Down! Stay!

Life is full of distractions — for people as well as our dogs. Controlling the environment is the best way to make life as stress-free as possible. Distractions assault us from every direction: people running and shouting at a park, exciting new animals flitting about a campsite, or cars zipping down the road. A down-stay command established as part of your puppy’s training provides the means to manage your dog while facing external distractions. The command allows you to acquire a method to keep your puppy out of trouble and to prevent it from getting hurt.

When your puppy grows into a dog with a strong down-stay, you will be able to take it into situations with intense distractions without having to keep her tied to a leash or closed-up in a kennel. It is a relaxed position that manages a potentially stressful situation.

Starting out

The first step in training a down-stay is to lure your puppy into a sitting position. From there, you must teach the dog to collapse into a down. Success means that both the puppy’s hindquarters and her elbows are on the ground. 

The best method to build this association is to feed her, giving her something that she will value for performing the requested command. It is extremely important where you feed the dog at this point. You do not want to feed her from your hand as you do with most commands. If you do, she is going to get out of the down position to get the reward. Put the food right between her front feet.

Teach the down in steps

Dogs have a keen understanding of body language. Use this to help train your puppy. At the beginning, you might bend all the way over, taking a knee, and putting your hand on the ground. When the puppy goes into a proper down, reward him. The next step can be just bending over and touching the ground.

The next progression would be bending over and pointing at the ground. The natural course of steps leads to just pointing at the ground without bending over. At this point, you add the word “down,” pointing at the ground. When the dog does this, you mark it and reward him. When he masters the step, you can fade the hand signal until he goes into the down at the verbal command.

Proofing duration

After your puppy knows the down command, it is time to proof the duration—how long he stays in the down position. Put him in the down and walk away. You won’t be able to do this for very long at first. Lengthen the time in small increments. When he stays in the down like you want, reward him. If he gets up before you’ve released him, put him back in the down and do not reward him. He must value staying in the down. In other words, he must know that he will be rewarded for staying in the down position.

When the dog can maintain a down position for thirty minutes amid distractions like everyday occurrences, he is doing well.

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