Need a cute dog trick to wow your friends and family? High five is always a crowd-pleaser. Or how about spin? Not impressive enough? How about something a little more dramatic? How about playing dead?
A dog that rolls over to play dead on cue looks like a total genius. Really, however, this trick is no harder to learn than any other basic cue. Here’s the skinny on how to teach your dog to play dead.
Teach your dog to lie down first
To teach a dog how to play dead, they first need to lie down on cue.
If your dog doesn’t already know how to lie down, show them how! Here is the progression:
- Bend head down
- Stretch to touch belly to ground
And here’s how to teach it.
1. With your dog in a sit, put a treat between your fingers with your palm facing down. Hold your hand in front of their nose and lower it straight to the ground.
When your dog bends towards the ground, mark it with a clicker or a marker word (“Yes!” works well) and reward them. Repeat five times.
2. Next, ask your dog to sit. With a treat between your fingers and your palm facing down, lower your hand straight down from their nose, then pull it back towards yourself.
When their belly is on the ground, mark and reward. Repeat five times.
3. Repeat Step 2, this time with no treat in your hand. Mark and reward when your dog’s belly hits the ground and practice it at least five times.
4. Now add a verbal cue. Say the word “down” then lower your empty palm to the ground. Mark, reward and repeat.
5. Finally, fade out your hand signal. Ask your dog to sit then say “down.” Give them about five seconds to think it out. If they respond and lie down, mark and celebrate with a reward!
If they don’t get it, show your hand signal instead of repeating the verbal cue. When their belly is on the ground, mark and reward.
How to teach a dog to play dead
Now that you have a solid down, here’s how to teach your dog to play dead!
- Ask your dog to lie down. When comfortable, dogs will favor one hip or the other. Look at which way their weight is leaning, then grab a treat.
- Hold the treat at your dog’s nose. Move it diagonally over the opposite shoulder from the weighted hip (i.e., if your dog’s weight is on their left hip, you will move the treat over your dog’s right shoulder).
- As your dog leans backward, mark and reward them. Repeat five times.
Pro-tip: In the beginning, ask your dog to lay on a soft surface so that rolling over feels less scary!
- Repeat Step 2, moving your hand from your dog’s nose diagonally over their shoulder. This time, don’t mark and reward until they are all the way on their back. Practice at least five times.
- Try Step 3 again, with no treat in your hand. Mark and reward your dog when they roll onto their back. Repeat at least five times.
- Now make your hand into a gun shape. Hold this shape in front of your dog’s nose and move it diagonally over their shoulder the same way you did in Step 4. Mark and reward when they roll on to their back. Repeat, repeat, repeat.
- The last step is to add a verbal cue. With your dog already laying down, say the word “Bang!” (or an equally appropriate phrase) then point your hand “gun.” Mark and reward their dog when they respond by rolling onto their back.
Check out this video to see this in action.
And that’s it! Have fun and get ready to wow your friends and family with your dog’s trick repertoire.
More dog training tips
- Have You Been Walking Your Dog Wrong This Whole Time?
- 6 Foolproof Ways to Get Your Dog to Come When Called
- How to Train a Dog to Pee on Command