How to Teach a Dog to Lay Down – Dogster

Teaching your dog to lie down is a practical cue because it leads to more advanced behaviors. When your dog can lie down on cue, he’ll be able to  stay on his bed or master tricks like rolling over or crawling. The sky’s the limit! Your pup will enjoy the training and your friends will be impressed.

How to teach your dog to lay down

Before you start training, follow these tips to set up your surroundings for a successful session:

  • First, to set your dog up to succeed, exercise him before starting the training session. He needs to be tired enough that he will want to lie down.
  • Gather his favorite dog treats. The reward should be something that your dog loves and will follow with his nose when you attempt to lure him.
  • Start training in a room without distractions, not even his favorite dog buddy who may pounce on him in play.

How to teach your dog down: the lure method

  1. Cue your dog to sit in front of you. If he doesn’t know that behavior, teach it to him first during a separate training session.
  2. Hold a small piece of yummy treat in front of his nose. Slowly move the treat straight down towards the floor. When he follows the treat, mark the desired behavior with “yes” and give him the reward.

Dogster tip: Stay calm when marking the behavior. If you get too excited, chances are your dog will get up.

  1. Repeat this several times. During each successive step, continue moving the treat closer to the ground. When successful, praise and reward.

Dogster tip: If your dog gets up, ensure you’re not moving the treat too quickly, causing the behavior. Start again.

  1. If your dog hunches up instead of lying down flat, slightly move the treat away from him after the treat reaches the ground. It should look like an “L” motion.
  2. When your dog lies down flat, with his elbows and hocks on the ground, praise and reward.

Dogster tip: Place the treat reward on the ground just between your dog’s paws. This keep her lying down.

  1. Repeat these steps a few times, always praising and rewarding your pup when she lies down on the ground.
  2. As you lure your dog from the sit position, add the cue “down.” Praise and treat when she lies down, elbows on the ground. Perform this a few times.
  3. Fade the treat lure after your dog understands what’s expected. Still use the hand motion but have the treat hidden in your other hand behind your back. Mark the behavior and treat when she lies down.
  4. After your pup successfully lies down without the treat lure, fade the hand motion. Then use the verbal cue only. Mix it up after your dog understands what’s expected. Sometimes use the verbal cue and hand signal. Other times, use just the verbal cue or the hand signal.
  5. Use a random reinforcement schedule. After your pup understands what you expect, treat less frequently. Do this slowly. You still want your pup to be motivated. And don’t forget the praise.

Teaching this trick will often take more than one training session. Don’t rush the process. It’s most important that your dog understands what’s expected before moving on.

dog sitting down
Before teaching her dog how to lay down, dog trainer and writer Debbie DeSantis cues him to sit. © Debbie DeSantis.

What if my dog won’t lie down?

Don’t panic! Try luring your dog to go under something as if there were a bridge and he’s doing a limbo under it.

  1. Sit on the floor and bend your knee as if it were a bridge. Alternatively, lure your dog under a table or chair rung, as long as the piece of furniture is stable and won’t move, which could startle a dog.
  2. Then, follow the steps above, luring your dog with a yummy treat under the “bridge.” Always praise and reward when she lies down.
  3. Eventually, fade the bridge and the treat lure.

If your dog won’t lure down, don’t despair. When you return from a walk or after a play session, have treats handy and wait for your dog to lie down.

Start calmly rewarding the behavior. Behavior that’s rewarded will repeat itself. Then you can start adding a “down” cue when she lies down. Mark and reward the behavior.

dog laying
Debbie lures her dog from a sitting position, down to the ground with a treat. © Debbie DeSantis.

Next steps for teaching your dog down

After your dog lies down on your cue, start adding distractions. Have someone walk in the room at a distance. Perform the trick in different locations, on different surfaces and at different times of day. Up the distraction ante as your dog can handle it. The goal is for your pup to generalize the behavior in other settings.

Teaching your dog how to lie down on cue is a very useful behavior if you want to take your pup in public settings, especially with other dogs. Think of all the fun you’ll have together taking the show on the road!

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