Excerpted from Click for Joy: Questions and Answers from Clicker Trainers and their Dogs by Melissa Alexander, an unparalleled guide to the concepts of clicker training.
Q: How do I train my dog to lie down?
A: Various trainers have developed incredibly complex methods of compelling or luring a dog into lying down. However, the easiest way to teach a down is simply to capture it. Even the most frenetic dog will eventually settle and lie down. The trick is to make that behavior likely, so you have something to click and reinforce.
Getting the behavior
The best place to start capturing the down is in a bathroom—it's small and easy to clear of all potential distractions. Take your dog in, shut the door, and wait. Sit down and read a magazine. Ignore your dog. Eventually, she will lie down. The moment she settles, click and offer a treat.
As soon as you click, your dog will probably become very interested in you. She'll sit in front of you, stare holes in you, and try any and every behavior you've ever reinforced. Ignore her. Read your magazine. Eventually, she'll stop trying to entice you and lie down again. Click!
Do ten repetitions, then go play a game. Do another session later in the day or the next day. How long should you train in the bathroom? Keep doing bathroom sessions until the dog is actively offering downs to "make" you click. When you can get five downs in less than a minute you're probably ready to move to another room. It might take one session, or two, or ten.
Making it perfect
Getting the down is just the first step. Next add a cue, establish reliability in different locations, train for duration and/or distance, etc. As the trainer, it's up to you to figure out how and when you'll use the behavior and then to train for those occasions.
Again, no matter how you define down—or any other behavior—for your dog, keep the same progression in mind when you train:
- Get exactly the behavior you want.
- Add the cue.
- Make the behavior perfect by generalizing to different locations and adding elements such as duration, distance, and distractions.
- Make the behavior reliable by proofing everything you've taught in every situation you plan to use the behavior in.