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).
Melanie and the gang in Alaska
Positive 1ST! More reward, less correction makes a GREAT trainer.
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