Lessons from Winston: the down position

Winston was a rescue bullmastiff mix from the Animal Welfare League Hawkesbury Valley Branch. My inspiration to learn how to train dogs, the reason we moved to this property, my teacher, my partner and my bubba-boy. Handsome until the very end. . Our lives revolved around him for 13 years. He passed peacefully at home on Saturday 17th April 2021 at approximately midday.

I remember struggling to teach Winston this. We were using the method to sit first and walk the front paws forward until the elbows are down, including:

  • careful lure & reward placement
  • guiding pressure on the shoulder blades
Often despite the lure/reward placement, Winston’s bottom would pop up. And he just “dug in” against the gentle pressure on his shoulder blades.

Photo by Karen Bagshaw, taken at Prospect Reservoir NSW

We persevered and it was a good week before we made progress. There were a number of factors:
  • down can be a vulnerable position, so trust was a factor
  • it was a long way down for him, so mechanical preferences came into play (once he understood the position, he’d offer it front-down first)
  • cue confusion, where it seems “down” already meant something else for him, so we changed it to “drop”
  • impatience saw me give up too soon and fail to reward effort to assist his understanding
Each case is different, and there’s even more things we can try now if your pup is just not getting it.

PM, text, email or call (and leave a VM), I can help.

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