This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Two of the Advanced Course

Command Training
Page Seven of an eleven-page section

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NEVER Forget a Dog On Command

Mostly, your dog cares about carrying out your commands because he believes that it is important to you that he do so. However, if your dog comes to believe that you don't care all that much, then, after that, you may quickly discover that he begins to behave as though he cares even less.

There may be no quicker way to convince your dog that cooperating with you is a losing proposition, than for you to give him a command and then leave him waiting endlessly for a release that never comes.

When you are working with your dog, he needs to know with an unshakeable certainty that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, you definitely remember when you have placed him on command, and that it is just a matter of time until you will issue the release. Don't ever let him down in that regard, and never give him reason to doubt, because your credibility with the animal, his future cooperation, and the bond of trust that binds you together are all at stake.

The Power of a History of 100% Compliance

If you follow the admonitions of this website, then, right from the very first command that you issue to your dog, you will ensure that, one way or another, with only the rarest of exceptions, he will immediately obey every command that you ever give him.

Especially if you start early on and work with him through his critical stage of development, by the time your dog gets to be a year old, he will have the great weight of his own personal history pressing in upon him, since in his entire life, he will have obeyed every command he was ever given. A dog who finds himself in that circumstance, will not be able to remember a single time in his entire life when he did not instantly respond in a compliant fashion, and it may be difficult for him to even imagine himself not taking every command to heart.

Such is the power of a history of one hundred percent compliance.

Teaching the Down Command

It is usually best if you wait until your dog has become at least somewhat reliable in his execution of the Sit command before you begin working with him on the Down maneuver.

When the time finally comes around for you to begin working on Down with your dog, you will find that the routine is in every way parallel to the process of teaching your dog to sit.

Just as you did when you first started teaching your dog to Sit, you must begin by issuing the down command in the proper manner, using the necessary tone of voice. As before, each command should be given only once.

Just as before, after placing your hands on your dog and giving him the command, you will need to physically move him into position. In this case, to get him to lie down, you will need to sort of pull his front legs gently out from under him as you push down on his haunches or, in general, do whatever you have to do to move him into a lying down position without making the experience in any way unplesant for him. Obviously, that is often easier to achieve in a smooth fashion if you are working with a small dog, which is yet another good reason to start working with your canine while he is still a pup.

Once you have your dog in the correct posture, hold him there for several seconds before you suddenly remove your hands and joyously issue the release in a much exaggerated, high energy fashion. That should prompt him to jump up and move out of the commanded position.

That's it, then. You just need to repeat that process a few times and that should be enough for you to have your dog executing a perfect Down command and holding it until the release is given. Of course, at that point, your dog will only perform the command if you get up close to him, move him into position and hold him there as you verbally reassure him that he is doing everything just exactly right.

As before, to get from this early stage of constant reassurance to the point where you can simply issue the command from a distance and know it will always be obeyed, there are three things that you will need to do:

  1. Gradually remove the tactile cues that guide your dog.
  2. Over time, imperceptibly, extend the distance from which you give the command.
  3. As the response becomes better established, slowly fade out your reinforcers and sandwich cues.

Teach the Down Command From Both a Standing and a Sitting Posture

One might suppose that a dog who has learned to lay down on command from a sitting position would, just sort of by osmosis and general inference, conclude that the same command would mean the same thing if the words were spoken to him when he is standing up, and vice-versa. However, by and large, that tends not to be true. Therefore, if you want your dog to obey your down command from both a sitting and a standing position, then, you will need to work with him and make sure that he gets plenty of practice receiving commands from both of those postures.

Thinking Through the Details

There are at least four things that a dog can do and still remain in a posture that can accurately be described as lying down:

  1. He can lie on his back.
  2. He can lie on his side.
  3. He can lie in a prone posture with his chin flat on the floor, while his back legs are tucked up under him and his front legs are extended before him. Or,
  4. he can lie in a prone posture, with his head erect, while his back legs are tucked up under him and his front legs are extended before him.

If your goal is to train a canine who will score well in obedience competitions, then, you will want to teach your dog to always lie in the prone position with his head held erect for the entire time that he executes the down command, because that is what the obedience judges want to see, and that is what they grade on.

If raising a dog who will score well in obedience trials is your goal, then, any time your dog moves out of the prone, head up, lying down posture, to some other lying down posture, you will want to employ a do this - not that, procedure to set him right. That way your dog will come to understand that, when executing his down order, he should always remain in that one, particular, prone, head-up posture for the duration of the command.

However, most people have little interest in entering their dogs in competitions. If that is the case with you, then, I suggest that you allow your dog to put his head down, flop over on his side and fall asleep if he wants to. A snoring dog capsized into a heap does not present the same impressive demeanor, but there may be times when your dog will just have to patiently wait while you tend to lengthy human business. So why not let him get comfortable and fall asleep if he wants to?

However, just because your dog falls asleep after you put him down does not mean that the command has been rescinded. Therefore, you must always remember if your slumbering dog was commanded into that position and act accordingly, by making it a point not to let your newly awakened dog just get up and wander away until after you have released him.

No Cigars for Crawling Dogs

I once trained a German Shepherd whose imposing appearance was matched only by his gentle affability. Back in the days before it became too dangerous to leave a dog unattended, I commanded the off-lead Shepherd down and ordered him to Stay where I had placed him next to the outside wall of a convenience store, while I went inside to buy something.

I had been in the store for less than a minute when I noticed that a small crowd had begun to collect near the door, as though they were waiting to exit. I had placed the Shepherd several yards from the door, well out of the way of where people were walking, but when I went to investigate the commotion, I found my dog lying in the doorway, obstructing the flow of foot traffic through the store's only entry and exit point.

The people could have stepped over him. For that matter, they could have stepped directly on him and he would not have reacted aggressively. But of couse, the group of strangers stacking up in the doorway had no way of knowing that, and he was a physically imposing dog by any estimation, so the first person who came upon him lying in the doorway made the decision not to step over or attempt to walk around him. The second person probably figured that the first person had reason to be leery and after that they just backed up and stacked up with the dog lying in the middle of the crowd, looking up in bewilderment as he wondered why this bunch of static gawkers suddenly seemed to have nothing better to do than to stare at him from the ranks of a tense, little, silent circle that was rapidly gathering.

I learned later that the dog had crawled several yards from the spot where I had placed him, over to the doorway of the store, where he thought he might get a better view of my activities. I had commanded him to remain down, but he was a very smart dog, and sooner of later every high IQ canine is going to want to test the limits and explore the exact parameters of every command.

You may run into that problem yourself. For example, you may put your dog down in the living room, and then go into the kitchen to make a cup of tea while you test his patience, only to find that he comes crawling along after you a minute or two later. Now that's cute. A dog with that kind of imagination should definitely get points for cute. Points yes, but no cigar.

Don't let it get started. Don't ever let any problems get started.

Make sure that your dog understands that down not only means don't get up, it also means don't go anywhere.

Go forward to page eight of the command training section

Go to the command training index

This page on Command Training is part of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network