Want to improve your dog’s behavior? Teach them to lie down. Think about it: When your dog is lying down, they’re not jumping up on guests, weaving between your legs and tripping you as you cook, or stealing napkins from people’s laps under the dining room table. Best of all, it’s pretty easy to teach a dog to lie down with a hand signal or verbal cue.
Whether you have a new puppy or an older dog who could use some new tricks, the lie down command can really come in handy. So, are you ready to learn how to teach a dog to lie down? Read on!
Supplies for Teaching a Dog to Lie Down
How to Teach a Dog to Lie Down: A Step-by-Step Guide
1Guide Your Dog Down With a Treat
Pro tip: I recommend you start with the dog in a standing position. Some people like to start teaching “lie down” with the dog in a sitting position, but if you teach “down” that way, many dogs will automatically slide from a sit into a down every time you ask for a sit. Also, it’s more natural for dogs to go from a stand directly to a down than to sit in between (watch your dog lie down on their own sometime to see what I mean).
2Praise and Treat When They Lie Down
As soon as your dog’s belly hits the floor, say “good dog,” then let go of the treat so the dog can eat it right out of your hand.
The first time your dog successfully lies down can be really exciting! Still, try not to overdo it at this stage. Practice this step for no more than three repetitions with a treat in your hand. This is to help prevent your dog from getting dependent on seeing the food in your hand. Once your dog has successfully followed the treat into a “lie down” position three times in a row, it’s time to move on to the next step.
3Try it Without the Treats
Next, make the same movement (hand right at dog’s nose, slowly moving your hand down to the ground) but with an empty hand.
If your dog follows your hand into a down position, say “good dog” and then grab two treats and feed them to your dog one after the other. Feeding two treats for following an empty hand into the position helps teach your dog that it’s worthwhile to lie down even if they don’t see food in your hand first.
If your dog does not fully lie down, you can start by praising and feeding treats for intermediate steps, such as the elbows hitting the ground, and gradually build up to expecting a more fully “down” position.
If your dog does not follow your hand at all, use a smaller treat and repeat steps 1 and 2 with that smaller treat. Then try again with an empty hand the next time.
4Give the Command a Name
5Practice the Verbal Command
After a few sessions of step four, try saying “lie down” at a random time and see what happens. If your dog lies down, praise and treats are in order!
If your dog does not lie down, practice for a few more sessions with the word and hand signal, as described in step 4, and then try randomly asking for a “lie down” during non-training time again. It may take your dog a few days or even a week or two to associate the phrase “lie down” with the behavior of lying down.
Training Tips and Tricks
Want to increase your success at teaching your dog to lie down? Follow these tips:
- To encourage your dog to follow the command, choose a tasty treat your dog really loves. It’s all about motivation!
- Hold the treat firmly in your hand until your dog lies all the way down—some pups will try to steal the treat from your hand, which is not the behavior you want to reward!
- Give your dog the treat as soon as they get the behavior right, to make it as clear as possible that lying down leads to rewards.
- Never use a leash or your hands to force your dog into a down position. For one thing, it doesn’t work very well (most dogs will resist). For another, you can accidentally hurt your dog that way.
- Don’t repeat the steps over and over again if your dog doesn’t seem to understand. If your dog is having trouble figuring out what you want, making the training session longer is not going to help. Instead, take a break after about 5 or 10 minutes, and try again later.
- During the training period, never ask (or force) your dog to lie down outdoors when there’s a lot going on, or at home in an area where there is a lot of activity. Lying down is a vulnerable position, and dogs lying down can easily be stepped on or tripped over. Being in a down position in a situation that seems threatening to the dog can lead the dog to lash out in fear. Positive reinforcement, aka offering treats and praise for good behavior, is safer and more effective.
- Do not insist on having your dog lie down if they hesitate. Many dogs find lying down on hard or cold surfaces uncomfortable, so they hesitate to lie down unless there is a soft spot. Other dogs may have joint pain that makes lying down difficult or painful. Also, on hot days, the surface may be too hot to lie down on without getting burned (reach down and touch the ground with the back of your hand to check). During training, you can offer a soft surface, like a bathmat or towel, for them to lie down on. If they still hesitate, check in with your vet to determine whether this command is right for your dog.
Capturing a “Lie Down”
Having trouble with the steps above? Some dogs learn better through other training methods, including “capturing,” aka rewarding a behavior they do naturally, rather than the luring method above. To capture a “lie down,” follow these steps:
- Watch your dog and wait for them to lie down.
- When they do, praise them, feed them a treat, and/or click your clicker (if you’re using clicker training with your dog)—anything to help them understand they’ve done something good.
- Repeat this for a few days until your dog starts to lie down in a purposeful way—almost as if they are looking to see if you’ll praise them and feed them a treat.
- When they’re lying down consistently in order to receive the goodies (I recommend working up to five times in a row within a minute or two), you can move on to giving the command a name (see Step 4 above).
How to Teach a Dog to Lie Down: FAQ's
Q:How long does it take to teach a dog to lie down?
A:Most dogs will learn to lie down on a verbal cue within three to ten training sessions of around 10 minutes each. But every dog is different, and some won’t quite figure out what you want for much longer than that—and that’s OK. Take your time, exercise your patience, and stay positive with your dog!
Q:Why does my dog refuse to lie down?
A:There are several reasons your dog might refuse to lie down:
- They need more practice with the command, or may not understand that it applies everywhere. For example, if you did all your training in your living room, they may not understand that “lie down” means the same thing in the backyard.
- The surface you want them to lie down on is uncomfortable.
- They have joint pain that makes lying down painful.
- You’re in a busy or crowded space, when lying down might make your dog feel vulnerable or unsafe.
If your dog refuses to lie down, there is a reason for it, so instead of getting angry, try to figure out what’s up.
Q:Why do dogs turn three times before lying down?
A:Experts believe that dogs turn around before lying down to help prepare the surface to make sure it is comfortable. The theory is that this behavior is a holdover from dogs’ wild ancestors, who had to stamp down tall grass, stones and sticks to make the ground comfortable enough to sleep on. Learn more about why dogs turn around before lying down.