This page gives instructions for training a reliable down/stay. There is also a video that demonstrates how to train it. If you have a puppy who either lacks the self-control to stay still or is simply uninterested in remaining in a down, this page could be your answer! There are many training principles that together hold the key to success with the down/stay.
Train Below Your Puppy’s Threshold of Success
Training below a puppy’s threshold of success and keeping your puppy successful is extremely important in all aspects of dog training, especially with regard to teaching puppies the down/stay. Pushing a puppy over his threshold of success will erode the puppy’s confidence and reduce his desire to try.
See our page on Principles and Tips for Raising a Happy Obedient Puppy to read about details on the threshold of success is and how to train below it.
When you are at our home, I’ll show you where your puppy’s threshold of success is with regard to the down/stay. However, keep in mind that when training with a new person, that threshold will go down until the puppy learns to work with the new person.
When training the down/stay, the threshold of success for your puppy will be considerably lower when training with you than when your puppy is training with one of us. Therefore, I suggest that in order for you to both be successful, you start with the very basics: backing up one step for one second. Build from there as your puppy demonstrates understanding and as the two of you build a bond.
Don’t Mark or Reward the Stay Until You Have Fully Returned to the Dog
Don’t get in the habit of saying “yes” and starting to pull the treat out prior to being fully back to the dog. If you do, the dog will start anticipating that the end of the exercise is your walking back to him.
Your timing must be in this order. 1. Return fully to the dog. 2. Say “yes”, and then and only then 3. begin moving toward giving the food to your dog.
Occasionally Lean Over Towards the Dog With Food Prior to Saying “Yes”
Occasionally Lean Over Towards the Dog With Food Prior to Saying “yes”
Pull food out of your pouch. Hold it in your hand with your hand extended to the side. Lean over towards the dog. Don’t say “yes” or give your puppy the food unless (or until) your dog is focused on you and looking at you and away from the food. Then, when the dog is clearly focused on you and not the food, say “yes” and give him his reward. See the video for an example of Jenna leaning over Eddie.
Use Reward Placement to Keep Your Puppy in a Down After His Reward
Reward low with your hand almost on the ground. If the puppy has to stretch up to reach his reward, he will be inclined to get up between reward events. Try to keep your puppy interested in staying in a down. Repeated down/stays will increase his self-control and ability to remain still for longer.
The “yes” is technically a release. The puppy is free to get up and access his food if he wants. However, if you can keep your puppy wanting to stay in a down, his training will go faster.
When Your Puppy Gets Up Before You Return to Him and Say “yes”
Take your puppy back to where he was supposed to be. Ask him to go back into a down. Do not reward the down. Back up from him and return. Then mark and reward.
If the puppy should learn that he can earn his reward by not performing the stay portion of the down/stay and by just repeating the down, he’ll be more inclined to get up, run to you, and keep repeating the down routine without the stay.
The dog should always be required to repeat the portion of the exercise that he failed prior to getting rewarded. If the dog fails on the stay portion of the down/stay, it is the stay portion that must be performed and then reinforced. Otherwise, you would be reinforcing the getting up and quickly going right back down.
How to Wear the Treat Bag
In order to best encourage your puppy to focus on you and away from the food, wear the bag where it is not in the puppy’s plain sight. Since the puppy will be training in front of you for the stay exercises, put the pouch on your backside.
Adjust the strap to enable the bag to hang at hip height. Having the strap adjusted too tightly will put the bag at a height around your waist. It is easier to get the treats out when the bag is a little lower. Try the bag on before working with your puppy to see if it is adjusted to where it is easiest for you to reach for the treats.
Resist the Temptation to Bend Over and Lure Your Puppy
If your puppy doesn’t go down when asked, he is confused. Don’t bend over and lure him with the food. Don’t repeat the down command. Instead, see our page on General Principles and Tips and follow the instructions in the section on “When Your Puppy Gets It Wrong”.
Our puppies are trained to think about what they need to do to earn their reward. The section on “When Your Puppy Gets It Wrong” will teach you how to encourage thinking rather than dependence on hints.
The Place Command on a Cot
We train our puppies to do a down/stay on a cot initially because it fixes a very common problem with the down/stay: creeping forward.
We begin training the down/stay at about 6 ½ weeks of age. By 8 weeks of age, many of them will maintain a down/stay while at the same time crawling towards you. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to adequately communicate to the puppy that he’s wrong to be crawling, but at the same time right for remaining in a down position. If you withhold reward when the puppy is doing both a right thing and a wrong thing, he’ll assume that he’s wrong in all respects.
Therefore, the fix for this type of problem is to make it impossible for the dog to continue doing the right thing and the wrong thing at the same time. A raised cot or bed is a perfect solution. If a puppy crawls forward while in a down position on a cot, he will crawl off the cot which will cause his feet to hit the floor putting him in a standing position. The puppy can easily understand that the crawling will not earn his reward. At the same time, it will be clear to the puppy that he is no longer in a down. Therefore, ambiguity is removed from the exercise.
We practice the down/stay with the puppy exclusively on the cot for two or maybe three days. By then, the habit of staying still and not crawling will be sufficiently developed. At this point, we move the puppy back to the floor. Surprisingly, all of them will have forgotten the possibility of crawling.
The Power of Habit
Habit is powerful in dog training. It is important to build good habits at the start and to prevent bad ones from developing. We move our puppies to the cot at the first hint of crawling. If the crawling becomes a habit, it is much more difficult to fix.
The Cot is Easier than the Floor
The cot is an easier place for a puppy to practice down stays. When working on the floor, the puppy has to remember what it is he is supposed to be doing. Is he supposed to sit? To be in a down? Or to move with you in heel position? It’s a lot for a puppy to keep up with.
However, on the cot, our puppies are only asked to do one thing: lie down without getting off the cot. Therefore, our puppies are more successful at further distances for longer lengths of time.