Down! How to teach your dog his first command
"Nature to be commanded, must be obeyed" was a well-known expression of Francis Bacon. This idea is nowhere more accurate than when it comes to training dogs. Dogs will have a natural tendency to hunt for and stay with a chain of command structure with a leader (alpha) at the topmost of the pack and all the way down to an omega at the bottom. That is why the 'Down' technique is unquestionably invaluable for enforcing your position as alpha.
The Down command also has functional rewards. When it relaxes in the down position, the dog is not involved in knocking over furniture and small children. It can also be an introduction to natural subsequent behaviors such as 'rollover', 'crawl' and other interesting tricks.
It is fortunate that such behavior is often quite uncomplicated to train. That is why it is desirable to make use of such uncompelled behavior anytime it's possible. This can be done by keeping an eye on the dog and jumping in when there is a unambiguous transfer from standing to a sitting position orsensations4 from a sitting position to a down posture.
When you see this happen you should give a clear-cut and exclusive vocal command and hand signal combination. Each behavior pattern should always be coupled with an exclusive hand sign that is not used normally throughout the day. It is also important to use a clear, fixed word and tone.
Of course, the dog is already on his way to going into the down position when you give the command, and initially he won't know what you mean. But as soon as that down position is completed, you should lavish the dog with praise and attention. Over time and with specific repetition, the dog will learn to associate the praise with the words and action being completed. And you will associate the command with the positive behavior with the praise for the dog.
Initially, the dog will not likely perform as desired because he does not know what you want. It is important to be patient, clear, specific, and consistent. It also helps to do this when other people are not nearby and you have alone time with your pet and when there are few other distractions like noise and movement to divert the dog's attention.
Always stimulate correct behavior through taking a treat or favorite toy and placing the dog in a sitting position while placing the toy on the ground right near the front of the dog's nose.
You can also try using a "wave down" motion with your hand, palm down, directing the dog toward the down position on the floor by the treat or toy. But be sure you don't reward the dog with the treat or praise until he correctly complies and lies down. This may take a while, though, so don't get discouraged or angry if the dog doesn't comply at first.
For a slow on the uptake or strong-willed dog, it becomes crucial to add to the training by using a collar and leash in your strategy. Always use a short nylon or leather leash that is, most favorably, about two to four feet. Put your dog in a sitting position and face him while kneeling down.
Make the distinct hand sign signaling the command, while at the same time issuing the voice command and moving a treat or toy by the dog's chin and to the floor while slowly and gently pulling on the lead. The goal is to encourage the dog and not to reproach the dog in any way.
Sometimes a dog simply will not get it. So here's another thing to try. Loop the leash around one of the knees on the dog's hind legs. Bring the other end of the leash under your foot (on the opposite side) where you can move it with your foot. While giving the command and the gesture, slide the leash with your foot so it buckles the dog's hind knee and gently pull the dog's two front legs toward you so the dog gently slides into the down position.
When the dog is in the proper position, you should praise the dog generously even though you were the one who set in motion the movement and not the dog. The idea is to get the dog to couple such a position with positive feelings: both his feelings and yours.