The "Down" Command

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

By now your dog has learned to turn off the collar by moving toward you, the first action, and moving away from you, the second action. He's started the third action of becoming or remaining stationary with the "Sit" command. "Down" is also part of the third action, and we'll cover it in this article.

Your dog should already know the down command before you reinforce it with the collar. If you are having problems teaching him to down or stay down, (or if he hasn't already been introduced to the collar with other commands), you should use the second method described below, the one for inexperienced dogs. The first method we describe is for experienced dogs who don't have a problem with the down command.

For experienced dogs. When you start using the collar to reinforce "Down," place it on the back of the dog's neck. This placement will help him understand that downward motion will "turn off" the collar.

Stand close to the dog so that he doesn't creep. If you used something in front of his feet to prevent creeping when you first taught down, now is the time to bring out that gadget again. But don't bring out something he's not used to at the same time you introduce the collar for down.

With the dog on a leash, have him down once without using the collar, praise and release him. Then repeat, but this time press the low button as you tell him "Down." Release the button as soon as his elbows are on the ground and praise him.

Have him remain down for a few moments, then release and reward him. If he should try to get up before you release him, press the button as you repeat "Down." Release the button when he lies back down.

After a few repetitions, gently pull on the leash when he is lying down, just as you did with the sit command. Press the button if he moves his position, and praise him when you see him resist the leash pressure.

Repeat over a period of at least two sessions. After the first session, you should move the collar back to the normal position underneath the neck. Gradually introduce mild distractions that may tempt the dog to break, using whatever form of "proofing" you would normally use.

When you see the dog responding quickly to "Down," stop using stimulation with the first command. Instead, use it only if you must give a second command.

The drop position. Remember, the collar is used to reinforce commands. It is a very effective reinforcer. When you use it to reinforce "Down," you will tend to "lock in" whatever style of lying down your dog already has.

You may prefer to see a specific type of motion as the dog lies down, depending on the exercise. For example, in the drop on recall exercise or the Utility signal drop, you may want your dog to drop in one motion into a "sphinx" position, or "back into" his down position. If this is what you want, you should teach him this style of drop before you start using the collar to reinforce "Down." If you don't teach him the motion you desire before you reinforce "Down" in the exercises, your dog will teach himself a style of dropping you may not like. This habit will be very hard to change later.

For inexperienced dogs and problem dogs: use a ground stake. If your dog is not very familiar with the down exercise, or has trouble accepting it, the following method should be used when you begin reinforcing "Down" with the collar.

Use a stake with a loop on the top and pound it flush into the ground .

Run a long line or rope through the loop on the stake and tie the end of the line to the dog's collar.

Pound a tie-out stake into the ground. Use a stake that pounds flush into the ground, so that the loop is as close to the ground as possible. By using the line and tie-out stake, you can prevent the dog from creeping toward you, or doing anything but lying down.

Run a long line or rope through the loop on the stake, and tie the end of the line to the dog's collar. Now you have a way to help the dog down. You should tie the line to the dog's collar instead of using a snap, because the length of the snap will make it impossible to pull the dog all the way to the ground.

Introduce this arrangement to the dog without stimulation. With the dog positioned over the stake, tell him "Down." If he doesn't lie down, pull him down. If he lies down without you needing to use the line, praise him, but be ready to pull him back down with the line if he tries to get up before you release him.

Now repeat, having the dog lie down by the stake. This time, when he tries to get up, repeat "Down" as you apply mild continuous stimulation until his elbows are back on the ground. If needed, pull the line to help the dog lie down.

When the dog is willing to stay down at the stake without trying to get up, begin having him lie down to turn off stimulation. Press the button as you command "Down," and release the button when his elbows are on the ground.

Command "Down" as you apply mild continuous stimulation until his elbows are back on the ground. If needed, pull the line to help the dog lie down.

Use the line to help the dog down if he resists lying down. By using the line, you prevent the dog from failing in any way, and you make it easy for him to learn that lying down turns off the collar.

When he is lying down promptly and willingly on command to turn off the collar, remove him from the stake and long line, and practice without these aids. When you see him responding quickly to your "Down" command, you should stop using stimulation with each command. From now on, just use it if you need to repeat the command.

If you have introduced the collar using our sequential system, your dog's understanding of collar use for the down exercise will go very fast. His prior experience on the sit command will make it easy for him to make the connection that lying down on command will turn off mild stimulation. His experience with the sit-stay, and with the platform exercise from the second action, will help him identify that once down he should remain in place.

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