Using the Training Platform for "Down"

By Jim & Phyllis Dobbs and Alice Woodyard

In our last article we covered using the training platform to teach the dog to stand up by moving his hind feet backwards rather than his front feet forward. Using the platform to help the dog learn this motion is based on the dog's understanding of staying on the platform until released. Teaching this concept was covered in Part 7 of this series.

A dog that is platform-trained understands that the platform edge represents a boundary. This understanding can be used to shape the way he goes into his down position, because he'll "fold backwards" into the drop position in order to avoid stepping off of the platform. A dog that folds back into the down position will be less likely to creep forward in the Utility drop signal exercise, and will have a crisper-looking down in the drop on recall.

The procedure is similar to the one outlined last month for teaching the dog to stand up on the platform. First, teach the drop motion using food or whatever inducements you use for the teaching phase of a new exercise. Then take the dog off the platform and introduce the correction with the remote trainer, so that the dog will know how to respond to it. When the dog understands this, you can easily "chain in" a drop signal. Finally, you can use the dog's understanding of the training platform to teach him to drop quickly when he's in motion.

Teaching the dog to down on the platform.

Stand the dog with his toes on the front edge of the platform. He already knows that he doesn't want to step off the platform by going forward. Stand close to him and command "Down" as you encourage him to fold backwards into the drop position. The moment his elbows are on the platform, praise and reward! Make this fun for the dog.

If you train with food, present a treat by his muzzle, then move it down between his front feet as you command "Down." When the elbows meet the platform, he gets the treat.

Repeat until the dog is comfortable downing on the platform.

Learning the collar correction

Now the dog knows how to fold into a drop the way you want. He also needs to learn that lying down on command "turns off" mild stimulation. Teaching this concept was covered in Part 12 of this series.

Be sure that when you first introduce the correction, you do so on the ground, not on the platform. Later when the dog understands that he can turn off the collar by lying down, you can use it to correct him on the platform if needed.

Adding a hand signal by "chaining"

Once the dog understands how to turn off the collar by dropping, you can chain in a signal for the drop. Give the signal before the verbal command until the dog understands that both mean the same thing. Then, if he fails to respond to the signal, immediately press the button as you give the "Down" command. He'll soon learn that he can avoid stimulation by dropping when he sees your signal.

Using the platform for the moving drop

Problems with the down in the drop-on-recall exercise can often be traced, not to the dog's failure to drop, but to his failure to learn how to stop quickly in order to drop. Part 10 covered the use of the platform to put a quick "stop" on a dog for the sit-from-motion. The same procedure can be used to teach the dog to drop quickly from motion. This "indirect method" based on the platform will put a fast drop on a moving dog without the need for repetitive corrections.

To incorporate the platform, jog with the dog on leash toward the platform. Just before the dog's front feet step up onto the platform, command "Down" as you stop next to the platform. Do not use electrical stimulation to keep the dog on the platform. Just help the dog he won't stop and lie down on it. Most dogs that have done collar work with the platform will see the familiar cue, and begin "locking up" to stay on it.

After a few repetitions, you should no longer come to a stop yourself. Just hesitate briefly next to the platform as the dog lies down, and then continue to jog away, leaving the dog lying on the platform. Soon you can keep jogging without any hesitation.

After the dog is familiar with the procedure, you can begin using low-level stimulation if he steps off the platform to follow as you jog away. As you press the button, give the command he knows that means "get on the platform." When his front feet are back on the platform, release the button and just remind him to lie down.

If the dog won't lie down on the platform when you jog him over it, help him with an extra "Down" command until he understands what you want. You should not use stimulation to reinforce "Down" at this time, even though the dog already understands the correction. You want the beginning dog to think of the platform as a good place to be so that he'll want to stop quickly in order to stay on it.

If he won't lie down even with an extra command, you should review "Down" off the platform. In these sessions, reinforce "Down" until he is downing quickly on the first command.

Praise the dog when he stops quickly and downs on the platform. When he is doing the exercise well, add excitement as you release him from the down position by throwing a treat or a toy for him. Once you introduce this game, if he starts giving you "hover elbows" use the collar to reinforce "Down" even though he's on the platform. By now he has a high enough understanding to do what you want without becoming confused.

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