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Teaching your dog or new puppy to lay down is often considered one of several cues most helpful to achieving a well-behaved dog. Clicker training, or marker training, is also one of the most effective ways to train your dog to do this.

In this article, we will cover how to teach your adult dog or puppy to lay down with the helpful use of a clicker! Let’s start off here with a video I made to show how it’s done:

Train a stubborn dog to lay down

If you are working with a dog you consider to be “stubborn,” there are a few things you should investigate before assuming your dog just doesn’t want to listen. In general, dogs are not capable of being spiteful and stubborn.

Instead, many dogs that are labeled “stubborn” are either prevented from listening due to a medical condition, or their trainer has not suitably motivated them to want to perform the behavior.

Some dogs are prevented from comfortably sitting or laying down due to their body structure. Other dogs may be suffering from a painful medical condition – this is even more likely in dogs that have previously performed a down command on cue that are now refusing to do so.

LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive) training utilizes the Humane Hierarchy in dog training to address these potential health needs.

In fact, the first step of the Humane Hierarchy is to evaluate if a dog’s health, nutritional, and physical factors have been addressed. This means that if you are struggling with a “stubborn” dog that won’t lay down, you should start by visiting a veterinarian to evaluate any signs of pain.

Once cleared by a veterinarian, then it’s time to address the dog’s environment and their motivation.

You’re much more likely to have success teaching your dog anything new in a neutral environment, where they are comfortable. Many dogs in training classes struggle to focus and perform a new behavior in class, but can easily learn the behavior once they’re back at home.

It’s also important to ensure your dog wants to work for the reward that you are offering. If you are training them with their regular dog food, and you have a dog that typically isn’t food motivated, they might not find it worth it to work for kibble.

Instead, some chicken, hot dogs, or cheese might perk up their attention and willingness to work for you.

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In a nutshell – dogs are not being stubborn on purpose. Instead, you need to make sure their physical health needs are addressed and ensure you are sufficiently motivating them.

Clicker train a dog to lay down and stay

When clicker training a dog to lay down and stay, you will need your dog, clicker, and treats – that’s it!

Clicker training is a very effective way of training your dog, especially if you need to break things down into smaller steps for your dog.

First, you’ll want to “charge” the clicker if this is the first time you are using it. This involves taking a small handful of 10-15 treats, and teaching your dog that the click sound means they will get a treat.

With that handful of treats, click the clicker, pause for a brief moment, and then give your dog a treat. This brief pause is important so your dog learns the clicker predicts a treat, rather than being excited about the treat and ignoring the clicker, which can happen if you do both at the same moment.

After that, you’re ready to use the clicker with your dog!

The clicker now will serve as your “marker” to let the dog know the instant they have done something that is earning them a reward.

Think of the clicker like a camera, where you’ll push the button to capture the moment your dog does the correct next step.

Your dog will learn to repeat things that earn them a reward, and the clicker lets them know the exact reason they are getting a reward.

For teaching a dog to lay down, this looks like:

  1. Lure the dog into a down with a treat.
    1. Tip: Start with the dog already sitting, so they’re halfway there!
    2. Tip: Especially for smaller dogs, keep the treat close to their chest or slightly to the side to encourage them to push backward and roll onto a hip.
  2. The moment your dog’s elbows touch the ground, click!
  3. Feed your dog the treat as a reward.

Repeat this process until your dog is eagerly laying down whenever you lure them. You’ll want to start keeping treats in your pocket or somewhere else instead of in your hand – only using your hand as a signal to the dog to lay down – so they don’t become reliant on the treats in your hand.

Once it’s easy for your dog to lay down with the lure, you’ll be able to start “fading” the lure to create your final hand signal. For my dogs, this looks like a closed fist with the pointer finger pointing down.

Originally my hand is touching the ground, but I then gradually raise it a few inches at a time off the ground, until I can point at the ground from any height to cue my dog to lay down.

At this point, I also add a verbal cue (“down”) so my dog learns to lay down with either a hand signal or a verbal cue.

Next, it’s time to teach your dog to stay. The 5 steps of stay are:

  1. Ask your dog to sit or down.
  2. Ask your dog to stay.
  3. Work on either the distance, duration, or distraction your dog can stay around.
  4. Click, and give your dog the release cue.
  5. Reward with a tossed treat.

Practicing one of the “3 Ds of Dog Training” at a time – aka Distance, Duration, and Distraction level – will ensure you set your dog up for success rather than pushing them to do too much too fast.

The release cue is also a critical part of teaching your dog to stay, because it lets your dog know it’s OK to get up now. Without a clear release cue, dogs often get up from their stay whenever they want, because they don’t have a clear understanding of what stay means.

If your dog gets up before you say the release cue, just calmly ask them to down and stay again and lower your criteria – shorter distance, shorter duration, or less distractions – until your dog is successful again.

hunting dog with clicker training down

How long will it take to train a dog to lay down with a clicker

Clicker training is a fast and efficient way of training. Most dogs will be well on their way to laying down within the first couple 5-10 minute sessions of training.

However, some dogs may learn slower, for varying reasons: they aren’t being motivated, they are in pain, they have a history of trauma, and more.

The important point is that your dog should be improving – if you aren’t noticing any progress at all after a few attempts at training sessions, you should seek a professional trainer for more assistance (and a veterinary visit to rule out pain if you haven’t already).

Small dogs can sometimes take longer to teach to lay down than big dogs because a small dog is already so close to the ground that luring is less effective.

For these small dogs, if I can’t encourage them to roll back onto a hip by luring them down with a treat close to their chest and off to the side slightly, I then start teaching them to crouch.

Starting with your dog sitting, try luring them down. When they reach down for the treat – whether or not their elbows actually bend towards the floor – click and reward them.

Continue to click and reward these attempts of crouching. Most dogs, within a few sessions, will progress to laying down. At that point, you can throw a big party and your dog will be likely to continue laying down with a lure!

Other options include putting your dog on a platform – whether a table, a couch, or the top of the stairs – so you can lure the treat lower by dropping the treat below the edge of whatever the dog is standing on. This can encourage the smallest of dogs to reach even lower, typically putting their elbows on the ground in response.

Some trainers have also had success teaching a dog to crawl under something, so they have to lay down to do so, and then fading the object the dog crawls under.

Training a dog to lay down without treats

You probably wouldn’t go to work without being paid, and your dog is no different. You’re much more likely to get a good response from your dog when you reward them – whether with treats, toys, or the opportunity to sniff something really good.

Instead of focusing on teaching your dog to lay down without treats, focus on keeping treats in your pocket, on a table, or otherwise out of your hands.

By doing this, you’ll ensure your dog can lay down when treats aren’t present in your hand. The treats then become a reward, rather than a forever bribe.

In moments where you need your dog to lay down and you don’t have a readily available reward, you’ll still be able to ask your dog to lay down because you have a history of rewarding the behavior.

However, it’s unreasonable for most dogs to stop giving them any kind of reward completely. Trainers that achieve dogs that lay down without any reward often do so through the use of punishment.

Rather than the dog wanting to lay down for the possibility of earning a treat, they lay down to avoid an uncomfortable, scary, or painful experience.

It’s much kinder, safer, and just as effective to continue to occasionally reward your dog for doing what you want them to do. Pay dogs (in treats) for a job well done!