Down – Stay

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‘DOWN – STAY’ Basic command broken into small component parts to be mastered by the dog.

The “Down” command is more difficult and is taught after the “Sit“. (If your dog has already done some obedience training, a clicker can be used to pinpoint correct behaviour and instead of the verbal “Good dog, Good down.”)

1 Learn “Down” command: With food:  Start by getting the dog to sit next to you in the heel position.

Let the sitting dog smell the food in your right fist. Slowly move the treat down to the ground in front of the dog and between his 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)

Release the food as soon as his chest touches the ground. (Click and Treat) “Good dog”, “Good down” etc.

Another method is to let the dog stand next to you and slowly bring a tasty treat down to a position between his front legs and hold it down in a closed fist. The dog will follow the treat with its nose and has to get down onto its elbows (play bow position) to try and get the treat. Hold the treat until his back goes down and then immediately open your hand to release the treat. If he moves backwards, simply follow him by holding the treat between his front legs.

Repeat 5-10 times 2-3 times a day. The idea is to get the dog to drop down quickly. If he drops down before you can push him, go to step 2.
If the dog is unwilling to go down, place a chair or small table in front of him and by letting your right hand, holding the treat, move forward to a position under the chair you can entice the dog to keep his nose to the treat. Now, if the dog wants the treat, he must go down to get it from under the chair. Problem solvedWhen outside, sit next to the dog in such a way that your right knee forms a “tunnel” through which you can slowly lure him to get to the treat. Repeat it a few times and then try it without the “tunnel.”

Be very patient. “Shadow”, a rescue dog in my club refused to go down for nearly two months. Having tried everything, I finally got him down with gentle downward pressure and immediately gave him “jackpot” i.e. all the food I had in my hand. Now Shadow drops like a brick on command.

The dog must learn that the best way to get the hand to open is to lie down.   No work, no food and eventually he will die. 

Owners  often complain that they have tried many methods but just cannot get their dogs to lie down or when they are down they will immediately get up again. What has happened is that by pushing the dog down in the beginning, the dog has associated the word, “Down” with a struggle and an unpleasant experience. Remember, if you pull a dog, it will pull back and if you push it, it will also push back. The dog in fact may have learnt that, “down” means, “push up.” What needs to be done is to replace “down” with another word such as: “Flat” or “Platz” and offer a very tasty treat such as chicken , vienna sausage or cheese (Don’t go cheap on your dog!) under a low table, a few times a day, untill to you obtain a pressureless down.

2 Eliminate giving food: If the dog dives down regularly the hand signal replaces the food.

With a treat in the right hand, ask the dog to “Sit” and give a hand signal as before. C/T.  Then give a “Down” followed by sit – down – sit – down and finally a sit. (Rewarding each time.) Now hide the food in your other hand or pocket and with the empty hand give a down signal to the sitting dog. (Palm to the floor in a downward move is the hand signal for down) Wait for the dog to react. “Jackpot” him if he lies down. If he stands up, say “Bah”, “Uh-uh”, “No” or “wrong” and give a sit command and put your hand on the ground as before.

The dog must now learn to respond to new voice and hand signals. Start rewarding only the better downs. When the dog is diving down enthusiastically, get him to sit, place both hands behind your back and command, “J—, Down.” (No hand signal) C/T if the dog downs. Jackpot!!

“OK” / “FREE” / “OFF YOU GO” / “TAKE A BREAK” release command after each 10 minutes work.

Continue as before but now vary the exercise with verbal command, hand signals and intermittent rewards. Gradually eliminate giving food by only rewarding at the end of the sequence: sit – down – sit – down (Reward).

 3 Down stay: The aim here is for the dog to remain down while the handler is in an upright position.

Give the “Down” command and then when the dog is down, a  “Down St-a-a-aay” command with a stay hand signal. (Open palm over the dog’s eyes). As soon as the dog is in the down position, step onto the leash to prevent the dog from getting up again. Wait a few seconds, before you bend over, stroke and praise and reward the dog on the ground. Count 15 and praise  say ”OK” click and treat so that the dog must hold the “down” position for several seconds. Work up to 10 secs down-stay while standing upright.

Repeat as before, but now take a step sideways and back before treating. Next move to the front and back again as in “Bungee” sit-stays. Later walk circles around the dog. The message to the dog is to stay down even if the handler is moving. “Good dog” etc.  Increase the length of time for the stay very gradually. If the dog gets up, say, “Bah”, “No” or “Wrong” and repeat the exercise. By stepping on the leash you can prevent the dog from getting up. Try to get 10-20 repetitions of this exercise. If the dog stands up after the click, give the treat. The click indicates the end of the behaviour and the dog does not have to hold the “down” any longer. It is recommended that a release command e.g. “OK” be given to end a stay because you do not necessarily want to reward each stay any more. Something you must do when you click.

Get into the habit of saying, “Sta-a-aay” only once.

4 Add Distractions: Tease the dog by touching the dog’s nose with the treat and hide it behind your back. If the dog moves to get the food, say, “Bah”or “NO and repeat the “Down” command. This is very difficult for the dog because it is the opposite of what he has learnt before i.e. to follow the treat. Now, in order to earn the treat he must first ignore it. Any attempt by the dog to return to the “down” position deserves enthusiastic praise, click and treat.

Use the same distractions and corrections as for the sit exercise. E.g. Step over the dog. Let strangers pet the dog, drop the treat, etc. Corrections are done by grabbing the collar and gently pushing the dog backwards to the original position. Dogs dislike having to walk backwards and soon avoid this by staying put. Phase out the clicker once the dog has mastered the distractions and replace it with verbal praise “Good dog” etc. Now the dog should be taken to new locations to generalise this exercise. If the dog now breaks the stay, reduce the time for a few repetitions before gradually extending the time and distance.

5 Long line work: Now add distance between handler and dog in the same way as was done in the SIT exercise no7. Gradually increase the distance away from the dog. For instance, move five or six paces away, wait a while before returning and walking around the dog each time before praise and treat. When the dog is stable at that distance, distract by sitting down, clapping hands or jumping up and down etc. Remember to first gradually increase the TIME, then the DISTRACTIONS and finally the DISTANCE away from the dog. Tug on the leash etc. If the dog breaks the stay, he must be “reversed” (pushed backwards) to the original spot where he was placed. Do not rush this part of the exercise by going off leash too soon otherwise the dog may never be reliable in the stay exercise.

6 Off leash: As above, but when the handler is 5m or more away from the dog, put the rope down and slowly walk further away, praising the dog, “Good stay”, “Good dog”. Step to the right, left etc. Move out of sight for brief periods e.g. behind a tree. When the dog can hold the position confidently and will remain down even if a stranger steps over him and rolls a ball around him, it is again time to proof him in different locations.

7 Reduce length of leash: Repeat the exercise as before but now reduce the length of the leash to a “tab” leash of 200mm-300mm. The dog must still feel something around his neck and not be aware of the fact that he is free. I find it useful to take my dogs to the entrance of the supermarket, give them a “Down stay” and then observe them through the glass from the inside, ready to step out and treat or correct.

8 Random down: This is a proofing exercise and is given when the dog least expects it.

Expect him to go down immediately whether by voice command or hand signal. Good praise or review earlier training.  Say, “stay” only once!!!

Problem solving: An alternative method is to secure the dog to a fence or stake while in the down position so that it cannot follow you. Use the same method as described in the Sit-Stay exercise.

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