One hand signal that can hit a bit of a snag is teaching down without bending over to touch or point to the
ground. That’s because, when you just lower your hand to your side to signal down, without bending over, you’re actually asking your dog to move down and away from the treat, which makes no sense to her at this point. With every other hand signal, your dog follows the treat to get the treat, and she may continue to do that with this hand signal. Here’s a technique for correcting that.
When Down Doesn’t Work
Here’s the problem: First, I raise my hand
to deliver the hand signal.
Then I sweep my hand down past her nose
and say, “Down.” At first, she starts to go
… but she pops back up confused when my
hand returns to my side, since I didn’t bend
over to lead her all the way to the ground.
The Behind-the-Leg Trick
To overcome this little snag, follow this multistep process. First, practice the “Sit to Down” sequence under
“Hand Signals – Stage 1” until your dog always hits the ground quickly and is also always looking at
the ground, and not at your signal hand, for the treat. Remember, this won’t work if you give the treat from
your hand. Place the treat on the ground for your dog to scoop up on her own.
Start by using the “down” hand signal to bring your dog all the way to the ground.
Be sure to drop the treat on the ground
and make her pick it up from there. DO
NOT give her the treat out of your hand. You
want your dog to begin to anticipate the
appearance of the treat on the ground, not
in your hand. That’s the whole point of this
Once your dog is performing this smoothly, do the same thing, but instead of going all the way to the
ground, sweep the treat behind your calf and hide it there. If your dog has come to anticipate the treat on
the ground, she’ll go all the way down. Once she’s down, toss the treat from behind your calf into the area
between her feet.
During this exercise, your dog might freeze as if stumped or confused. If
this happens, so long as your dog seems to be concentrating, it’s extremely
important to be still and quiet and not say a thing. Your dog is trying to
work out the problem. She is not being stubborn, stupid, or distracted. If
you repeat “down” or the environment has a lot of distracting noises, it will
break your dog’s concentration and she’ll give up. Learn to recognize such
moments. Often, after as long as even a full minute, your dog may simply
drop into the down, at which point you must enthusiastically praise her
after delivering the treat. Of course, if it becomes apparent that she’s given
up, is distracted, or starts looking at other things, reboot the exercise and