The benefits of teaching your dog the 'down' command

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Tony Cruse advises a reader on how to teach his Vizsla-cross dog the "down" command.

Q: How easy is it to teach a down command and what are its practical applications? I have a young Vizsla-cross and it’s taking some time to teach him this exercise. He seems reluctant to lie down and I’m just wondering if it’s worth it?

Bruce Graham, Midlothian.

A: Tony says: People teach basic dog obedience often without knowing the practical benefits; this makes your question a valid one. The ‘down’ requires your dog to lower himself so his belly is touching the ground. It’s a relatively easy exercise, often taught with a food or toy lure.

In my classes, if a dog is not reliably doing a ‘down’ (belly on the floor), it can mean one of three things.

● The dog is not motivated enough. The lure/reward needs to be tastier.

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● The floor is uncomfortable, especially for a thin-coated dog — the grass may be wet, or the kitchen floor is cold. Consider doing a ‘sit’ instead, change locations, or up the lure/reward value.

● The dog is compromised. This can be age-related or the result of an ache or pain, making him reluctant to assume that position. Use a ‘sit’ until a vet check has been carried out. 

Teaching a down command can provide small benefits: for barky dogs, it can be harder for them to bark in that position; it can be more comfortable for some dogs over a long period; and it can be the precursor to a ‘settle’ behaviour, where the dog is taught to relax on a portable mat when out and about.