How to teach your dog to lie down

Fun with dogs
Written by Rosie BescobyRosie is a fully qualified Clinical Animal Behaviourist with a degree in Zoology & Psychology and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Companion Animal Behaviour Counselling. She is an ASAB Certificated Clinical Animal Behaviourist, a full member of the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (No. 1006), and registered as both a Clinical Animal Behaviourist & as an Animal Training Instructor with the Animal Behaviour & Training Council. - Our editorial process

When you bring home a new puppy, you might find ideas racing through your mind for a whole bunch of impressive tricks to teach your pup. Despite this, you might want to hold your horses and start with the boring basics first. Toilet-training, sit, stay and lie down are all pretty fundamental things to teach your dog.

Teaching your dog how to lie down is a handy trick to have in the bag as it can help to encourage your boisterous puppy to settle down, whether that be at home, in a pub or when you stop on a walk to have a natter.

Prompting your pup to settle down also helps with anxiety, puppy biting and even aggression, offering a distraction and the opportunity for a delicious treat.

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Step by step guide:

Most people would jump at the chance to have a lay down and relax, but a lot of puppies would disagree. They’re too busy whizzing around causing havoc to be worried about lying down!

All about the environment

For a young pup, everything around them is new, so it’s no surprise that they’re easily distracted. Begin your training by starting in a room without distraction. We’ll explain how to build up these distractions further on.

Both yours and your dog’s mood can also play a role. Be relaxed, cheerful and patient and your dog will be more inclined to learn. Your mood is something dogs can really pick up on.

Your dog should be in a relatively relaxed state too, trying to start teaching an overexcited puppy to lie down is a task not even worth attempting!

Anything for a treat

Teaching your canine to lie down will be considerably easier if they already know how to ‘sit’ on cue. Don’t worry if they don’t though, it’s still possible to do from a standing position.

Once your dog is sat down, get a treat (preferably a really smelly one) and hold this near your pup’s nose. Slowly move the treat towards their chest and down to the floor. Hopefully, by following the pungent smell of the treat, your dog will naturally be lured into a down position.

If your dog seems reluctant and keeps their elbows elevated from the floor, just start again and keep trying.

Positive reinforcement

Reminding your dog that they’re on the right track is possibly the most crucial thing about training. The moment your dog lies down, reward them instantly with the treat you lured them with.

Using verbal praise alongside the treat is extremely beneficial, even if it’s just ‘yes’ or ‘good’. Many people implement a clicker into training too.

All these methods of positive reinforcement are reliant on timing, ensure you reward your pup at the exact moment they’re in a ‘down’ so they know that’s the action you’re looking for.

Never punish or reprimand your dog if they don’t listen to you, this will only put your training backwards and make your dog more unwilling to cooperate.

Introducing a command word

Now we’re starting to get somewhere!

Once your dog consistently responds to being lured with the treat, introduce a command word. This word can be whatever you want, common ones are ‘lie down’, ‘down’ and ‘settle’, but some people like to come up with something funny. The choice is yours.

Still using your treat, start saying your command as your dog is settling into the desired position. Consequently, they’ll begin making the association between command and action.

Take the fun outside

Practice, practice, practice. Soon enough, your pup will be a pro at this trick in the house, but this is where you need to start making it difficult.

Increase distractions by taking your training elsewhere, such as the garden, the park, the pub and anywhere else you can think of!

Getting your pup to respond to this cue in the presence of temptations will be a challenge, but with repetition and patience you’ll have a pup that’ll lie down with ease.

Phase out the treat

Once you think your dog has mastered lie down, try phasing out the treat. You don’t want your dog to only respond when they know a treat is on the way.

Continue your training sessions but don’t use a treat every time, just give your dog one every so often to keep reinforcing their good behaviour. However, make sure you’re still verbally praising your dog every time they lie down on command.

Build it up

When your dog is consistently responding to you, it’s good to gradually increase the time they can hold the position for.

Once your pup is in the down position, keep rewarding them to increase the duration they can stay there for. This part can be difficult, as many dogs will jump up a second after they’re down, probably thinking something along the lines of, ‘who’s got time for laying around when we could be having fun?’

With time, patience and consistency your dog will eventually be able to hold their position for long periods of time, they might even be able to hold it while you leave the room!

This is where you start to introduce a release word, giving your pup permission to get up. Many simply use ‘OK’, but again you can choose whatever you want.

Short but sweet

Puppies, and many older dogs for that matter, have an incredibly short attention span. As a result, your four-legged friend probably won’t want to train for a long time and can often get bored and frustrated.

It’s important to always end your training sessions on a high, you don’t want your dog to associate training with frustration. If you see your dog getting bored, don’t end on a negative, ask them to do an easy trick so the session still ends positively.

Quick recap

  • Start with a calm, distraction-free environment

  • Use a treat and pull it from their nose, down their chest and to the floor, luring them to the ground

  • Reward and praise your dog when they lie down

  • Once they’re doing this consistently, introduce the command word (lie down)

  • Start to phase out giving them a treat each time

  • Increase the duration which they can hold the position for

  • Keep training short and sweet, always ending on a high

Important tip!

Never physically get your dog into position, such as pushing and pulling at their limbs. Using a lure is the best method.

Understandably, if your dog is seriously struggling to crack this trick, you might think ‘showing’ your dog how to do it is the only thing that’ll work. However, this will potentially go the other way. Most dogs will try and resist the force and stay stood up or they could become confused and stressed, which will make responding to this command less appealing.

What to do if your dog doesn't respond to a treat

This might come as a shock to many, but some dogs are seriously just not bothered about food! This can often make training difficult as dog training tactics pretty much always rely on the incentive of food.

Instead of a treat, try the exact same luring method but with a favourite toy instead. Once they get into the desired position, allow your pup to play with their toy as a reward.

If your dog really doesn’t respond well to any kind of lure, marking behaviour can also work. Even the most energetic and crazy dogs must relax at some point, so every time they naturally go to lie down, say your command word and reward them.

Why does my dog only do this in the house?

Your pup may be a professional in the house but when you hit the outdoors it might feel like you’re talking to a brick wall. As we know, dogs can be distracted by almost anything.

Tiny environmental changes can make a huge difference and can easily make your pup unsure. New noises, smells, sights and even a change of surface (carpet, tiles, tarmac, grass) can all play a role into why they’re not responding.

It might be frustrating, but the only thing to do here is keep practicing. Start easy by changing to a new room in the house, then the garden and eventually to places like the park.

Why should I teach my dog lie down?

Lie down is a great trick for puppy development, helping your little bundle of energy to settle down and practice obedience, patience and composure.

Tricks help keep your dog mentally stimulated and their brain active. A lot of dogs love to have a job, so incorporating tricks into everyday life ensures motivation is kept high. Try asking your dog to lie down before they tuck into their food or before they play.

Also, if you want your pup to be a master of all tricks, lie down works as a great basis for tricks such as stay, roll over and play dead. Teaching your dog a new trick is rewarding for both you and your pup and lie down is one that will definitely come in handy.