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Training an "Emergency" Down

Q: How can I clicker train an emergency "down"? This seems like an important behavior to have on cue.

A: Here's one recipe for training an emergency "down":

  • Train a belly-flop down with the clicker by luring two or three times and then capturing and shaping the behavior.
  • If the dog has already been taught a down and the command "down" with correction-based training, you will need to establish a different behavior (flinging itself down rather than lowering itself for example) and a different cue for this behavior: "stop," or a hand signal. If you don't, the old behavior with its problems will keep creeping back in (such as inattention, distractability, slow downs, creeping, getting up again, and other avoidance-related behavior caused by correction-based training).
  • Shape cue response at short distances with no latency (which means the animal does it instantly, not after a pause or delay).
  • Vary the distance and duration until reliable with no latency at plus/minus 20 feet and plus/minus 10 seconds. DON'T correct errors or "reset" the dog for getting up early. (The video The How of BowWow is very clear on how to do this with the clicker.)
  • Aim for fluency. Pop quiz on the behavior (test it) at different times of the day and different places. ALWAYS click and treat a correct response.
  • Jackpot first responses, even if not quite perfect, under tough circumstances (in the woods; on a busy sidewalk). Use a mouthclick if you don't have a clicker handy.
  • Take it on the road—literally—and see if you can get it in very high distraction settings or across a wide street.
  • Now do this once in a while for the rest of the animal's life.

If you're not comfortable with these methods, use Clicking with Your Dog Step by Step in Pictures, by Peggy Tillman, and the above-mentioned video to get familiar with shaping, adding cues, increasing duration, reinforcing what you like without correcting what you don't like, and so on, by teaching two or three little tricks, clicker-style. Then the dog and you will know the game and you can go on to life skills like the emergency "down."

About the author
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Karen Pryor is the founder and CEO of Karen Pryor Clicker Training and Karen Pryor Academy. She is the author of many books, including Don't Shoot the Dog and Reaching the Animal Mind. Learn more about Karen Pryor or read Karen's Letters online.

Training an "Emergency" Down

Great article.  I see what you mean about teaching Tyler a different down, where he goes down right away.  His regular down is good, but does not do it instantly.


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