for going that far, then try again. Keep doing this until they are comfortable going all the way down. As soon as they do, use the clicker, praise them, and reward them with the treat.

Dog laying down

Step Two: Start withdrawing the treat

The trick is to repeat this process until your dog has learned it. However, you need to start gradually withdrawing the treat and replacing it with a gesture or a command. To do this, start by luring your dog with both hands.

Start the process again by asking your dog to sit and then introducing them to the treat. Only this time, you have a treat in both hands. Once your dog has sniffed the treats in both hands and is sufficiently enticed, lure them into the “down” position with one hand. Once they get where you want them to go, reward them with the treat that’s in the other hand.

This slowly introduces them to the gesture or command that isn’t quite directly associated with the treat in the hand they followed.

Step Three: Save the treat for the end

This time, introduce the dog to the same hand gesture and “down” command without a treat. For the most part, he or she might just stare at your hand, wondering why something is missing. If they don’t lie down at this command, reintroduce the treat and use the same hand gesture and command.

Do this two or three times, and on the fourth, do it without the treat in your hand. Once they lay down without the treat, use the clicker to praise them and give them a treat.

They will begin to associate both the command and the action with the eventual treat, which means that they will slowly begin to see that even though the treat might not be immediately available, it will be there at the end of the action.

Step Four: Use only the voice command

Once your dog has mastered the hand signal and is comfortable with it, it’s time to introduce the voice command alone. Simply say “down” and wait for him or her to respond. If they don’t respond within three seconds, re-introduce the hand signal and then reward them for following through.

Repeat this procedure a few times, increasing the number of seconds between the hand signal and voice command until your dog learns the connection between the two and begins to respond to your verbal command alone.

Step Five: Phase out the treat completely

Now that your dog has made the connection between the hand gesture and the “down” command, they quite literally know the command. It’s time to completely phase out the reward but not the praise.

The trick is in giving the command several times a day and praising him or her for following through. You could keep giving treats for faster response and “neater” downs but still give the dog praise even for slower downs.

Once your dog has learned to lay down on command without the treats, you can space out the treats and still give him or her some now and then. You could also give them treats when you see that they are laying down, despite being in a distracting environment that would typically have them running around and getting overly excited.

How to Teach Dogs Who Can’t Sit to Lay Down

When it comes to teaching dogs who can’t sit to lie down, there are a few adjustments that need to be made. Here are some tips that you can follow.

Teaching Greyhound-shaped dogs to lay down

  • Start by making your dog stand on a blanket
  • Keep a smelly treat or just their favorite treat on hand
  • Allow them to sniff it without actually eating it
  • Slowly lure them with that treat by moving it towards their chest
  • Move the treat from their chest to the ground

Once the dog is laying down, use the clicker, praise them, and let them have the treat. From there, follow steps two through five above.

Teaching dogs with short legs to lay down

  • Start by sitting on the floor with your legs in front of you and bent at the knee
  • Using a smelly treat, lure your dog and make it crawl under your legs
  • As soon as their back goes to the floor, praise them and reward them by giving them the treat
  • Repeat this process until your dog is comfortable with the action

Once your small dog is comfortable, proceed to steps two through five until the behavior is learned.

Teaching dogs with short legs to lay down

Other Ways to Teach Your Dog to Lay Down

While the luring method is quite effective and simple to follow, there are other tips and tricks you can use to teach your dog how to lie down. Here are a couple more:

Shaping a down

“Shaping,” in this case, simply means teaching your puppy or dog to lay down one step at a time. For example, to make them lay down, you could start by teaching them:

  • How to look around and find the right spot to lay down
  • How to lower their elbows slowly to the ground
  • Finally, how to lay down

The trick is to use as many baby steps in between as possible. This way, you are slowly conditioning your puppy or dog to lie down without frustrating him or her along the way. Remember to praise and reward every learned step and not to jump too far ahead in difficulty.

When using the “shaping a down” method, don’t worry about adding verbal cues or fading the lure; simply focus on getting the dog to learn the behavior first.

Capturing a down

Capturing a down goes about this process backward. The trick is to always have a treat on you when you are around your puppy. At some point, they will voluntarily lie down. When they do, use your clicker, praise them, and offer them the treat.

Do this every time you see your puppy laying down, and they will slowly begin to associate that position with a treat. Once they do, they will start laying down in front of you intentionally, hoping to get a treat.

Once you notice this, pay close attention to them every time they are about to lie down and add a verbal cue or hand signal. They will gradually learn to associate that hand signal or verbal cue with laying down and receiving a reward. Before you know it, your dog will be laying down on command. 

Tips and Tricks to Remember When Training Your Dog to Lay Down

As any dog parent knows, even armed with the most effective training techniques, positions such as “down” can still be quite difficult for your dog to master. With that in mind, here are some tips and tricks that can help speed the process up:

  • Train your dog to lie down when they are tired or after a walk. Do not try to get them to lie down when they are excited and full of energy. This will only end in frustration for both of you.
  • Do not force your dog into the down position by pushing them. Not only will they be tempted to resist the pressure by standing up, but they might just end up being frightened. That will make that position less appealing to them. It’s easier to simply reward them for doing it on their own.
  • When rewarding your dog, always make sure to place the treat right under their noses when they are in the down position, as opposed to rewarding them once they sit up. By doing so, you will be reinforcing the importance of the down position as opposed to rewarding them when they sit up, which reinforces the sitting position. The timing of the treats is critical to the success of this entire process.

Here’s a video that walks you through the process:

Remember, dog training takes time and patience. Don’t be in a hurry to reprimand or give up when your puppy doesn’t get it right away. Learning how to teach a dog to lie down is all about finding the right technique that works for your dog. The options highlighted above should be good enough to get the job done.

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