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German Shepherd Training Series – Down!

German Shepherd Lying Down

 Photo credits to: Nymeriana @ Flickr

By now, if you’ve been following our GS Training series closely, you should have trained your dog to fully focus on you when you call his name and you should have also gotten better with the command “come.”

Today, we’ll move onto another command, that is, “Down.” One of the ideas that we’ve brought up is that you should only pet your dog when he is sitting. Now, we shall extend this concept for your dog to lie down. In this case, whenever you would like your dog to lie down, you can take a very similar approach to what we’ve discussed; that is, positive reinforcement.

You should hold something that your dog would like to get (his favorite toy) and only release it to your dog after he has lied down. To teach your dog to lie down, you should lower the desired item to the ground level in front of him and not release it until your dog has demonstrated the new behavior you are seeking; that is lying down. This is a very important; you should never let go of the item if your dog has not lied down because if you do, the train of thought for your dog in terms of  the concept of positive reinforcement will be violated. And once your dog knows that he can still experience positive consequences even when he’s not behaving in the manner in which you’ve trained him, he will continue to do so and with that, you have a risk that your dog may not obey your commands in the future.

In actuality, it’s identical to how we were taught as children. Take a step back and recall how you learnt about different things in the world; I am sure that in most cases, in order for us (and our dogs) to learn, it is vital to have some struggles. Again, I want to emphasis, it’s overall the same with dog training, if you give in one too many times, your dog will start “unlearning” what you’ve taught him. Also, if, for instance, your dog sits down when you begin to lower that item, you should still not release the item to your dog. Instead, you should give him some time to search and understand exactly what you expect from him.

Now, AFTER your dog lies down, you can help your dog to positively mark this action with the command “down.” Only at this point should you release the item to your dog. Note the importance of saying “down” only AFTER your dog lies down. This will enable your dog to learn that in order to experience positive outcomes, there are certain behaviors that your dog should demonstrate. Not only that, when you are first training your dog to understand the command “down,” there may be instances where your dog is learning what is expected of him and just sits in front of you. If at this moment (when your dog is still sitting) you say “down,” it can result in your dog becoming confused as to what “down” actually means. Does it mean sitting when there is a toy?

As you would have noticed if you’ve read through our previous articles, the key to successful German Shepherd training is to use positive markers at the appropriate moments to correctly establish a positive reinforcement system and to avoid confusion for your dog. All in all, you should get an item that your dog desires, lower it to the ground level and once your dog lies down, release that item and immediately mark this behavior as “down.”

What about you? Do you have any training methods for “down” that have worked for you in training your German Shepherd dog or puppy? We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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