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In this post we explain, step by step, how to teach a dog to lie down, what are the difficulties you will find and how to overcome them

Teaching a dog to lie down is one of the most important commands that any basic dog training course will cover. In this post, we’ll explain how to teach and use this command.

“Lie down” is a command that is taught as part of any basic obedience training (come, sit, lie down, and stay). That’s because getting your dog to lie down and stay could be useful in countless everyday situations. Teaching your dog this command will help you stay in control of him, without needing to use physical force to keep him calm and still.

Why do you need to teach a dog to lie down?

Obeying commands is an essential part of dog training. Teaching a dog to lie still when told is a very useful way of controlling some common situations which might otherwise make daily life with your dog quite difficult. “Lie down” can be used when you have taken your dog to a restaurant, or to calm him down if he is agitated, for example after getting into a fight with another dog. So it’s a command that can be useful in a variety of different situations.

But if you want your dog to learn how to lie still, you’ll need to teach him the command in a friendly way, and not use physical force or punishments. Lying down is a natural position for dogs. All dogs know how to lie down; the tricky part is getting them to lie down when told to. In reality, all you need is a bit of patience and your dog will soon pick it up. However, you should bear in mind that teaching a dog to lie down takes a bit of effort, for the following reasons:

  • A dog who is lying down might feel vulnerable, as he’s not in a position in which he could defend himself quickly if frightened. This could be a problem with more fearful dogs in particular.
  • With some younger dogs, the urge to explore their surroundings, or just the physical need to burn off energy, may make it harder for them to follow commands.
  • A dog that’s not calm and relaxed will prefer to be in an alert position rather than lying down. That’s why it can sometimes be difficult to get a dog to comply when told to lie down in certain situations.

How to get your dog to lie down

When training a dog, there are several stages to learning any command. It’s the best way to get a dog to understand what is being asked of him and to learn gradually, with each step backed up through learning.

Stage 1: Teaching your dog to lie down using rewards, without introducing the “lie down” command yet. During this stage, you can use any edible treat that your dog likes, putting it in front of their nose so they know there’s a reward waiting for them.

You should do this training at home, in a quiet place that’s free from distractions. Tell your dog to sit and, once they are sitting, put the treat in front of their nose and slowly lower your hand towards the floor, between your dog’s front paws. As their nose follows the treat, your dog will lower their head, then their shoulders, finally ending up lying on the floor.

To teach your dog to lie down correctly, you’ll need to repeat this exercise several times a day, with no more than 10 repetitions at a time, until you notice that your dog lies down naturally whenever you put a treat in front of their nose and start moving your hand. Once you have managed this, you can start to slightly delay the giving of the treat, first by one second, then by two, then by five, etc. This will teach your dog to stay in position and not get up straight away.

Stage 2: Gradually, you can start making the lowering movement of your hand less obvious, until it becomes a hand signal which your dog associates with the command to “lie down”. Finally, you need to get your dog to lie down with a simple downward hand gesture.

Stage 3: Introduce the “lie down” (or any other phrasing you prefer) just before starting to lower your hand. By doing this, you will be associating a hand signal with the command, which will later enable you to use the verbal command in getting your dog to lie down.

Stage 4: Now you can teach your dog to stay in that position. Teaching a dog to lie down isn’t just a matter of getting them to lie on the floor; they also need to remain in that position for as long as you want them to. To do this, tell your dog to lie down, take one step away, come back and reward them. Continue in the same way, getting gradually further away each time. It’s important not to go too quickly because your dog might get up too soon.

Stage 5: Repeat Stages 1, 2, 3 and 4 outside, in a quiet place, and slowly increase the number of distractions nearby, such as other dogs, children and cars. Again, this needs to be done very gradually. It's better to reinforce the exercise and make more progress, than to go too fast and cause your dog to stand up too soon.

This is what is known in training as generalising behaviour: getting your dog to understand the command in any situation, no matter where they are. In addition to these five stages, when teaching a dog to lie down it’s important that they learn to obey the command when we are at a distance from them in any direction, not just in front of them. By doing this, a dog will learn to wait, no matter where their owner is standing.

Issues you may encounter when teaching your dog to lie down

  • Your dog won’t lie down on hard floors in your house: some dogs are very sensitive and prefer lying down on warmer or softer surfaces. Try giving them a rug to lie on if you don’t have a carpeted floor. You can gradually try with other surfaces later, but to begin with it’s better to encourage your dog to learn.
  • Your dog isn’t motivated to do the exercises: try not to do too many repetitions in one go. Fewer repetitions done well are preferable to more done badly. You can also try to increase the value of the reward by choosing something that your dog really loves.
  • Your dog doesn’t appear to understand the exercise: start again and go more slowly. Try to ensure that your hand gesture is clear enough to show your dog that you want them to lie down. Don’t move your hand too quickly; give them time to follow it with his nose.

If you can see that your dog is having trouble learning how to lie down, don’t get frustrated and, above all, don’t blame them. Start the exercise again and do it very gradually. And remember: dogs don’t do exercises “badly”; sometimes we don’t make it clear enough what we are asking of them, or we try to go too fast.

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