Six Minute a Day Skill: Down
The instructions on this page take you through seven difficulty levels of Down. The first Level is for dogs who have never learned Down at all.
The seventh Level is usually the first goal I aim for when teaching Down – a subtle hand signal at waist level.
At each Level we make the Down a little bit harder by giving the dog a little bit less information.
Level 1. Closed-fist lure with food
Hold treats in closed fist. Let treats peek out of the opening between your curled forefinger and thumb.
Start your dog from a “Sit” Position.
Put opening (with exposed food) on your dog’s nose and lure STRAIGHT down. The dog’s nose should be drawn to the opening like a magnet. Let them smell, lick, nibble, but try not to release food until their elbows hit the ground.
Say “Thank you!” (and mean it!) as soon as elbows hit the ground, and release treats quickly, before your dog has a chance to pull elbows back up.
Troubleshooting Level 1
- If your dog pulls the nose away from the food, the food goes right back on the nose, again, like a magnet, and you start again.
- If your dog pulls away often or doesn’t follow the food in the fist at all, then the dog might think your magnet kind of sucks – try higher value food.
- If your dog gets up from the Sit, get them back into it as quickly as possible (use a lure or hand signal).
- If your dog is following your hand all the way down to the ground, but not quite getting all the elbows down into the Down position, then try holding the fist still and waiting, or pushing slightly forward to get the dog to “fold back” into the Down.
- If your dog’s nose follows the food all the way down but their butt’s come up from the “Sit”, then make sure you are moving your hand straight down towards the paws and not pulling out away from the dog’s head.
- If none of the above apply and you are still having trouble with this step after the second two minute session, then try putting down a blanket or towel. Some dogs will more easily lie down on a soft surface than a hard floor. This seems to be especially true of many small breeds.
Level 2. Closed-fist lure without food
For Level 1, we taught the dog that we would give them a treat if they followed a closed fist holding food all the way into a lying down position.
In Level 2, we will teach the dog that we will give them a treat if they follow a closed fist not holding food.
Usually, this means tricking the dog into thinking that the closed fist still contains food.
Use the same hand to make a closed fist exactly like in Level 1, but this time without any treats.
Hold treats in opposite hand behind your back.
Put closed fist on nose and move downward exactly like in Level 1.
When your dog follows your fist all the way down and the elbows hit the ground, say Thank you! and quickly deliver a treat from the hand behind your back.
It’s important that the treat gets to your dog’s mouth before they begin standing up again!
Troubleshooting Level 2:
- Often, the first time you try Step 2 the dog will respond perfectly but then not respond again. That is probably because they are onto your trickery. So you might need to get a little more elaborate.
- Try having them watch you physically pretend to put treats in your luring fist or even rubbing some food on the hand to make it smell more like the food.
- If you are still unable to lure with empty fist, try this half step:
- Put treats in both hands. Lure with food as in Step 1, but instead of releasing treats from the luring hand, bring food from behind your back as in Step 2.
Level 3. Open flat hand lure without food
Transitioning to Level 3 can often be difficult. But once you make the transition, the remaining steps are a piece of a cake!
In Level 2 we basically lured the dog’s head down by tricking them into thinking there was food in our closed fist.
In Level 3 we are having the dog follow our hand down without trying to trick the dog – we are showing them straight up that the hand is empty.
Get the dog in a Sit position and put the empty closed fist on the nose as before. But this time, as you move downward to the ground, flip your hand over and open your hand flat, palms facing down. Bring your hand all the way down so that your fingers are touching the ground.
Troubleshooting Level 3:
- If you need to, you can do a few repetitions with a treat jammed in between your thumb and forefinger and have the dog follow that down.
Level 4. Stop hand a few inches above ground
The rest of the levels are identical! Just begin stopping your hand a little bit higher up at each Level!