Training the instant down is important and a behaviour that all dogs should be taught to do as it can be a lifesaver in certain situations. Imagine you are out walking your dog, when a car suddenly rounds a corner at close quarters. You are on one side of the road and the car is on the other. Calling your dog to you would put her in the path of the vehicle, but asking her to drop on cue will keep her safe. Similarly, you are walking along one side of a road, when your dog sees a squirrel on the other. Being able to drop your dog before he runs could save the life of both your dog and the squirrel!
The following video shows how I taught Flo, at a few months old, to lie down on cue. She was more difficult to teach than usual because she wouldn’t lie down naturally in training sessions without making her try and squeeze under something! There are various other ways of teaching the down and this isn’t a focus of this article. This is to teach the instant down once your dog will lie down on cue, next to you.
Depending on the stage you are at, practice this for 5-10 minutes at a time, several times a day. Keep using the treat, but gradually start to bend over less and less. Over time, she should start to lie down before you bend right to the floor, so as soon as she goes down, drop a treat between her paws and praise her. Eventually, you should be able to tell her to go down while standing up.
Once you get to the stage where she will lie down on cue with you standing up, we need to start working on the next steps of training the instant down. Start to move around before asking her to lie down. As soon as she lies down, immediately drop a treat or throw her ball for her. Keep your movements quick and then she will naturally copy and be quick. Once you can move around and get her to lie down next to you as soon as you say “down”, start to say down as you’re walking away from her. The second she drops, return to her to feed a treat, or throw her ball, praise her a lot, and repeat.
Building distance into training the instant down
There are 2 ways of doing this:
1. Ask for a down before you throw a ball or other toy. Start off when she is next to you, then when she is quick at this, pretend to throw the ball away. When she stops and starts to look around for it then looks back at you, ask for a down. If she lies down, quickly praise and throw the ball. If she doesn’t move closer to her and try again. If she still doesn’t practice more while she is next to you before trying again.
2. Tie the dog up or put her behind a barrier such as a stair gate. Have some very exciting treats. Start right next to the dog and ask for a down. Then, very gradually, a half-step at a time, move further away. Within each session, you should only move a small amount, building up the distance moved in each session. If she struggles at any distance, move closer again and spend longer at that distance before trying again.
As well as practicing dropping your dog at a distance, start to build duration into the dog being in the down position closer to you. Once she can lie down for a few seconds, start to slightly increase the amount of time you ask for after dropping her at a distance, by waiting slightly longer before releasing her with treats or toys. By building up by tiny amounts at a time, no more than a half-second per day, you can make significant improvements over a month or so. However, the instant down should never turn into a down stay. Keep it brief most of the time in order to keep the dog keen.
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