How do I teach down command to a timid dog? - German Shepherd Dog Forums
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-21-2009, 09:22 PM Thread Starter
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How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

We've just started our canine good citizen class, and my newly adopted 2 yr. old girl has trouble learning the down command.
She's a can be a bit timid and also sensitive with her feet.

I can get her into the sit fine, and she'll follow the treat about halfway down and then give up.

How can I break it down into smaller steps?

We've tried the "L" shape motion with the treat. We've tried scooching the treat back between her paws so she'll lay back that way. And the instructor tried holding the treat under his knee and he kneeled with one knee up - and she'd soon lose interest because she simply couldn't figure out what we were asking.

They finally suggested to try a more inticing treat, (I had bits of hotdog). However its hard to find the best treat because she's had her share of them, due to being underweight and trying to get her to eat more.

Any suggestions?
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-21-2009, 09:50 PM
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Re: How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

try using a chair, put the chair between you and the pupper and lure her under it. she doesn't have to go thru it.
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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-21-2009, 09:52 PM
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Re: How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

Rather than try to break it down further I'd do some clicker training (you can use a voice marker instead - "yes!"), and mark and reward her every time she lays down on her own. Just spend some time hanging out with her and wait until her elbows and butt touch the ground, then click/treat. If you want her to get up again so you can get in more repetitions, release her and toss a treat across the floor, then wait for her to lay down again, click/treat. After awhile, she should start laying down more often, offering up the behavior. At that point, you can give the down command when you can see she's about to lay down, wait for her to do it, then mark and reward. Eventually she'll associate the verbal cue with the behavior.

Luring with a treat is a great technique, but if it's not working so well, and even your trainer is having difficulty, I'd try this instead. I do a lot of "capturing" behaviors when raising a young puppy, marking and rewarding anything I want to encourage them to do more, and it works very well.

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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-21-2009, 10:24 PM
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Re: How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

The clicker is an excellent suggestion. You may also need to skip this one and move onto other things and wait until she's ready to do the down. Down took a while for my Basu, who was abused. I just taught him other things until he was ready to do it.

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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-22-2009, 09:05 AM Thread Starter
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Re: How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

Great ideas guys, I've recently bought a clicker too.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-23-2009, 11:33 AM
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Re: How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

She's only been with you for a month, "down" is a submissive position & if she has trust issues, this can be a confict for her - any reason why you can't just enjoy the rest of the class without insisting on the "down" & then repeat the class later?
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 03-26-2009, 10:43 PM
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Re: How do I teach down command to a timid dog?

I've found that massage is helpful, too .. if you start massaging her back and sides she may melt into a down, and then you have something to reward.

I teach different "downs" to my dogs. One is from a stand, and is initially lured down by using a treat to slowly lower the head and then move it back between the front feet, with the other hand laid gently on the dog's back (near the shoulders/withers) and scratching lightly to help keep the dog relaxed and yet encourage a down movement. The dog simply has to fold back onto the belly.

With a dog that is timid, you may have to initially reward for just lowering the head, then for bringing the head back near the legs, then for leaning back slightly, etc.

The other down is the curled down that is taught from a sit. It helps to be at the dog's side and then you can put your left hand on the dog's back (again, gently scratching or rubbing) and the right hand can lure the dog's nose around and then back toward her hip. This actually puts the dog off-balance and that gentle scratching with the left hand can help push the dog into a "curled on one hip" type of down.

I like luring, initially, and I like having a hand on the dog even though many clicker-style trainers prefer to do this training hands-off. I've found that if a dog trusts you (and the massage ahead of time will help) then the hand that is on the dog's back actually helps the communication and also helps the dog stay relaxed. I don't use the hand to force the dog down .. it's more of a gentle pressure that helps the dog understand which way to move.

The clicker is a great tool to use and the concept of marking a behavior with a click or a word and then following that with a reward is wonderfully effective. I would encourage you to work on the down at home first, and only transfer that to class when she understands enough to be comfortable with it at home. "Down" is a vulnerable position for a dog and when a dog is fearful it can be difficult for them to accept that in a stressful situation (like a class).

Good luck!

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