Why my teen dogs learn a good down stay


A lot of my work is with teen dogs, and it's no wonder. Dogs in this wonderful class of canines range from 6 months to 2 years, and create more issues for their owners than dogs at any other age! Puppyhood may seem tough due to crate training and potty training, but often attention is attainable and energy levels are pretty manageable. Once your dog becomes a teenager, you will likely look back on the puppy months longingly: Remember when he used to just fall dead asleep on the floor? Remember when he would go out with us and people liked when he jumped up on him because he was so gentle, and little and cute? 

In teen dogs, we find the wonderful spirit to play, run, jump, explore and a range of very exuberant, delightful behaviors. We also find that the emotions of our dogs in the teen years can be exuberant, bounding, and hard to control. And these emotions are connected to their body, just like ours. So it's not just an OMG-I'm-so-excited-to-see-you feeling, it's an OMG-I'm-so-excited-to-see-you emotion & a jump, or several jumps, and possibly some nips too. 

Dogs who struggle to control their emotions are more likely to chase a squirrel into a street, jump on a child, bark/lunge at the postman, cry when they are separated from their owners for a few minutes, and unabashedly smother a visitor with kisses. Like us, the mind/body connection is a real thing, and navigating that connection is part of the journey that our dogs live.  When we think of dogs as intellectual and emotional beings capable of problem solving, empathy, and depth, we empower ourselves to help them on this level. I've come to see one of my main roles as a dog trainer as guiding a dog into a more intentional mind/body connection.

Building a good stay practice with your teen dog is one of the most beneficial things you can do.  When you work on a stay with your dog, your dog is learning to keep their body still, even when they want to move. They are learning to stay still even when they feel an impulse to get up, or worry, or wander.  Instead of the sight of you walking away compelling them to walk behind you, they are working to still their body against it's natural instincts.  For most dogs, doing a down stay is tougher than doing a sit stay, so it requires more body control.  It can also be a more comfortable position for a dog to wait, which serves them well.  

Start by asking your dog for a sit and then a down. Make sure your dog can do their down and hold it long enough for you to mark the behavior (either with a yes or with a click) and to deliver their treat reward.  A lure may be used when a dog is starting to learn how to do a down, but should not be used at this point (meaning treat is not in your hand if you use a hand signal for your dog command).  Start small - it's imperative that the stay be successful or your dog may not understand it's meaning. Once your dog can successfully do nothing while in a down, you can begin to take one step away (then come back, mark/treat), then two, etc. 

There are many ways to make a stay harder for your dog, so once they have the basics down, consider challenging your dogs emotional/physical control by increasing your distance, asking for a longer duration, turning away from them rather than keeping eye contact, or reaching towards your dog. The possibilities are endless!