The Long Down
The Long Down is generally associated with the obedience ring when dogs must hold a down position for periods ranging from two (2) minutes in sight in the beginning and up to ten (10) minutes out of sight at the top level. These stay exercises are, what I call, the “bread and butter” items where competitors, having taught the stays properly, can be assured of full marks. Fifty (50) marks at “C” Level is a “gift” you should never miss.
However, although it is one of the easiest exercises that you can teach your dog as soon as he arrives at home, it is not something I find that owners have attempted to teach before joining a puppy school or club. Puppies are taught to “Sit” but not to stay sitting and they invariably will not have attempted to teach the “Down” command to their dogs. Recently I demonstrated, in spite of distractions, how easily a five (5) month old Jack Russell puppy can be taught to stay down for a while demonstrating that other owners can do the same.
Teaching the Long Down has great benefits for the dogs and their owners.
It teaches the dog to accept its owner’s dominance that is not violent or confrontational.
The dog learns self-control since it must not move.
It can be used as a form of “punishment” for misbehaving such as having chased the cat.
A long down can also be used to stop begging at meal times or control when visitors arrive.
Teaching the Down
With enough free time for training, take your puppy or dog to a distraction free area of the home and get him to sit next to you,on leash,in the heel position. With a tasty treat in your right hand, held close to the dog’s nose, slowly move the treat down to the floor/ground between the dog’s front legs. Give the “Down” command and at the same time push the hindquarters of the dog sideways (not down) with your left hand. (The trick is to push the dog’s hip sideways when his head is following the treat to the ground. The dog should easily lie down on one hip in a relaxed position, from which he will not easily get up again).
The dog should remain in a sitting position as you lower the treat. If his hindquarters raise so will the treat. The tail must remain “anchored” to the ground to execute a smooth down. Release the food as soon as the chest touches the ground and then praise, “Yes, Good dog.” I prefer to repeat the down procedure a number of times until it’s done fluently and quickly. I want my dogs to “Drop like a brick” on the down command. Soon I am able to get my dogs to go down solely on a voice command, “Platz” without a hand signal. At this stage we are teaching muscle memory so that the dog does not have to think about how to down. For the Long Down I discourage dogs going down like a “Sphinx” or a “Lion” because they are able to get up in a single movement – that’s why I prefer the relaxed position for the Long Down.
The Long Down
When training puppies at home it is best for you to go down, sitting on the leash, next to him. The use of a small stool or chair to sit on and read or watch TV while teaching the long down could be an option. If the dog moves or tries to get up, say, “No, down” and gently replace him in the down position. Pups, as young as three months old, can be trained to hold a down for up to ten (10) minutes. After a few repeat exercises the handler should be able to move some distance away from the dog or sit on a couch while the dog is on the floor. Once the dog will stay down reliably the handler can move around the room, stand with his back to the dog before finally leaving the room while the dog remains in the long down stay. Leaving the room for a few minutes at a time is soon possible. The door must be left open!
This exercise should be repeated at least three times a week if possible. Choose times when you will not be interrupted during training. After the dog has had his exercise and will be tired is ideal for such a session. Early mornings when dogs are lively and energetic are not the time to teach the Long Down.
I prefer to wait until my dog is very relaxed in the down position before I step on the leash, close to his body, and quietly stand up. Moving my outside leg I show that I can move but he must stay down. The “OK” release command is followed with enthusiastic praise and treats. Older and more powerful dogs often get themselves into a half standing position with heads down due to the leash restriction. I retain pressure on the leash by pulling the loose end upwards, repeat, “No Down” once and then wait until the dog decides to go down. This is when he is praised and treated for obeying.
When teaching the long down at the club near other dogs I use a different method of rewarding the dog during the down stay and not only at the end of the exercise. Armed with sufficient treats, I get the pup or dog to go down and immediately offer a treat as I say, “Down.” I stay down next to the dog, repeat “Down” and treat until the dog looks comfortable lying down. Now I stand up an immediately bend down and repeat the down command as I treat. Watching the dog’s body language allows me to walk on the spot and treat. Soon I can take a step away return and treat. This is followed by two or more steps and treats to teach the dog that it’s a great idea to obey me. Before long I am able to walk further away and even in circles around the dog.
Why dogs break the stay?
The dog is used to following its handler/owner.
The dog is not sure if the handler/owner is going to return.
He does not like another dog next to him.
There are interesting smells in the grass close to him.
Another dog has broken his stay and is running free or to its handler.
Once your dog is holding the stay fairly reliably it is time to begin preparing him to do it under many differing circumstances. As you increase difficulties your reward system must also increase. My proofing strategies follow a specific order: DURATION (Time) then DISTRACTIONS and finally, DISTANCE away from the dog.
(I do not use “Stay”) Duration (Time)
I prefer to do my Long Down training in a formal or preparing for competition routine. My commands are “Sit” “Down” (I do not use “Stay”) then I leave my dog, making a point of always walking away from him at the same set speed, halt and do a left turn. Although I am now not looking at my dog I can watch him in my peripheral vision. Should he break the down I can immediately say, “NO down” and bear down on him, arms wide and push him backwards to the original position. Dogs hate walking backwards and soon will not break a stay because my dogs know that they are going to reverse all the way to the original spot.
Because I want to set my dogs up for success I let them wait two (2) minutes before returning in the heel position. I do not look at the dog, touch or speak to him. I count three then command, “Sit” before “Ok” and I reward and praise him. Gradually my time away becomes 3 minutes, then 5, and later 10 minutes.
Change of venue will bring about distractions. I use an open field not far from a road and a shopping centre which provides plenty of distractions. Pedestrians, trollies, skate boards, dogs and vehicles etc. can all form part of your proofing exercise.
It is important to reward generously when you add distractions. My routine with Quanto was something as follows:
I give a down command, walk to my car and back again to reward. Return to the car, open the door and return. Next I will sit inside the car and watch my dog for a short while before returning. Soon I start the engine and can reverse a short distance before rewarding steadiness in the Long Down. This leads to hiding behind other cars or a nearby building.
Finally I add distance to the long down by moving further away from where my dog was downed. There is a small garden centre that provided me with an opportunity to not only walk quite far away before returning but during repeat exercises I can disappear from sight and approach Quanto from a different direction each time. After some weeks of confidence building, it was possible for me to go into the shopping centre where I could make use of an ATM before returning. This trip, on average, would take ten minutes. I do not recall Quanto ever breaking a ten minute stay in any of the competitions for which we had entered.
Taking your dog with you into traffic, inside shops, onto station platforms, through subways etc. are all part of trust and confidence building. With patience and careful but thorough planning the Long Down training greatly adds to the most wonderful relationship that you could ever have with your best friend.