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2 Commands That Could Save Your Dog's Life - Down-Stay and Come

Jana worked in animal welfare with abused and unwanted pets. She loves sharing her hands-on experience regarding domestic and wild critters.


A Life-Saving Package

Training a dog in obedience is a lengthy process that doesn't suit most people's busy lives. It takes dedication and daily practice to advance Fido in his education - one that consists of a lengthy amount of commands. However, you don't need to put your dog (and your ever-shrinking amount of time) through canine college. Consider the following two commands a powerful package deal that is an investment in your dog's safety.

How Long Will This Take?

I wish I could give you a neat answer. Each dog is different and depending on their personality or breed, they may pick up on the commands quicker than most — or not at all. Border Collies will grasp the words soon enough while a Bull Terrier might take ages. Bullies are in no way stupid, but they are very stubborn!

More important than the length of time is consistency. Your dog will definitely learn faster when several short sessions are given throughout the day than an hour every third or fourth day. The best is to start with one command and apart from the 5-minute sessions twice a day, also look for opportunistic moments to issue the word and demonstrate what you want. This teaches the dog that the command can happen at any time and anywhere, not just when it's on a leash and busy with a lesson. This will prepare the dog to instantly obey, even in unfamiliar surroundings.

1. Down-Stay

This command is useful when you need to immobilize your pet in an instant. For instance, he escaped the yard and you find him standing on the other side of a busy road. Thank the stars he didn't get hit when he trotted across, but he might try to return, especially if he's the kind who happily bounds closer the moment he spots you. Worse, cars are coming and fast.

The Down-Stay will place the dog in a position that could prevent him from re-entering the road. Taught consistently, this command will safe a dog's life in multiple scenarios.

Waiting in the Down Position

This Belgian Shepherd is performing a perfect Down-Stay.

This Belgian Shepherd is performing a perfect Down-Stay.

How to Teach the Down-Stay

This command must be taught in two phases. The easier half is teaching the dog to stay. Always remember that dogs are very visual creatures and respond better when words come with a clear hand signal. In this case, show the dog the palm of your hand. Whenever the opportunity presents, say "stay" and show your palm. If the dog complies, hold him in the Stay for a few moments, then reward with affection. Do it several times a day.

The Down command is harder. Some dogs don't like it because they feel it's a submission request while more the nervous types might see it as punishment or that you being aggressive. Those are extreme examples but many trainers agree that the Down is a tough one. There are different techniques and you must find the one that works for you. Do not, however, pull your dog's legs from the front while you are facing it. Never pull it down by its leash. No matter what you do, never get angry when the dog keeps resisting.

Gently get your dog to sit. One way to proceed is to kneel beside it, shoulder to shoulder, place an arm over the back so both your hands grip a lower leg. The carefully lower the dog by lifting the legs slightly and lowering the body. When the animal complies, reward with a quiet affection. An exuberant display of human joy might prompt it to leap up again!

Once your amazing mutt can do both commands, combine them to teach the Down-Stay. Remember, most dangerous situations calling for this command will be happening with some distance between you and the dog. Get Fluffy used to being given the Down-Stay (or at least the Stay), from across the room or garden.

2. Come

Most dogs do the Come naturally. You might not say the word, but trust me, you probably already have a certain tone, gesture or body language that you joyfully greet your dog with. Recognizing these nuances is the reason why Rover steamrollers closer and parties like its 1999.

This command is critical to a dog's safety during a bad situation. While distance control such as the Down-Stay is worth its salt, the safest place for your pet is literally inside your shadow. Not across the road, in the garden of your gun-toting neigbour or on the back of a truck about to drive off. Once the dog reacts and reaches you, it can immediately be removed out of harm's way.

How to Teach the Come

This command is much easier to teach than the Down-Stay. Most dogs love an excited owner - it's like a magnet to them. This doesn't mean that one must carry on like a clown on cocaine. In the beginning, the command is issued with a friendly voice and gestures. This is done to draw the dog in. A dead-pan "come" will really not translate well and Buster might yawn in your face. The hand signal to use is to softly clap your hands in its direction or to click your fingers. Once the dog comes, lavish it with love. Tell it that there is no better place than right there with you, between all the hugs and ear-fluffing.

In correct obedience training, this is not wholly how the Come command is done. Undoubtedly, similar techniques are used in the beginning but eventually things are toned down and the dog obeys the command without fanfare. It's up to you if you want to go that far but a dog in danger (specifically one that is not fully obedience trained), might respond better when he associates the Come with lots of praise instead of a toned-down moment.

Call and Reward with Plenty of Praise

Reward your dog when he comes to you.

Reward your dog when he comes to you.

Can I use Snacks?

The debate still rages on. Is it more effective to reward dogs with treats or just affection? Start out with the latter because it's an endless source of rewards. You also know that the dog is focused on commands and not where you are hiding the biscuits. However, some dogs train faster because nothing motivates them like food. In the end, it's a personal choice only you can make.

Safety at the Barest

If you teach your dog nothing else, teach him or her the Stay and Come. These two commands are capable of saving a dog in most cases. Burning them into Buster's brain needn't kill your daily schedule either. Practice when the moment arises, for example, telling him to stay when you see him enter a room, for example. Many owners have had success with the Down by standing ready when their dog climbs into its basket or bed. Then they cuddle a bit and show the Down, since the dog was about to lie down anyway.

Final Tips

  • Always work with your dog's personality and not against it!
  • Make learning a fun game and a time to bond.
  • Don't use snacks as a reward if weight is an issue.
  • Keep in mind that no pooch learns a command overnight but once it does, the sense of achievement will be worth all the effort and who knows, maybe even avoid a bad tragedy.

© 2018 Jana Louise Smit