How to teach your dog to lie down and settle with help from an expert

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  • It’s natural for a dog to stand or lie down, whereas I believe sitting is something we have impressed on a dog and is used too much. If a dog is in a down position it’s usually a good sign that they are relaxed and content. It’s good that you’re interested in how to teach a dog to lie down as I recommend you start teaching a down settle from the moment you get a puppy or take on an adult rescue dog.

    Teaching your dog to lie down and settle is a useful tool as it means your dog can learn to be relaxed anywhere you go. This makes life much easier as there are more places you can go with a well behaved and relaxed dog. It also means you can relax, too, without constantly being on tenterhooks as to your dog’s feelings and reactions. There are some dogs who are highly anxious and alert in public places where there may be other dogs and people. In these situations, the down stay and settle will take more time, patience and understanding of your dogs needs, fears and emotional wellbeing.

    How to teach a dog to lie down

    I use two methods to teach a dog to lie down – both are positive with no pushing or holding the dog in position.

    Method 1

    Start with your dog in the sitting position (here’s how to teach your dog to sit). Sit sideways on to your dog so that he has space to lie down and you’re not blocking him or encroaching on their personal space.

    Hold a high-value treat right under your dog’s nose with one hand and gently put the other on his shoulder blades. Move the treat towards the floor and say “down” while gently massaging up and down your dog’s back until your dog lays down. When they do, give the “yes” command and the treat. Nine times out of 10 this works – being fed and massaged would definitely work for me!

    Some dogs also may need a mat or blanket as lying on a cold floor or somewhere other than home may not be comfortable for them. Other dogs are too worried or alert, so they may not take food. If it doesn’t work, you can try the next method.

    Method 2

    Kneel on the floor with your dog between your legs in the sit position facing away from you – I can even do this with an English Mastiff. Rub your dog’s chest and comfort them – remember that being in a down is submissive, so they may not want to exhibit this body language in front of other dogs and you need to make them feel safe.

    Once your dog feels comfortable, place a high-value treat a small distance from them, roughly where the head would be if they were to lie down. Gently rub his chest and position yourself on the dog’s back (without bearing weight on them), then gently slide his front paws forwards and say “down”. At this point your body should be over the top of them – almost like a canopy, but without putting any weight pressure on them. Generally they will go for the treat in front of them and you can give the “yes” command. I also tickle their tummy when they go down and make a big fuss so they feel secure and know they have made you happy.

    Next steps

    Once you’ve mastered this in your classes and at home (with a worried or alert dog, try at home first), you can begin doing it in different places, such as fields while out walking (if it’s not wet) and then move on to coffee shops or pubs. When in a public place like that, take a long-lasting dog chew, a lick mat (like this one on Amazon) or their favourite toy to encourage your dog to lie down. Once they are chewing or licking happily, I add the “good settle” command.

    Some dogs are happier than others in these environments and it is important not to rush your dog if they’re not settling immediately. These things can take time and they all learn and feel things differently to one another, just like we do.

    If you have a reactive, nervous or hyper-vigilant dog, teaching them to lie down may not always be possible until they have learnt you control their environment and keep them safe. These types of personality will usually either sit or stand behind you or under a table for the duration. This is fine as long as they do not resource guard when people or dogs pass. If your pressure them it will make the settling much harder – even with a roast dinner in front of them, they may be too anxious or excited to eat. If after half an hour you have been sat enjoying a coffee, but your dog has been standing or sitting erect and they lie down, just give them a few minutes in that position before very calmly reaching down to stroke them and say “good settle”. Avoid making it a big thing and don’t give eye contact as they are likely to jump straight up again – just treat it like it’s an everyday occurrence, reach down and gently affirm and stroke the dog.

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