The down command continues one of the lessons the sit command started—self control.
While it is hard for many young, bouncy Goldens to control their own actions, it is a lesson that they must learn. Teaching and practicing the lay down command teaches your dog to lie down and be still.
Begin the lesson by having your Golden sit. Rest one hand gently on his shoulders and have a treat in the other hand. Let him smell the treat and then tell him, “Dog, down,” as you take the treat straight down to the ground in front of his front paws. As he follows the treat to the ground, use your hand on his shoulders to encourage him to lie down. Praise him, give him the treat, have him hold the position for a few moments and then release in the same manner that you did from the sit exercise. Pat him on the shoulder and tell him, “Release!”
If your dog looks at the treat as you make the signal, but doesn’t follow the treat to the ground, simply scoop his front legs up and forward and lay him down. The rest of the exercise is the same.
As your Golden Retriever learns what down means, you can have him hold it for a few seconds longer before you release him, but do not step away from him. Stay next to him and if you need to, keep a hand on his shoulder to encourage him to remain lying down.
You can use the same process as just mentioned to teach your dog to stay in the down position. Have him sit, then lie down. Give him the verbal command to stay and the hand signal while putting slight pressure backwards on the leash. Step one step away as you release pressure on the leash. If he moves, tell him “No” and put him back into position. After a few seconds, go back to him, praise him, and then release him.
With the stay command, you always want to go back to your dog to release him. Don’t release him from a distance or call him to come from the stay. If you do either of these, your dog will be much less reliable in the stay. He will continue to get up from the stay or will start to anticipate the release from a distance. When teaching the stay, you want your dog to understand that stay means, “Hold this position until I come back to you and release you.” This way there is no confusion.
As your dog learns the stay command, you can increase the time he holds the stay. However, make sure you increase the time very gradually. If your dog is making a lot of mistakes, moving often, you are either asking your dog to hold the stay too long or your dog doesn’t understand the command yet. In either case, go back and re-teach the command from the beginning increasing the stay time very, very gradually.
Increase the distance you move away from your dog just as gradually. Again, if your dog is making a lot of mistakes, make sure he understands what you are asking him to do. Then, increase the distance one step away at a time.
When your Golden has learned the basics of the stay, start using the down stay around the house. Have your dog down stay while you are eating so that he isn’t begging at the table or trying to steal food. Have him do a down stay when guests come over so he isn’t jumping all over them.
Please note: This article is part of a collection of dog-related content that we purchased the rights to. Opinions expressed may or may not agree with those espoused by Master Dog Trainer Adam G. Katz. When in doubt, please refer to the advice given in Adam’s dog training book. This article is provided for your enjoyment, only. It’s relevance to real world working dog training may be limited.