Sphynx downs allow Service Dogs to fold into a down instead of sliding into one. Folding backward means the dog takes up less space than the sprawl that often happens when the dog first sits, then flops into a down with gravity doing most of the work. Sphynx downs are more efficient, ergonomic, and neater than their sliding counterpart. Training them, however, takes a bit of practice and lots of repetition. Learn to improve your dog’s sphynx downs by following these simple tips!
Use a Platform to Teach a Sphynx Down
Platform training helps provide clear boundaries for your dog. When it comes to positions and position training, platforms offer your dog instant feedback as to whether or not they’re in the correct place. They’re either on the platform or off the platform — there’s nothing in between. It also allows the trainer to manage the environment and situation so the dog can better differentiate and sort behaviors to offer. Platforms can be sophisticated and purpose-built, like the Klimb dog training pedestal or a Karunda bed. Raised surfaces in the environment work well, too. Examples include steps you can stand to the side of, the edge of a porch or (unheated) fireplace hearth, or stable concrete blocks arranged so there’s space for all four of your dog’s feet on the surface.
Place your dog in a stand at the platform edge. If your dog doesn’t yet know how to fold back into a down, use a lure backward at an angle between their front legs to teach them the basic position. Work on building competency with the behavior before adding distance or distractions. If your dog currently sits then slides into a down when you use your current down command, consider pairing a new cue with the sphynx down behavior.
Until your dog reliably folds into a down on cue on a platform, try to avoid using the new skill in real-life applications without the ability to heavily reinforce it. Practice the position from a variety of orientations. Try standing in front of your dog and beside your dog. Give sitting on the floor or kneeling a shot. When your dog responds to the verbal cue regardless of your physical position or body language, you know they’re starting to actually understand it.
Put Your Dog on a Line
The next step to improving sphynx downs involves fading use of the platform. Ideally, we want the dog to fold back instantly into the down without needing to move forward or back. They should occupy the same space they were in while standing. When many dogs come off the platform, they start taking steps. Using a visual can help the trainer realign the dog and provide better reinforcement. A strip of duct tape, a flat target, or even a crack in the concrete comes in handy.
Align your dog’s front feet directly on the line and start working on your position changes. Focus on shifting in and out of the sphynx down. Your dog’s feet should be stationary when folding back into the down and springing back into the stand. Using a clicker can allow you to mark and reinforce precise movement with fewer miscommunications.
Make Sphynx Downs a Game
Incorporate position changes into your daily routine. Keep things upbeat, and energetic in the beginning. This helps build value for the sphynx down behavior. Cue differentiation and practicing position shifts work both your dog’s mind and body. Moving from downs to stands to bows to sitting pretty to a kickback stand to a tuck sit builds strength and mobility. Incorporate other tricks or behaviors from your dog’s repertoire to keep the game interesting and challenging. Take things slow and have fun!