How To Teach A Drop or Lie Down
A drop is a really important command to have established with your puppy. When your puppy is lying down they can't be doing anything else, they are calm, controlled and cooperative. It is comfortable position for your puppy to be in and relax into. A dog in a drop will be less aroused and their heart rate will be lower. I teach a drop to my clients for many reasons.
A Drop Is a great behaviour that is comfortable for your puppy to be in and they can hold for duration.
Naturally your puppy sleeps through this position as it is the most relaxing and the least energy consuming or demanding on their body. Teaching your puppy to naturally offer a drop or having the option of commanding it can be very helpful in many different situations when you want your dog to be next to you and still. Such as; when you are in the vet waiting room. at a cafe, in the car, etc.
It can also be a very helpful behaviour to combat "problematic" household behaviours by giving your puppy a really solid explanation of the expected behaviour.
E.g. If your puppy is in a drop, they can't counter surf, beg at the table for food, jump on guests, escape out the door, chase the kids, get under your feet, etc.
A Drop Is More stable than sit
A reliable drop or down position is more stable than a sit. It is physiologically a lot slower to get up into a stand from a drop. It also requires a lot more energy. A dog must really want to get up or get to whatever initiates your dog to break a drop. The motivation of the stimulus must outweigh the effort it takes to move. Whereas a dog that is in a sit position can easily "bounce out or spring up" into a stand as they are not low to the ground and don't have to lift their whole body up and out of a drop position.
A drop in a behaviour where your dog has to settle and relax into the position whereas a sit, your dog is typically more alert and ready to move. A drop is more of a permanent position and a sit is more of a behaviour that is done in passing or to move to the next behaviour. E.g. you get your dog to sit at the side of the road not drop, you get your dog to sit before they come inside, you get your dog sit before you throw the ball, etc.
Through the placement and delivery of your reward you can condition your dog emotional state of mind to be relaxed, calm and settled in the drop behaviour rather than just the behaviour that your puppy knows will get them the treat. By doing this you are building the stability of the position. your dog to have a relaxed, calm state of mind in the drop position, so you are building the stability of the position.
A stable, calm drop position is very useful in higher risk situations such as around roads or in high excitement situations such as when people come over or there are kids around with food.
A Drop assists with Cooperative Care
Especially for wriggly dogs or larger breeds, a strong drop is useful for grooming and husbandry procedures. A dog is going to be a lot more still when in a drop. Toenail trimming, ear cleaning, body assessment is easy if the dog is lying down on the ground or a station (like a bed or examination table). When your dog is in a drop, they are holding position themselves without you needing to manhandle them or hold/pin them in position. People can much easily move around them with out tangling up. All in all the procedures themselves will be a lot less stressful for everyone and a drop will help contribute to everything running efficiently and smoothly and as quick as possible.
The more reinforcement history you create in the drop behaviour and the more full the piggy bank for the sit behaviour gets. Meaning the behaviour will only get stronger, more resilient to extinction of rewards later in life and more resilient to different stress factors or competing motivations that life will present to your dog.
It is really important in the puppy period that you generously reward your puppy all of the time for a drop and don't fade out the treats as soon as your puppy learns the behaviour (think that you a building up savings in a piggy bank). Really see and appreciate your puppy sitting. Because dogs naturally drop so well, it is such an expected behaviour with our puppies, humans become very complacent with the behaviour.
There are two ways you can teach a sit with your puppy:
Option 1: Capturing (My favourite) - It is called capturing because you want to capture the behaviour of a drop in the moment when your puppy naturally offers it.
Your puppy already knows how to do this behaviour when you bring them home so rather than reinventing the wheel and dragging the behaviour out of your puppy you are going to take a step back, observe and capture. The more you capture and reward, the quicker the behaviour will get stronger.
Step 1: When you notice your puppy drop on their own at any time of the day when you are around, the moment your lays down and their tummy touches the ground, bridge the behaviour by saying"Yes" and follow through with multiple treats immediately afterwards by placing them in-between your puppy's two front paws. You want to give your puppy multiple treats while they continue to drop to encourage staying in the drop position for longer instead of standing, jumping back up and taking the treat and running off. My rule of thumb is 5-10 treats per 1 x drop in the beginning.
Step 2: When you start to notice that your puppy is offering the drop behaviour more and more, play a little patience game before you give them dinner or something they want etc. E.g. Fill their bowl or enrichment with food and stand up normally with it and wait. Your puppy will probably offer you a sit first, you can say a little praise like "Good work" to give your puppy encouragement but that is it. Now be patient. Avoid staring intently at your puppy as that will put them under a lot of pressure. Instead just keep checking in to them and making sure that you keep your body language nice and relaxed. If you have been actively and consistently rewarding your puppy naturally dropping, then after a little bit of time and problem solving your puppy should figure it out and offer you a drop themselves. The moment they do, bridge "Yes" and give them their dinner. You are now teaching your puppy through capturing that if they want a resource or something they want, they can definitely have it but they must naturally try offering a sit or a drop first to say please.
Step 3: Once you start to notice your puppy happily and consistently offering drop for things, they try and consciously offer a drop near you to try and initiate treats and they are defaulting to this behaviour, you can be confident that you have done a really great job of filling up your puppy's "drop piggybank". Now you can pair the verbal with the action. Anytime they offer a drop, the moment they drop down and their tummy touches the ground say "drop, yes" and follow through with a generous amount of treats placed in-between their front paws. Repeat , repeat , repeat.
