How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue

Many people find it more difficult to teach a dog to lie down on cue than sit, accusing their dogs of being stubborn. But if you use the same lure-reward, force-free technique for "down" that you use for “sit,” you’ll soon succeed.

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Want to teach your dog to lie down on cue? It’s simple – and it doesn’t require any pushing or pulling. While old-fashioned coercive methods forced dogs to the floor, modern trainers invite the dog to perform this important good manners behavior, and reinforce her when she does.

Lure-Shaping the Down

Lure-shaping is our most successful method for teaching “Down” at my dog-training facility, Peaceable Paws. Here’s how:

  1. Have your dog sit.
How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue
With your dog sitting, hold a tasty treat at the end of her nose and move it straight toward the ground an inch. If your dog, like Boone, can be grabby with food, use a lower-value treat (such as kibble) so he will follow it, but not dive into your hand for it.

2. While she’s sitting, hold a tasty treat at the end of her nose and move it straight toward the ground an inch. When she lowers her nose to follow the treat, “mark” that desired behavior with a signal, such as the click of a clicker or a verbal marker such as the word “Yes!” and give her the treat.

How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue
In successive repetitions, as your dog follows the treat lower and lower, make sure you don’t pull the treat toward you, which can pull him out of the “down” and make him get up and come toward you. Instead, aim for somewhere between his paws.

3. Repeat multiple times, moving the treat lower and lower with each repetition. Each time she follows the treat, lowering her head, mark and give her a treat. (If she gets up as you lower the treat you’ve moved it too far too quickly. Back up and proceed more slowly.)

4. The goal is to lower the treat all the way to the ground, so that she lies down in order to reach the treat at ground level. If she gets stuck partway down, lowering her head but not bending her legs to lie down, move the treat slightly to one side. This shifts her weight onto one paw and encourages her to move the other paw forward. If she’s really stuck, try the Lure Under Method (See Sidebar).

How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue
If your dog gets “stuck” or doesn’t seem to understand how to follow the lure all the way into a down, try this. Sit on the floor with a bent knee and see if you can lure your dog to reach for a treat under your leg. (You can also try this with a coffee table or chair.)

5. When she’ll lure all the way down, it’s time to add the cue. You can use any word you like, though most people say “Down!” Start with the verbal cue, pause briefly, and then lure her to the floor as you did previously. Mark and treat!

How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue
Once he is starting to lie down as soon as you begin to lower the treat, introduce a cue. Say, “Down,” wait a second or two, and then start to lure him as before. Within a handful of repetitions, he should realize that he can get to his reward faster if he lies down when he hears the cue; he dosn’t have to wait for the lure.

6. Start “fading” the lure by whisking it behind your back when she’s almost down and letting her finish going down on her own. When her elbows reach the floor, mark and treat!

How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue
Occasionally pause a bit longer after you use your verbal cue and before luring, to see if he’ll lie down without the lure. Don’t rush! Some dogs are quick, but others have to think about it for a few moments. If he does lie down without any use of the lure, mark and give him a jackpot of treats. Woohoo! He’s well on his way!

7. Occasionally pause a bit longer after you use your verbal cue and before luring, to see if she’ll lie down without the lure. If she does, mark and give her a jackpot of treats. A jackpot is when you give several higher value treats, one after the other after the other.

How to Teach Your Dog to Lie Down on Cue
Just as you would if you were standing, mark and give your dog a treat for each repetition with a successively lower body position; don’t hold out for a full “Down” on the first try! Of course, if he offers a full Down, mark and give him a jackpot!

8. If she’s not offering Down yet, continue luring, gradually whisking the treat away sooner until she lies down on the verbal cue without any luring.

The Lure Under Method For Teaching Down

If you get stuck with the lure-shaping method, here’s another way. Sit on the floor with your knee raised high enough your dog can crawl under (or use a low stool). Lure her under your knee, and when she lies down in order to crawl to reach the treat, mark and treat. When she does this easily, add your “Down” cue, then gradually fade the presence of your knee, until she’ll lie down on just the verbal cue.

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WDJ's Training Editor Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, grew up in a family that was blessed with lots of animal companions: dogs, cats, horses, rabbits, goats, and more, and has maintained that model ever since. She spent the first 20 years of her professional life working at the Marin Humane Society in Marin County, California, for most of that time as a humane officer and director of operations. She continually studied the art and science of dog training and behavior during that time, and in 1996, left MHS to start her own training and behavior business, Peaceable Paws. Pat has earned a number of titles from various training organizations, including Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) and Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA). She also founded Peaceable Paws Academies for teaching and credentialing dog training and behavior professionals, who can earn "Pat Miller Certified Trainer" certifications. She and her husband Paul and an ever-changing number of dogs, horses, and other animal companions live on their 80-acre farm in Fairplay, Maryland.