How To Teach Your Dog A Solid “Down-Stay”

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K9sOverCoffee | How To Train A Solid Down-Stay Command

Are you wondering how to teach your dog a solid “down-stay”?

In this article, I’ll share how I taught my two Boxer mixes Missy & Buzz just that using a method that’s called “capturing”.

Capturing along with lots of physical activity BEFORE any training sessions is my secret training sauce!

I began teaching the pups all sorts commands as soon as they came to live with me at 8 weeks of age. We first worked on the basics like “sit”, “down”, “stay”, and “come”, as well as “leave it”.

They had a fairly good knowledge of them all at about 6 months of age. We’ve been incorporating the commands every day since then. For example, on walks and during playtime, come feeding, and while learning new tricks.

The following video shows them in their beds, holding a “down-stay”. They’re waiting for my release to eat the kibble I poured on the floor. 

Update 2021: This was in 2014, back in our kibble feeding days. We’ve been feeding a raw dog food diet since 2015.

How To Teach Your Dog A Solid “Down-Stay”

K9sOverCoffee.com | How to teach your dog a solid down-stay

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If I’ve learned one thing over the past 9 years of training my own dogs, it’s the importance of patience, calmness, and consistency.

It’s equally important to work with a balanced dog. A dog who has pent-up energy won’t be able to focus on you and to concentrate on what is asked of him.

Update 2021: That same concept applies to my current pup Wally, a Feist mix. Just like Missy & Buzz, he’s learned to hold a “down-stay” along with the other basics. He came into my life in early 2019. That’s after I lost Missy to cancer in 2018 and Buzz went to live with his Daddy after our divorce.

Walk To Avoid Pent-Up Energy

So how do you get rid of pent-up energy? Well, the “trick” is to provide daily, breed-specific exercise.

We would always start our days with a morning walk. That was followed by breakfast, and several short play- and training sessions throughout the day.

When the pups were old enough to add a doggie backpack to our morning walk routine, we did just that! 

K9sOverCoffee | Boxer mixes Missy & Buzz out on a backpack walk
Missy & Buzz on a backpack morning walk
K9sOverCoffee.com | Wally on a walk with his dog backpack from One Tigris
Wally on a walk with his dog backpack from One Tigris

The pups learned early on that they have to “work” for their breakfast. That simply meant going for a walk first, and then get rewarded with food!

They’d always play hard for about 5 minutes after our walk, and then be totally tuckered out. They’d lie down on their own, which is when I stepped into the kitchen and began preparing their breakfast. 

Use Capturing To Teach Your Dog A Solid “Down-Stay”

Capturing is when you’re using a behavior in your favor that your dog already performs naturally.

I knew that Missy & Buzz wouldn’t be likely to move after the energy they just expanded on the walk and during playtime. So that was the perfect timing to add the command to the behavior they were already performing for me!

This training approach is called capturing.

So the moment they’d flop down on the threshold between the kitchen and the living room, I’d calmly say “down”. I also added the matching hand signal to the command: a stretched out hand with my palm facing downwards.

Once the pups were lying down on the floor, I’d give them the “stay” command, again simultaneously with the matching hand signal: a stretched out hand with my palm facing their heads. After that, I’d place their bowls right in front of them.

K9sOverCoffee.com | Missy & Buzz With Their Raw Dog Food And Bonnie & Clyde's Premium Wild Omega-3 Fish Oil
Missy & Buzz holding a “down-stay” with their raw dog food
K9sOverCoffee.com | Feist mix Wally can't wait to dig into his complete raw dog meal from Raw Paws Pet Food
Wally holding a “down-stay” with his raw dog food

I gave my “OK, go eat” release a few moments later, just about 30 seconds or so.

They developed a routine where Missy would always eat on the right, and Buzz on the left.

Never Repeat A Command!

When I’m giving any type of command, I would and will always say it only once. I learned that concept when reading Patricia McConnell’s The Other End Of The Leash.

I HIGHLY recommend you check it out!

Of course it’s true for us humans that we have a tendency of repeating ourselves quite a bit. But it really makes sense not to do that when we’re training our dogs.

After all, we want them to come when called the first time, and not after a frustrated 10th attempt, right?

Praise, Praise, Praise!

Showing our dogs that we are proud of their achievements is a very important part of the training equation.

That’s why the moment Missy & Buzz obey my command, I praise them to communicate that I’m happy with their interpretation of the situation.

Know What Motivates Your Dog(s)

Besides verbal praise, most dogs do well with an additional food or toy reward. Knowing what works for your dog is key.

In my case, Missy loved to eat and responded very well to food rewards as well as to belly rubs. Buzz on the other hand would do anything in exchange for a ball, especially his favorite chuck-it ball.

Buzz Playing With His Chuck-It Ball Inside
Buzz with his “precious”, a chuck-it ball

Side note: Keep in mind that training treats come with calories, so you’ll want to reduce your pup’s meals accordingly to avoid unwanted weight gain.

Another key point to keep in mind is to slowly decrease the food rewards. That’s because ultimately, we want our dogs to respond no matter if we have food on us or not.

You don’t have to cut out the treats completely, just not every time your dog obeys your command. That will keep him curious and wondering when he’ll get to enjoy another delicious bite of food!

Don’t Forget To Release Your Dog

Releasing a dog from his position is another important part of training. That’s because you can’t expect him to hold his “stay” indefinitely.

So once your pup’s been “staying” for a few seconds or minutes (depending on where you’re at in your training), you’ll have to praise and release him.

You could say “ok”, “move” or whatever else you want to use to trigger the release. Once you’ve decided on a release word, you should stick with it so your dog doesn’t get confused.

Adding Distractions To Your Dog’s “Down-Stay” Training

I slowly began introducing distractions to the pups’ “down-stays”. For example, throwing a toy, opening the front door, and then the ultimate distraction of the outside! 

Practice With A Friend Or Family Member

Thankfully, a fellow dog parent and now good friend lived in the same apartment complex as we did at the time, and was raising her Australian Shepherd Shade.

We figured out very fast that we were on the same page as far as raising & training puppies, and practiced obedience together, both indoors as well as outdoors. 

The sky is the limit as far as exterior distractions go. We added a bicycle to our training sessions at one point, where we would tie our pups to some trees on their leashes, while one of us would ride by them on a bike, and the other one would work with them on holding their “down-stays”.

How To Teach Your Dog A Solid Down-Stay: Bottom Line

Consistency and patience are key when training a solid “down-stay”. Remember to keep training sessions fun and rewarding to keep your pup motivated. 

I’ve had a lot of training success by:

  • saying a command only once
  • practicing with both food AND toy rewards
  • using a naturally performed behavior in my favor = capturing
  • incorporating shorter training sessions throughout the day

How did you train the “down-stay” command? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!

Related Reading:

How do I train my dog to accept a dog backpack?

Best single-ingredient dog treats

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8 COMMENTS

  1. They’ve got an impressive stay going on. With Laika it took awhile; she would do OK with food but having her “stay” while we worked on nose work games such as hide and seek was a real pain because she’d get so worked up. Eventually with enough consistency and a lot of positive reinforcement when she got it right we managed to get a pretty good stay. Now she’ll even stop immediately for a “down” even if I’ve got a frisbee in my hand and wait for the release. It was one of the more challenging behaviors to teach just because she’d get so antsy. I agree doing a lot of exercises helps tremendously with their focus.

    • Thanks, Jen! It also took ours longer to keep their “down-stay” when playing hide & seek ~ so awesome that you do that as well with Leika! We’ve found it to be a great pastime when the weather isn’t exactly ideal to go outside. Great job regarding the “down” when a frisbee is involved!