Teach Your Dog the Instant Down

An immediate down is one of the most useful exercises a dog can learn - and it can also be a lifesaver. Teach him to drop on command and you'll really impress everyone else!

Very useful with an impetuous dog: you can nail him to the floor just as he's hurtling off to jump on an old lady, race after another dog, scatter some toddlers, run in front of a car ...

Lying down can have a very calming effect, and because you have taught an instant down, it becomes an activity in itself. It's a doing cue, not a lack of doing. Your dog drops like a stone, and waits, watching you, for his release cue.

You do have a release cue, don't you? Otherwise your dog won't know when his work is done, and he'll start to break his sit or down and wander off when he thinks he's done enough.

You can say "ok" - but this can cause problems if you forget and say "ok" to someone else, only to see your dog disappearing over the horizon! The traditional sheepdog command is "That'll do" - choose any phrase that suits you, and use it consistently.

Remember how we shaped the Sit?

Shaping the down is similar to shaping the Sit in that you are getting the dog to choose to lie down smartly, without you pushing and pulling him about.

So you take your treat, and instead of passing it back over his head, you hold it tight, concealed in your fist. He knows it's there, and he can smell it, so bring his nose down to the ground. As he licks and nibbles at your fist, just wait - sooner or later his elbows will touch the ground. To begin with that is enough to reward him with his treat.

Some dogs find this easier from a sitting position.

After a few rewarded attempts and some patience on your part, his back end will come down too. Now you have your down! As with the Sit, you can keep going till it's reliable, then you can put your cue on the action. Get the behaviour first, then name it.

Now Speed it up ...

This is the fun part. To speed up your down, you turn it into an action game. You can encourage your dog to jump high in the air (not high for puppies), and when he's at his peak, say "down", preferably with your hand signal as well - which will be your hand swinging down towards the floor, as it did when you first lured it with the treat.

This will put a real spark into your down!

Here's another game which many dogs will play endlessly - all the time reinforcing the down: when you're on a walk and your dog is running free, call "down!". When he is down, you can go up to him, praise him and release him, perhaps throwing his favourite toy at the same time. Soon he'll be racing you to the down.

I find that this game works particularly well with 2 or 3 dogs, and looks like a kind of canine Grandmother's Footsteps!