Are you wondering how to teach your dog 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 of 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 we’re 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 2023: This was in 2014, back in our kibble feeding days. We’ve been feeding a raw dog food diet since 2015.
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How To Teach Your Dog Down-Stay
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 2023: 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!
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 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.
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 Dog Training Command!
When I’m giving any type of dog training command, I would and will always say it only once.
I learned that concept when I read 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 doesn’t make sense 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.
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”.
Sign Your Pup Up For Group Dog Training Classes
You can also enroll your pup in a group dog training class.
It doesn’t really get more distracting than practicing around other dogs! That’s precisely what I did with Missy and Buzz in 2013, but unfortunately, I don’t have any photo or video footage.
That was before I had a smartphone!
The only “proof” I have left is a picture of the pups with their graduation certificates:
I also signed my pup Wally up for group dog training classes. Actually, I should say that I signed both of us up!
That’s because I have to brush up on my skills as well and Wally’s a totally different dog than Missy & Buzz were.
So the advice from our dog trainer is super valuable, and he’s pointed out that I need to work on my body language as far as communicating with Wally.
- Looking less down at Wally
- Keeping my head high and proud
- Visualising Wally staying put
- Focusing on my breathing
- Keeping a short but loose leash
And I tell you what, it works!!
How Much Does A Dog Trainer Cost?
On that note, you may be wondering how much a dog trainer costs.
Well, it depends on your location and the specific services you’re looking for. Private one-on-one training classes are always going to be more expensive than group dog training classes.
That said, you can expect to pay anywhere from $50-$100 for a private session, and $15-$35 for group training sessions.
Now that we moved from the US to Germany, we hired a German dog trainer in the Stuttgart suburbs. His name is Thomas and his website is Wolfacademy Böblingen.
His one-on-one sessions are €60 for one hour, which is about US$65 (in 2023).
We’ve had one of those to evaluate Wally and myself, and then purchased 10 group training sessions for €180. That’s about US$193 (in 2023).
So when you break it down, that’s just shy of €20 / $20, which is a fair, affordable price.
How To Teach Your Dog Down-Stay: Bottom Line
Consistency and patience are key when you’re 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
- Rewarding with both food AND toy rewards
- Practicing with friends and in group dog training classes
- Incorporating shorter training sessions throughout the day
- Using a naturally performed behavior in my favor = capturing
How did you train the “down-stay” command? As always, we’d love to hear from you in the comment section below this blog post!
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