How to Teach a Dog to Lie Down or When to Introduce a Puppy to a Leash

February 01

--by Julie Morrill

When we train our puppies, we begin at 8 weeks old and we use a leash right away. The leash is used for a number of purposes: to redirect attention when a pup when she wanders off a mat, so quickly step on when she tries to run away, and to teach a puppy to lie down and stay down. We don’t actually use the leash while walking the puppy. Instead, we either remove the leash or allow it to drag on the ground. You might be wondering why we’re not using the leash right away to teach the “heel” command. That’s because "heel" training is one of the first negative commands introduced to a puppy and we believe that she is not developmentally ready for this command until about 4 months of age. With heel training, a dog receives a pretty hard tug on the leash and some puppies are too emotionally sensitive for that degree of “unnecessary roughness.”

Here at Marble Mountain Kennels, we teach a puppy to lie down by using the word “down.” (To stop a dog from jumping up, we use the command “off.” I wrote about how to use that command in another blog.) To teach a puppy to lie down, we begin by teaching her to sit. Once she has learned that command, we begin teaching the “down” command by moving one hand in a downward motion all the way to the ground. At the same time that our hand moves to the ground, we step on the leash near the puppy's neck and gently force her head down to the ground so that her nose is level with the hand on the ground. In this hand is a kibble treat. (By this time, a puppy knows that we keep treats in our hands, so she will be watching that hand intently.) The puppy will squirm at first and try to stand up, but we patiently wait about 7 or 8 seconds until she stops struggling, gives up, and puts her hind end down on the ground. The instant she does this, we rejoice with loud praise, pets and a kibble treat or two.

Sometimes a puppy is stubborn and will not lie down right away. In these cases, we release our foot from the leash and start over. The next time, we repeat the above, but when the pup struggles and tries to stand, we gently push her hind end back down to the ground. The second her hind end touches the ground we immediately give her a treat so she recognizes that she is being rewarded for something. We try again, but the next time, we don't give any kibble or praise reward until the puppy stops all struggling. If she continues to struggle, we release her and start again. It can take a puppy three or four times to figure out this new command. After a few rounds, when a puppy sees my foot lifting up to place it on her leash, she won’t even wait for me to say the command. Instead, she’ll be flat on the ground, looking up at me with eager eyes, hoping for a kibble treat. Lifting my foot has become her nonverbal command. At that point, you no longer need to step on the leash to teach the “down” command. Instead, begin training her with the voice command and hand signal only. Eventually, you will be able to remain in a full standing position and give your puppy the “down” hand signal with no verbal command at all.

Some people think that teaching the “down” command by stepping on the leash is too negative for a young puppy, but we disagree. The puppy always receives positive rewards for her obedience and, believe me, it's much easier to teach a small pup than a big, full-grown dog, so we recommend that you teach this command right away.

So, get that leash on your puppy right away enjoy teaching her this fun, yet very important command.

Happy training to you!


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