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Lie Down on Hand Signal

A dog who lies down when seeing an upraised hand-signal will seem super-smart and almost magical to the potential adopter. Teaching shelter dogs this behavior will make them appear more attractive to prospective adopters.

Goal: In this exercise, the dog will learn to melt to the ground into a lying down position, after seeing only a silent hand signal. It can be done just as easily with a verbal “lie-down” cue, but the hand-signal will impress friends and adopters even more.

This exercise is a great ‘extra’ to give a dog that needs something extra: if your shelter has twelve all black dogs and you need to make a couple of these black dogs extra special, train them to lie down on a magical hand signal. If you need to make that temperamentally wonderful pit bull into something extra special, to eclipse the public’s often negative view of pit bulls, teach this exercise.

To Train:

  1. Begin with the dog sitting in front of you, facing you.
  2. Kneel or squat in front of the dog with a treat enclosed in your left fist. Extend your right hand upward, fingers together, palm facing the dog.
  3. Flash your right hand in front of the dog’s eyes (the ‘down’ hand signal) fingers to the sky and close together, as if you were trying to stop traffic,
  4. Take your treats from his nose, lower the treats slowly to underneath his chest and finally between his paws.
  5. As your dog tries to reach for the treats, his head will tuck and his nose will go towards his belly.
  6. Hold your treats on the ground under his chest.
  7. Most dogs will bow first, then lie down. This is fine.
  8. As soon as the dog’s elbows touch the floor, open your fist and feed a few treats.
  9. If he continues to merely bow instead of lying all the way down, simply extend the amount of treats you feed while his elbows are touching, until he tires of holding his butt up!
  10. Before the dog is done eating, and before he has gotten up, raise your fist up until the dog is once again sitting.
  11. Repeat until it becomes super smooth and easy, ‘like buttah’ to lure him into the down.


  1. Fill your left hand with treats, begin as above.
  2. Bring your treats to your dog’s nose while he is sitting in front of you.
  3. Flash your hand signal, but DON’T LURE—don’t move your food from his nose! Just wait. He should think about this for a few seconds and then magically lie down. Bring your food down to his nose only when his elbows touch and feed ALL THE TREATS in one, giant jackpot.

Take a break here—for a few minutes, a few hours, a day… This is the moment you want the dog to ‘incubate’ the learning.

When you return to training the Magical Lie Down on a Hand Signal, repeat this last ‘test’ step, and give one food treat instead of a jackpot when he lies down. Then, each time you repeat, move your body gradually higher and higher into a standing position, while at first keeping your hands/treats in exactly the same spot, and then gradually move your hands (both the signal and the hand filled with food) farther and farther up and away from the dog.

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