Just about every week in my classes I urge the pet parents not to push their dogs. By that I mean it’s best to take things slow and allow your dog to progress at his or her own rate. But this week I had a question about literally “pushing” a dog into a Down position.
I think the answer can be found by examining the three ways you can get your dog into a Down position:
* Force – using your hands to push or pull the dog into position
* Lure – using a treat to lure or lead the dog into position
* Shape – reinforcing the dog for making small movements towards the position
Of these three choices, it may seem like the easiest thing would be to “show” your dog what you want by physically pushing him down. But that comes with risks. Ultimately, it’s also a less effective learning method for your dog.
First, if you push too hard there is a risk of discomfort or even pain. Second, forcing your dog into what is a vulnerable position could produce some fear or anxiety. Both of these risks may work against you in teaching your dog Down (not to mention the fact that they are not great ways to build a bond with your dog).
Luring or shaping don’t have those risks. In addition, they can be more effective in helping your dog learn because they force (pun intended) your dog to use his brain to figure out what you want. Once he gets it, you can almost see the light bulb go on.
Do luring and shaping have any drawbacks? Well the only one I can think of is that they may take more time to get that first Down. But if you’re working on teaching your dog Down (or Sit or Stay or just about anything else), in the end its better not to push – in any sense of the word – your dog.