Imagine your dog has gotten loose, and is in your yard. There is another dog, a squirrel, a child riding a bike or playing with a ball, somewhere across the street that has just gotten your dog’s attention. You see a truck coming down the street, and it’s closing in fast. “Rex, DOWN!” and your dog drops, right where he is. “Rex, STAY”. You are able to calmly walk up and take him by the collar, despite the distractions across the street, as the truck passes by. Your dog is safe and sound. Teaching the “Down” and “Stay” commands are one of the most important things you can do for your dog.
Fill your bait pouch or treat bag with medium to high reward treats. These can be difficult behaviors for the dog to learn, especially if retraining a dog who sits before laying down. Plain kibble as a reward should only be for dogs on diets, otherwise, use hot dog bits, Tender Vittles, liver training treats, apple chunks, cheese chunks and any other treats your dog finds especially enticing.
You will also be introducing hand signals into your dog’s training in this phase of training. Hold your clicker in your off hand, left if right-handed, and vice-versa. You will signal and treat with your dominant hand, and click with your off hand. Always begin with some tasks that the dog has already mastered. Ask for a behavior a few times and click and treat.
Teaching your dog to “Down” is not always as easy as it would seem. One of the critical points of teaching the “Down” is to teach it BEFORE the “Sit”. You want your dog to lay down without having to sit first. Traditionally, the sit has been taught first, but more trainers are shifting to a “Down” first methodology.
To train the “Down”, you’ll start with your dog in front of you, facing you. Say “Down” and, point with one finger at the ground in front of your dog. At this point, some dogs may immediately drop. Click the moment their body touches the ground, and treat. If the dog does not drop down, take your pointing hand, treat concealed in the fingers that are clenched, and bring your hand to the floor in front of the dog. Don’t give the command again. Hold your hand on the floor until the dog lays down.
If your dog is scratching and pawing at your hand, tell him “no” and move your hand just a bit towards their hindquarters, yet still on the floor, and between their front paws. The physiology prevents the dog from sniffing at the treat without laying down.
Click and treat only when the dog’s body is on the ground. If you click too early, you will be shaping the dog’s behavior to bend, but not lay down when he hears that command. After your training session, don’t forget to release the dog to reward him.
The “Stay” is another command that is invaluable. From emergency situations to avoiding being run over as you open the door to let them outside, the “Stay” is a command you will probably use the most frequently.
Start with your dog in a “Down” in front of you and facing you. Hold the clicker in your off hand, and treat in your command hand, in between two fingers, so you can hold your hand flat. Tell him “Stay”, and gesture at him with your command hand as if you were a police officer directing traffic, telling drivers to stay where they are. If your dog doesn’t move (and he probably won’t) click and treat immediately. Gradually lengthen the time you wait to click and treat until he is “Stay”ing for about 30 seconds.
Now you’ll add movement. Give the “Stay” command. Take one small step back, then immediately step forward into your original position. Click and treat. Increase the time it takes you to step back to starting position. Begin to vary your steps: step to the side, step two steps back, etc. Each time, return to your original position before clicking and treating. Eventually, you’ll be able to walk in a circle around your dog, leave the room, etc. and have him hold the “Stay”.
If your dog “breaks” the command, or moves from the location and body position he was in when you gave the command, you will need to correct him. Simply tell him “No” and put him back in the same location and position you require. “Stay” is not a command that allows a dog to vary anything at all of his own accord. Another command, “Wait” will come in another lesson, and will allow a dog some freedom of choice. This is not negotiable for “Stay”.
Work on these commands in close proximity to your dog at first. As they begin to solidify, you’ll be able to ask him to “Stay” while standing, walk away from him, tell him to “Down” “Stay”, walk away, and return to him, all while he patiently waits for his master.