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Functional Obedience - Down

Previously, we discussed the Sit in some detail. Along with the Sit another fundamental exercise is the Down.

This week we will look at why the Down is so important to teach our dogs. We will also look at some possible reasons as to why your dog refuses or resists the Down exercise.

Here are a couple of common methods for teaching the down:

  • From the Sit apply downward pressure on the withers and lift the front paws towards the front of the dog. Done gently this will place the dog in a down position.

  • Again, from the Sit, place a food lure close to the nose and move it slowly vertically down and slightly towards the front of the dog so that the dog follows it. The dog will down to maintain focus on the lure

Right, so there are a couple of options for getting our pups to down….now what?

The Down is most commonly used for times when we expect the dog to hold a position for longer periods of time. Minutes rather than seconds. Or even in times where we are expecting to stay for much longer, say at a beach, café or park.

Just like Sit we teach the dog to remain in one place for a longer period of time when we couple the Down with the Stay.

Also similar to the Sit there are intrinsic – happening inside – goings on that affect the dogs psyche when in the Down position.

You see, height is important to dogs, if they can be higher than other dogs, they feel better. Similar to sitting on a throne if you will. Now, a Down position eliminates that height and places the dog in a vulnerable position.

Vulnerable, because the dog is purposefully doing what they can to avoid a conflict – that’s what dogs do – and ensure a positive outcome to a situation.

For example a dog will Down:

  • you shout at them or get heavy handed with them,

  • when they meet a smaller dog they might want to get to know

  • when they meet a dog that is anxious or aggressive

  • when they are tired and want a break

  • when they are exited and playful

The first example highlights the subordinate behaviour that everyone will have seen at some point. A dog gets into trouble and cowers to show how afraid they are and to also highlight how they acknowledge the person.

The second example indicates that the dog is doing its utmost to show the smaller dog that they mean no harm, you might even see dogs push themselves into the ground to put their point across so they can have a little play.

The third one is a little trickier right? Why make yourself vulnerable when you can avoid a situation? Dogs are designed conflict resolvers. If they can they will resolve a conflict before it happens, reading signs such as a frightened dog leads to empowering that anxious dog out of their frightened state and calming them down. The aggressive dog will be met with a similar down, but now it’s about showing intention to avoid escalating to a fight.

When dogs are tired, they will often plonk themselves to the ground and pant, tongue hanging out and one flank on the ground. Often, and conveniently they will find a cool place to relax in, like a mud hole.

The last example shows a dog that is exited, bouncy and ready to go. They are super charged for what is about to happen…but then they catch themselves, they down to show you yes I’m excited, but in a good way.

In contrast to the Sit, the Down is more about relaxation. The Down is used when the time period is expected to be greater than for a Sit.

The Down is also an exercise in trust. The bond between handler and dog must exist in a positive light in order for the dog to allow themselves to be placed into the down.

Below is a Video Tutorial on how you can achieve the Down, notice how this dog relaxes as the session progresses:

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