Stick to It. Just like when you’re teaching any command, remember that it’s up to you to follow through. This command, in particular, is one that relies on you giving the instruction and then outwaiting your dog until he gives in and does what you’ve asked. It can be frustrating and time-consuming at first, but I’ve never met a dog who can’t learn the DOWN. I have, though, met owners who give up too soon, basically teaching the dog the opposite of what they intended—that the animal can outwait the person and bend him or her to his will. Needless to say, that’s the beginning of a problem that can get much bigger than mastery of any single command. Stick to it, stay patient, and you’ll be fine.
Stand Tall While Training Your Big Dog. Many people train the DOWN command from a kneeling position because it’s easier for them to lower a treat to the floor that way. Keep in mind that you want to posture your body in a more normal (standing) position as soon as you can. If you continuously train the command on your knees, your dog will get used to that, and when you give the same command from standing, your dog may be thrown off by the change. So it’s okay to start out kneeling to teach this command, but start inching back up to your normal position right away when your dog starts to grasp it. After a few days you should be standing all the way up while telling him DOWN.
Don’t Back Away. Another common mistake people make when training a big dog the DOWN command with this technique is backing up when they first unclip the dog from the anchor leash. Many dogs will naturally start creeping forward when off the leash, and some people naturally back up when this happens. Don’t back up. By doing so, you teach your dog to creep forward, which eventually leads to a bad habit of doing it every time. Simply give the command and stand still. Standing your ground will help ensure your dog will be ready and able to follow the command when he really needs it.
Use It or Lose It. This is the cardinal rule of training. If you don’t condition your dog daily, he won’t get good at the command. Always remember to lock in that muscle memory for your dog. Do several sessions a day for a week, and you’ll be happy. Do it several times a day for months and you’ll be blown away.
Starting from SIT. Most dogs can learn the DOWN command just fine from a standing position, but if your dog resists lying down in favor of going after the treat, try starting him out in the SIT position instead. For the majority of dogs, teaching a SIT is the logical first step in obedience training anyway—and the quickest way to ensure you get to the finish line of all 7 Common Commands in the shortest amount of time. Use the SIT command from Chapter 4 to help a dog who’s struggling to go from standing to DOWN. Some dogs find it easier to stretch out from sitting, and they respond better to this slight change in technique.
Welcome to the World of Self-Control
Ari learned the DOWN command—but he learned something even more important at the same time. He learned some self-control. He was able, with the help of the Double Leash Lock-Off, to focus long enough to find out that he could earn rewards. And along the way he discovered, without ever hearing a raised voice and definitely without seeing a raised hand, that he couldn’t win what he initially perceived as a game of will. Once he saw he couldn’t win it— that cooperating was the way to get what he wanted—he decided it wasn’t worth playing at all. Ari had undergone a very important attitude adjustment: he went from being a delinquent to being a student. After that, he was ready to learn more. Your dog’s case may not be as dire as Ari’s was. Most of them aren’t. But being able to trust that your dog’s well-trained DOWN command will get a consistent response every time will give you an invaluable tool to keep him under control and safe anywhere and anytime.