This is the ultimate command for teaching a dog self-control. This command will also teach some dominant dogs to accept leadership. Many years ago trainers used to believe that a Down was the most submissive position a dog could be in. Quite often, with more harsh methods of training, dogs did fight the Down, even if they were dominant. Actually a Down is the most comfortable position for most dogs. It is the position they sleep in every night for hours on end! With companion dogs, I am not asking them to hold a long Sphinx positioned Down, but just to lie prone on the ground until released. As we teach Down, we also add Stay.
There are some dogs that will fight a Down Stay. Usually these dogs are:
Trained only to lie down with lots of food the minute they lie down.
Trying to get these dogs to hold the position with a Stay, can be quite tough!
Stubborn willful dogs!
To get the dog into position:
Have the dog Sit.
From the Sit, lure the dog into a Down by bringing the hand directly in front of the dog's nose and slowly moving your hand (with the dog's nose following) down to the floor. Do not move your hand too fast or too far out in front of the dog, as it may encourage the dog to get up. The handler can also keep the other hand across the dog's shoulder blade, applying a gentle guidance into that Down. The handler should NOT ever push the dog's shoulders or hips while placing in a Down. There is a difference between guiding and pushing. As the handler is guiding the dog into the Down, the handler says "Down".
If you use the food method to lure the dog into position, once the dog is placed, you must remove your hand with the food, possibly to your mid-section. If you keep the food in front of the dog's nose, it will get up. If you bring your hand up in the air, the dog may also get up to get the treat. This will make it tougher for the dog to hold the Stay.
A common mistake handlers make is to tell the dog Down Stay and move away too quickly too fast in training. The dog will jump right on up, breaking the Stay position. I prefer to teach Stay first as a concept of time, before distance. When the dog is in the Down position, do not move around until the dog has learned to hold the Stay. A way to help the learning process is to use the 6 foot leash during the beginning training. This way even if the dog gets up, it cannot run away.
I may step on the leash (close to the dog's neck, but not so close as to choke the dog) once the dog is in the Down position. I then turn my attention away from the dog, either by reading, watching TV or some other stationary activity. If the dog starts to get up, it cannot leave. But I will also feel the tension on the leash change, and I can remind the dog to Down Stay.
The record for repositioning a dog in the Down Stay training is 38 times in 5 minutes. I felt like I was working with a pogo stick. But the 39th time, the dog held the position and stayed until released!
Once the dog is reliably holding the Stay, the handler can then start to move a few feet away. Increase the distance as the dog continues to hold position. If the dog breaks, go back and reposition the dog and continue the work. When the dog is reliable, change distractions and places you have the dog Down Stay.
Make sure when you are teaching a new dog to Down Stay, do not let the dog lie on your shoes or physically touch your body. It will make it much harder for you to move away from the dog while furthering the Stay command. Many dogs such as Golden "Deceivers" love to touch the owner and break position the minute the owner moves!
As a point of rule, it can take a month to teach a dog to hold a Down Stay, without a leash, and with me moving about the room. Some dogs learn more quickly, and some are more stubborn. It helps if this command is worked once or twice daily, then environment changed, distraction levels changed, etc. A goal for any dog is to hold the Down Stay for up to one hour. Not hard. The dog needs to just get comfortable in a prone position and hold it until released. This is the best command for teaching the dog self-control!