Step 4: Now issue the drop cue when you anticipate your puppy is about to drop instead of when they are in the motion of dropping. Once your puppy responds by dropping in response to the "drop" cue, you can decrease your rate of reinforcement as in give them fewer treats (refer to How to correctly reward page here) to make sure you decrease your reward rate appropriately so you don't lose value in the behaviour you have just established and poison the cue.
Option 2: Luring.
Step 1: Encourage your puppy into a sit. Pinch a treat in-between your fingers and hold it in front of your puppy's nose. Slowly move it down your puppy's chest to their toes on the ground. Trail the lure tight along your puppy's chest, making sure that you aren't unintentionally moving it outwards away from your puppy's body. If you do you will encourage your puppy to stand up to follow the treat. As you move your lure, don't move your hand too quickly. I find slow and steady is what will help you achieve success.
Step 2: Your puppy's head will follow the path of the treat and as their head follows the treat down to the ground, they should curl forwards and start to reposition themselves to get lower to the ground. When your hand with the lure reaches the ground slowly start to draw a line along the ground away from your puppy. As your puppy follows this, they should continue to go down but uncurl their body into a drop. The moment your puppy goes into the drop position with their tummy and elbows and hocks on the ground at the same time, bridge the behaviour by saying"Yes" and follow through with multiple treats immediately afterwards in-between your puppy's two front paws. You want to give your puppy multiple treats while they continue to drop to encourage staying in the drop position for longer instead of standing, sitting, breaking the drop and jumping back up and taking the treat and running off. My rule of thumb is 5-10 treats per 1 x drop in the beginning. Repeat, repeat, repeat until the behaviour naturally happens and there is no resistance when luring them.
*If you were to combine the luring movements of step 1 and 2 together in one motion it should look as if you are drawing a "L". Starting at the top of the L and drawing down and out from your puppy.
Step 3: Only once your puppy can be lured successfully and without hesitation pair the command with the action. Refer to step 3 in the capturing section above.
Step 4: The problem you will face with luring is that many puppies become dependent on you having a treat in your hand to do the behaviour. The moment they can't smell it they don't do it. Luckily, you can prevent this by fading the lure treat out slowly.
Lure your puppy with a treat pinched in-between your fingers as stated above into a drop. Bridge the moment they do but rather than releasing the treat from your lure hand to reward, use your other hand to get a treat from your pocket or treat pouch and reward from that hand instead. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Now PRETEND as if you are pinching a treat in-between your fingers and lure your puppy into a drop. Bridge the drop and reward. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
Start to decrease the amount of hand signal (lure in the beginning stages) needed to get a successful drop by slowly weaning the hand signal used each time you ask for a drop. This can take a couple of weeks to successfully do. Eventually you should go from drawing a "L", drawing your hand down and out right in front of your puppy's nose to just your hand flicking down.
To add the verbal when fading the lure only introduce it when you have successfully decreased your lure to a simple hand flick down. When you have your puppy's attention say "drop", wait 1 second and then give your hand signal. By saying the verbal "drop" first and then following through with your hand signal, your puppy will anticipate the visual signal that follows and will learn to respond to the voice cue itself. Dog's are so intelligent when it comes to reading body language so if you say the command and do the visual cue at the same time, most often puppies will pay attention only to the hand movement and don't fully comprehend and learn the verbal cue by itself.
Troubleshooting: If you are too slow to release the treat after the bridge, they may drop and then immediately jump to get to the reward as you are lowering it or getting it to give it to them. If this happens, make a mental note to be quicker with your actions in future. If you have not bridged, do not give your puppy the reward as you will reinforce a jumping up behaviour instead of a sitting behaviour. If you have bridged, ignore the break of the drop, lure your puppy back into another drop, (do not bridge again) and release the treat which was intended for the original drop, placing it between their paws.
Note: The environment will influence how enthusiastic your puppy is to do this behaviour. If you start by introducing this behaviour on cold tiles or wet grass, do you think you will have a puppy that really wants to lay down on it? Would you like to lie down naked on wet grass or cold tiles? I can guarantee NOT! The same is for your puppy. You want your puppy to have a really great emotional association to the command which might mean that you need to manipulate the environment to make it nicer for your puppy to do the behaviour. Such things could include putting down a towel or bath mat for your puppy to drop on so it is not cold or wet on their skin.
*Handy Tip: If you are struggling with getting your puppy into a drop and are finding they are continually breaking the sit instead of moving into a drop or, they are backing up or sliding back and you find yourself moving your lure out to them, teach this behaviour in a corner of a lounge or a wall, so that way they can't back up unintentionally, and instead the only option is to go down.
*Handy Tip: When first teaching this behaviour, a lot of people will get their puppy to drop, give them a treat and then the exercise is over, indicating to the puppy that the treat is the conclusion of the behaviour sequence and that they can now go and do what they like. You will end up with a puppy dropping for a second, getting the treat and then bolting. It is not the puppy's fault as that is the expectation you have established in your puppy's learning history. Instead you want to teach your puppy that when they do a behaviour that you like, the good stuff keeps coming and coming and that there is always a potential for more rewards until they are told otherwise. Remember, for your puppy, food is the equivalent of money to us, so if you want your puppy to repeat the desired behaviour you need to show them how much you value their effort.