Teaching your dog to sit was easy. It was even a bit fun. Now that your dog is a total sitting rockstar, you’re ready to start teaching your dog to lie down.
Keep it simple for now and make sure that your dog already knows the verbal cue for sit before starting to work on “lie down.” This will reduce confusion for your dog. If you’d like to teach your dog to “lie down” first, that’s ok! Just select one behavior to work on at a time. Don’t try to teach your dog seventeen new tricks all at once.
Before we get started on teaching your dog something new, let’s get something straight about verbal cues and hand signals.
How to Give Verbal Cues and Hand Signals Like a Pro
As you teach your dog more and more behaviors, be sure that you are 100% clear on the cues for each behavior. Pick a single verbal cue and a single hand motion for each behavior. For example, don’t say “Fluffy, can you sit?” sometimes and “Sit!” other times. You can say your dog’s name to get her attention, but don’t change the other words around much. The same goes for “down” versus “lie down.” Pick one and stick to it.
Traditionally, a sweeping upward hand with palm up is the hand signal for “sit.” A sweeping downward hand with palm down is traditional the signal for “down.” These hand signals are easy for you to remember and easy for your dog to learn because they’re related to how you teach the behavior.
HOW TO TEACH YOUR DOG TO LIE DOWN
For many of my clients, it’s actually easier to teach their dog to lie down than it was to teach their dog to sit. That’s because many dogs don’t sit as a “default” position. These dogs would rather stand or lie down, but don’t sit much.
Just like with “sit,” you can use two main methods to teach your dog to lie down on cue. These methods are known as “capturing” and “luring.” Avoid pushing your dog into a lying position, as this can be confusing for your dog and doesn’t teach her how to lie down on cue.
Capturing Your Dog Lying Down
“Capture” training is a training method based off of catching your dog in the act of doing what you want, then rewarding her for it. Capturing is my favorite way to train a dog when I’m working with clients at Journey Dog Training because it helps my clients see all the things that their dog does right.
Capturing is easy to use for simple behaviors like “lie down.” Most dogs will lie down at some point during the day, and you can easily praise them and then reward them with a treat. For other behaviors, you might have to get more creative and utilize some “shaping,” or training using successive approximations. Don’t let your eyes glaze over yet. We’ll cover that later.
Most dogs will lie down when they are tired or relaxed. Sitting and watching TV or reading a book (or writing a blog post) is a perfect time for training your dog to lie down.
Step One: Setup
In order to capture your dog lying down, set up a very relaxed and boring training environment. Get some treats ready and wait. It’s smart to close the door so that your dog doesn’t wander off where you can’t see her. It’s hard to train a dog you can’t see!
Step Two: Capture
Eventually your dog will probably lie down. Make sure you’re ready! When she does, immediately praise her. This verbal praise lets her know that she did the right thing, and a treat is on its way. I often use a clicker while training dogs instead of verbal praise, but that isn’t necessary. Then give her a treat.
Step Three: Repeat
To speed up “capture” training, you can toss a second treat a bit further away. This will make your dog stand up as she goes to eat it. When she lies down again, praise and reward again.
Step Four: Fluency
As your dog gets better at the “lie down to get a treat” game, she will start to lie down as soon as she returns to you. That’s great! When she gets to that point, you’re ready to add in the verbal cue and hand signal.
When training your dog to lie down, use treats after praise at first. The praise acts like a warning that more goodies are on their way. Eventually, you will be able to give your dog fewer treats. But at first, you’ll want to use treats to communicate that your dog is doing the right thing.
We will talk about adding a verbal cue to “lie down” later.
Luring Your Dog to Lie Down
If you’re having a hard time with capture training, try lure training. Lure training relies on teaching your dog to follow a piece of food to do what you want.
It is often faster and easier to understand for the human than capture training – but it’s got downsides. Lure training can result in dogs that only do what you want when you have food, so proceed with caution.
Step One: The Lure
Start with some food in your hand. Move your hand a few inches and reward your dog for following it with her nose. Repeat this a few times. This teaches your dog to follow the food in your hand.
Step Two: Lowering the Head
Now lower your hand slowly towards the ground. Open your hand and reward a few times about halfway between your dog’s standing height and the ground. Your dog’s head just has to lower down to chest level for this step. Repeat this just a few times.
Step Three: Lie Down
After rewarding your dog for lowering her head a few times, push it a bit further. Lower your hand until your knuckles are on the ground. If your dog lies all the way down with her chest and elbows on the floor, give her several treats. You’ve done it!
Step Four: Fading the Food Lure
This is ultra-important if you want to be able to cue your dog to lie down without a treat in your hand (and your dog’s nose on your hand). After just four or five repetitions of step three, repeat step three without a treat in your hand. Reward your dog from a treat in your other hand once she lies down.
Step Five: Fading the Hand Lure
Now your dog will lie down without a food lure in your hand – that’s awesome! But you’re still kneeling on the ground with your dog getting slime on your fingers. Start to gradually reduce the size of your hand motion until you’re able to stand and just give a small downwards hand motion for your dog to lie down. If you make it to this point, your dog already has a hand signal for lie down!
Sometimes this doesn’t work. Your dog might just lower her head or bend her elbows, or give up. See our troubleshooting guide below if you can’t get your dog to lie down using capturing or luring.
Help! My Dog Won’t Lie Down!
Especially when you’re working on lure training, teaching your dog to lie down can be tricky. If you’re really stuck, here are a few trainer’s tricks to try:
My dog will just lower her head
If you’re having a hard time getting the full lie down behavior, you’re not alone. Try putting your dog up on a platform, like a bed or stairway. Now lure your dog. Since you can put your hand lower than your dog’s feet, this encourages your dog to lie down.
Some dogs will just hop off the elevated object instead of lying down. In this case, you have to get really creative. Try putting your hand with treats in it under a raised bed or low coffee table. Your dog will have to lie down in order to get her head and shoulders under the object and get to the treat.
My dog is losing interest in training
Your treats might be too boring, or your training environment is too distracting. Either get better training treats (like hot dog bits or boiled chicken) or move your training to a less distracting area.
My dog doesn’t like treats
Some dogs simply don’t like treats all that much. If you’ve really tried a variety of treats and nothing is working, it’s time to think outside the box. Some dogs will engage in training in exchange for a toy or other reward – but this definitely makes training harder! Try using a variety of treats, a boring environment, or toys before giving up hope.
My dog is jumping all over me to get to the treats
Most dogs love treats. Some dogs love treats so much that they can hardly think straight around them. If you’ve got a chow hound like this on your hands, try to make treats less exciting by using cut-up baby carrots or normal dog food instead of meaty treats.
Try playing some impulse control games to teach your dog to keep her head around treats.
Now that your pup is lying down reliably, it’s time to start adding a verbal cue. After that, your job is to practice “lie down” with your dog in a variety of situations. After your dog can lie down on cue in distracting environments, it’s time to fade out treats. Read about how to do all three of these tasks in our article “Adding Cues, Proofing Behaviors, and Fading Out Treats“.