White terrier mix dog standing in a green field with a red collar on

Down, Hand Signal

The third hand signal that we are going to practice with is down. Give your dog a hand signal to go to place, and reinforce. Each time you lead your dog to place, you are going to vary the number of rewards you give for “placing” before moving on to the down and in some cases you won’t cue a down behavior at all. This is important because if you predictably give one reward or two rewards or three rewards, for example, for placing before cueing/prompting the down – your dog will start to anticipate the pattern over time and begin to offer a down position before you’ve even had a chance to cue it. While this isn’t a terrible problem to have, we are working towards establishing clear communication, for these specific exercises it is more desirable to have a dog respond to your cues than it is to anticipate a behavior chain. So don’t forget to vary your reinforcement patterns. Now you are going to issue a down hand signal: keep your back straight, extend an open hand, palm down with downward movement – ½ a second later follow with a prompt: bend and lower your torso, arm and hand closer to the mat. This is usually the most challenging hand signal for dogs to “get”. If I’m training with a dog that is standing and staring at my hand or one that starts to paw (common for dogs that have been taught to “shake”), I will usually take my closed left hand, which is holding the food, and move it towards my right hand. The smell of the food is usually enough to prompt the behavior. Do this in repetition a handful of times and you can usually fade the left hand prompt. Once your dog does move into a down position you will reinforce for the duration, at 1-2 second intervals of time. Work towards standing straight, and bringing your hands back to your belly, before delivering the subsequent reward. Give your dog the “all done” release cue, followed by a one minute break and repeat these steps 2 or 3 more times.

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