A very good down

This is my post for The 10th Assistance Dog Blog Carnival where the theme is Perfect 10.
Jory is my fourth guide dog, and we have been a team for almost 10 weeks. When I come home with a dog, there has always been a new skill to teach or an old skill that needs to be polished. Valerie had to learn to come on command, Zorro needed to heal, and Dee needed not to bark every time people came close to us or opened our stairway door leading to our floor in the apartment building.
Jory is an excellent guide dog, and she is 20 months old. She is fast-paced, confident in crowds, and loves to learn new skills. She can find railings for stairs, find rooms after going to them once or twice, and loves traveling. She heals, comes when called even if someone is petting or playing with a toy with her,and can hold a sit-stay for more than 20 minutes. However, the skill we are striving to perfect is the down. I cannot figure out why she doesn’t like to do it half the time. It doesn’t matter if she is in or out of harness, on carpet or tile, or in familiar or unfamiliar places. She especially doesn’t like to do it in small spaces, like on the floor in the front seat of a car or between my feat and the legs of a table. I could physically force her into a down, but I don’t like to train like that.
Clicker is my first method. She can put her nose on my hand and move to follow my fist. I moved my hand first with a treat to get her into position, and that helped some at first. After that, I took away the treat, moved my fist, and c/ted when she started going into the down position. I moved on to moving my fist and c/ted after she was completely down and settled. That works sometimes but not always. I am obviously miscommunicating somehow, or there is some reason why she doesn’t like to down, and I cannot figure out what it is.

It is especially frustrating in public or when I’m working. I go to the houses or schools of blind children and adults to teach braille and technology. I was sitting in someone’s kitchen and asked Jory to go under the table and down/stay. She went under and sat but didn’t lie down. She did the same thing in a restaurant with carpeted floors. If she does eventually lie down, she doesn’t stay. During a lions club meeting, she got up seven times and I couldn’t get her to get back into position.
I always carry a clicker and treat pouch with and c/t every time she immediately lies down on her own or with one command. It’s a high-value meat treat that I don’t give her for any thing else. I also pet/praise along with the treat in hopes that will make her think this is a fun game that she wants to win more often.
I asked her puppy raiser if she had any suggestions, and she said to try a blanket on the floor. Jory likes the blanket, but it doesn’t add to more downs. I asked my trainer and school for suggestions. They looked in her file and it says she had this problem when she was a puppy too. They said try a leash correction or more leash cues. I tried it a couple of times, and it doesn’t help at all. In fact, it makes Jory dig in and refuse even harder.
With each dog, I learn something new. This time, I think it is if one method doesn’t work, try something else till she understands. I don’t expect her to be perfect, but I’ll be happy when she is very good and happily lying on the carpet or tile in and out of harness.


5 thoughts on “A very good down

  1. Brooke, Cessna, Aspen, Canyon & Rogue

    down seems to be a behaviour that a lot of dogs dislike. I wonder if the fact that it puts them into a submissive position is part of the issue.

    I don’t know if you have tried this or if it is even possible with your situation or routine, but what if you just let her stay sitting?

    Or if it’s getting really tough to keep asking her to go back down, maybe just put your foot onto her leash so that she can’t get back into a sitting position?

    They aren’t great solutions, but they would eliminate the frustration factor for both of you and let your bond develop more while you continue practicing downs at home and in different places.

    1. latinanewschic Post author

      Yeah, sometimes I let her stay sitting which she can hold for a long time; she sat for a half hour today before she decided to lie down. Sooo frustrating though; I can’t figure out what I’m not communicating right to get a consistent down!

  2. Sharon Wachsler

    Hey! Thank you for posting this for the ADBC!
    I’m so glad Jory is working out so well in many ways. The down situation sounds frustrating.
    I don’t know if you’re looking for strategies, but here’s two, in case they’re of interest. One thing that comes to mind is that if there were problems with down when she was a puppy, it’s likely that it’s a poisoned cue now. In other words, probably if there were problems, that involved some frustration and such on the part of the puppy raisers, so there might have been scolding or pulling her into a down, which some dogs find scary, etc. Or even if not, just the fact that by now the cue does not at all mean, “Lie down immediately when I say this and stay in a down,” then continuing to use the cue is not communicating what you want.
    What would you think of reteaching it from the beginning, pretending she had never learned the behavior at all (because she hasn’t, really), and use a different word for the cue. Just start with the hand signal first that you’re building from the lure, and don’t use any verbal cue. Once she’s got a happy, speedy down and a bit of duration, you can teach her a new verbal cue with no negative associations.
    The other idea is if there’s any chance you could have someone video you two during a training session of down and post it online? (You could post it as private or password protected if you didn’t want it public.) Then you could ask people you trust to watch it and tell you if they notice things you might not be aware of. For example, there might be some body language showing appeasement or displacement behaviors indicating she is anxious when she hears this cue. The training list I’m on (the Levels list), we use this a lot. Often having someone with more experience, or someone outside the situation, sees things going on that are easy to miss when you’re in it.

    1. latinanewschic Post author

      That’s a good idea; I’m going to teach a different word. We’re still stuck; sometimes she’ll follow my hand and other times, she just sits there. If she’s moving, it’s slight enough that I don’t hear it. Sooooo frustrating! Like earlier today, I asked for a down and lowered my hand, and she did it. And a couple hours later, I asked for a down in the exact same spot, and she refused. Sooo confused.

      1. Sharon Wachsler

        I had to start over from the beginning after I poisoned Barnum’s down cue. So, I chose “Platz,” which is lie down in German. I would say start in a place with very low distraction, when you’re in a good mood, she’s very hungry, great treats, and just use the hand cue — starting with a lure — at the beginning. Fade the lure but keep using the hand signal but no verbal cue. Do 100 repetitions of this. (Really. That’s not a lot of reps at all for a dog. And count them. I can do 70 reps of one behavior in one day easily.) Do them in lots of different places. The click or marker signal ends the behavior. Don’t go for any duration at all until you’ve done at least 25 downs. Then, start adding one second, then sometimes two seconds, sometimes three seconds. But mostly just one or two seconds. Don’t go above five seconds. Anytime she doesn’t down, or doesn’t stay down, go back to an earlier step. Don’t try to use a verbal cue, just use the lure and then return to the hand cue. After 100-200 reps, she should be offering you downs every chance she gets when there’s a clicker or treats around. Then, when she’s offering the downs, introduce your new spoken cue, something she’s never heard before. Do 100 more reps of that in all different places and conditions, and work your way up to 10 seconds. Then you can start working on duration (stay). Let us know how it goes!

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