Question: How can I teach my dog the keyword “below”?
Reply: The “down” hint is pretty useful, but I’ve seen dog owners use it in the wrong context quite often. When a dog jumps on you or one of your guests, they often say “down!” and I see the same thing when Fluffy gets on the couch. “Get down, Fluffy!”
The appropriate keyword when your dog is lying on the couch and you want to get rid of him is simply “Off”! or “get out!” For a jumping dog, it is best to just block it. Fluffy needs to understand that jumping is a “no”. and she will get the idea if your timing is right and you persevere.
“Down”, on the other hand, is a formal command of obedience and means “to lie down nicely”. The hand sign is your palm down, parallel to the floor at your side, basically where the seam of your pants is. There is no sweeping movement. Dogs communicate with body language and notice the nuance of hand signals. Especially when you keep seeing her.
Are hand signals important? Maybe not, but they are helpful. The biggest mistake I see dog owners make is always leaning over and pointing at the ground while they repeat “down” over and over again. That is a terrible protocol.
Of course, when you first tell Fluffy and give her the signal, she has no idea what you want. To get your dog into the down position, take a tiny, eraser-sized treat between your first two fingers. Wait 5 seconds after giving the cue, then crouch down and bring your palm on the floor, face down, directly in front of your dog. Be patient here. We won’t force them. We want her to choose it.
Ideally, Fluffy will follow your hand with her nose towards the floor. This is one of the few times I use a treat as bait. Often a dog automatically takes the lower position at this point. To suggest what you want, you can gently place your hand on her shoulders. However, do not press down. Just put your hand there. Once she falls into position, turn your hand over, slide the treat into her mouth, and really praise her. After a few seconds, say “OK!” to free them.
Every time you do the training scenario for Down, start standing up. Give her the verbal cue and put your hand by your side as I described above. You may have to drop down a few times with a treat in hand before she finds out that the first posture you show her while standing is when you want her to lower herself into a position. So every time you give her the verbal sign and the hand sign, start standing up.
Give her a few seconds before you put the treat on the floor in front of her. Be patient and don’t rush to bait them with the treat. We try to wait patiently for her to put it together and guarantee that she will eventually find out. Then it automatically falls into position when it sees the signal and hears the hint. You may also want to start the exercise with Fluffy in the sitting position first. When a dog is in the sitting position, technically it is already halfway. That just makes it a little easier at the beginning. Later, when she really has it, she can learn to drop into a down from standing.
Finally, remember not to repeat the clue over and over again. Enter the keyword only once. We want her to learn it the first time and not teach the pattern that we will say multiple times each time. Also, we always use a happy, encouraging tone for cues and commands, as opposed to a “I’m serious” tone. This encourages them to do what you want them to do.
Originally from Louisiana, Gregg Flowers is a local dog trainer who “teaches dogs and trains people”. Contact him at [email protected] or dogsbestfriendflorida.com.