My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

The Guided Down


The Guided Down is telling your dog to lie down by using light downward leash pressure. Even if your dog already downs some of the time when told to, the Guided Down helps you when he doesn’t. We use this for long downs, downs around distractions, and any other time our dogs need some help downing. Thousands of dogs have learned Down this way and we have some of the best downs around.

How to Train the Guided Down

First train the Lured Down: With your dog sitting, put a treat to his nose and slowly lower it straight down to the floor. His nose should follow. When you reach the floor, slowly pull the treat forward along the floor (think of a capital “L”). When your dog’s elbows touch the floor, reward him with the treat on the floor between his paws and praise him.
Now as you lure, apply light downward pressure on the leash. Light. You are not pulling your dog or puppy into a down. This is not a correction. You are using a light downward pressure as a cue and right now, you are linking it with the lure. So you say, “Down,” and lure him as usual, as you add this light downward pressure. As soon as he starts to lie down, release the pressure on the leash. When he is all the way down – praise him and give him the treat.
Repeat until he’s responding readily when you apply light downward pressure on the leash as you lure him.
Next, stop using the treat to lure him down. Say “Down,” apply light downward pressure, and praise in a quiet, calm voice. Have the treat out of sight. Some pups will down right away. Others will pause for a few seconds and then down. A few will pause for a minute or so. All normal. Stay relaxed. Don’t increase or decrease the pressure. Maintain steady, light pressure until your puppy downs, then praise and deliver the treat on the floor as a reward.
If you lose faith or it takes too long, help him get it right by moving your hand in front of him as if you had a lure. That can help.
Once your dog understands this, he will understand it for the rest of his life. It is a big help around distractions and for calming an excited dog.
When this is going well, work on it standing up. With your dog next to you, lower your hand so the leash touches the floor. Now, slide your toe over the leash and say “Down” – nice and easy, take up the slack so there is pressure on the collar. The moment you feel resistance – pause. Hold it there. Wait. When he downs, release all leash pressure, praise and reward.

Common Difficulties

Dog braces against the leash pressure
Some bracing is normal at first –it’s just the dog’s oppositional reflex. It takes a moment (or few) for dogs to try something other than that. Be patient. – give him a chance to think of something else to try. Practice on a tile, linoleum or wood floor, rather than carpet. Also, try using lighter pressure and helping your dog get it right. Use praise or a lure if your dog is really stuck, just move those to rewards (which appear after rather than before the dog responds) as soon as you can. Remember: You are not pulling your dog to the floor, but using very light pressure to remind him what you want him to do.

Dog stops downing now that the lure is gone
This just means your dog is confused about what to do. Praise him in a calm, quiet voice to help him relax and think better while you hold gentle, steady pressure on the leash. No jiggling, tugging, or moving around. Let him figure it out.

Dog immediately pops up after he downs
Reward on the floor, not from your hand. Reward promptly when dog downs, don’t wait. And don’t sweat it, just ask him again to down. Be calm, he’ll figure it out.

Dog rolls on his back
Reward promptly on the floor when he downs before he rolls over, ignore him when he is on his back. Don’t pet him or speak to him when he is belly up (as cute as that belly is).

How and When to Use the Guided Down

To transition your dog to downing on command without a treat in your hand
To follow through when your dog is distracted and doesn’t obey your “Down” command
To teach your dog to hang out next to you quietly. After the Guided Down, leave your foot on the leash (leash should be slightly slack when your dog is lying down). This way, should he start to stand up, he will be reminded to lie back down when the leash tightens. Ignore efforts to stand up, reward him with calm attention when he lies down and when he is staying down.

by Sarah Wilson,


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