Training: Teaching Down and Stay

Liz Palika

Teaching down using treats

The down command, especially when combined with stay, is a wonderful obedience exercise that will help your dog learn self-control. This will help prevent annoying behaviors such as begging during meals or mobbing your guests. Plus, as you’ll read in trick training posts, the down is an integral part of several tricks, including roll over, dead dog, and crawl.

Teaching Down

For this exercise, the word down is used to mean lie down on the ground or floor and be still. If you use the word down to tell your dog to get down off the furniture or to stop jumping on you, then use a different word for this exercise. Dogs need one definition per vocabulary word. Otherwise, life gets confusing.

The first technique uses a treat, so chose one you know your dog likes. Ask your dog to sit, praise him, and then let him sniff the treat. As he’s sniffing, take the treat from his nose to his toes. As he moves his head to follow the treat tell him, “Sweetie, down.” When his elbows touch the ground, praise him and give him the treat. Pat him on the shoulder and tell him, “Sweetie, okay,” when you’re ready for him to get up.

The second technique is for those dogs who aren’t interested in treats at the moment. Ask your dog to sit by your side and praise him. Reach over his shoulders and with one hand on each front leg, scoop his legs out and help him lie down. Praise him.

No matter which technique you teach, repeat it a few times and then take a break. Come back later and repeat it again. Keep training sessions short and sweet and remember to praise your dog.

Adding the Stay

The definition of stay is that when told to stay, your dog should remain in that position until you tell him it’s okay for him to move. Of course, this means you cannot tell him stay and then forget about him.

Down command without treats
Kate Abbott teaches Sisko the down command by placing his paws.

To teach the down/stay, have a leash on your dog just in case he decides to dash away. Use the down command to get him to lie down and praise him when he does. Then tell him stay, but remain with him. After a few seconds, praise him, tell him he can get up, and praise him again. Repeat a couple more times, take a break and come back and do it again.

Don’t be in a hurry to walk away from your dog or have him stay for several minutes. At the beginning of this training – which requires self-control on the part of your dog – your emphasis should be on setting him up to succeed. That means remaining close to him and helping him hold still for seconds at a time.

Gradually, over several weeks, you can increase the time you ask him to stay and the distance you walk away from him. But only increase one thing at a time. One week during your training sessions you can increase the distance you move away from him, one step at a time. Then the next week you can increase the time, ten seconds at a time.

If your dog is having a hard time holding still, remain with him. Place one hand on his shoulder as he lies down and scratch him, showing him you’re supporting his efforts to be still.

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