Teaching “Down,” the Difficult Dogs

Certified professional trainers offer their clients the tools to succeed, and that means problem solving! Teaching “down” in a group class setting is a great example of a time when your problem solving skills will be called upon.

Why is “down” so difficult in group class?

“Down” is a position in which dogs can feel vulnerable. Some dogs feel trapped in the “down” position, because they can’t maneuver and respond to the environment as quickly. Perhaps the floor is cold and/or hard, so the dog is uncomfortable in the “down” position. There are a number of reasons that dogs have difficulty learning “down” in class. As in many dog training conundrums, the “why” matters! Understanding why a dog is reluctant to “down” in class can be helpful in offering training solutions, but it’s not absolutely necessary.

Option 1

Most trainers have a go-to option for teaching the behaviors in their classes. What you choose as your first option for “down” will be based upon your clients and their specific needs. The following are the basics: luring, shaping, capturing, hand targeting, and modeling. Not familiar with each of these?  Check out Become a Professional Trainer’s training courses to learn more!

Alternatives for teaching “down”    

1. Soft Bed. Try placing a bed or mat on the ground. If the floor is too slick, too cold, or too hard for the dog to comfortably “down,” then a mat may help.

2. Try Option 2. If you’re luring, try shaping. If you’re shaping, try luring. Some clients find certain methods easier than others, and the same is true of dogs. Find a method with which both dog and handler are comfortable.

3. Simplify. Make the environment less challenging by removing distractions. Visual distractions can be reduced with opaque barriers, for example. Split your criteria steps into smaller pieces.

4. In-Home Training. Some dogs are stressed enough in class that learning certain new behaviors is hard. These dogs may be candidates for in-home training.

5. Homework. If in-home training is either not an option for your client or there is a strong preference to attend group classes, then coach your client through the steps and send them home with homework. They’ll train at home, where the dog will hopefully begin to gain familiarity with the behavior. Once the dog has started the behavior at home, frequently the dog is more willing to attempt the behavior in class.

6. Change the Start Position. If you’re teaching “down” from the sit, try “down” from the stand.

6. Tweak Your Mechanics. If you’re luring out and away for a sphinx “down”, try luring around to the belly for a sloppy, relaxed “down.”

7. Use a Prop. Try luring under your leg or a chair, so that the dog bows into the “down.”

An exhaustive list? No, but this will get you started. It’s important to think creatively while analyzing the specific challenges that this client and this dog present. Becoming a certified dog trainer means having the tools in your training toolbox to address your clients’ training challenges. Memorizing methods might help get you started, but it’s creative problem solving targeted to the specific needs of your client that will help your clients achieve the best results.

Leave a Reply