If you are looking for a dog trick guaranteed to yield loads of laughs and giggles, the play dead trick must be part of your dog’s repertoire of learned behaviors. With this trick, you point your fingers to your dog as to mimic a gun, and upon saying the word “bang!” your dog drops dead and lies on his side. In order to teach this trick, your dog should already know how to lie down and it won’t hurt if he knows already how to roll over.
Step-by-Step: The Play Dead Trick
To get started, make sure you have plenty of tasty treats with you that are small, moist and very smelly. Ideally, you should start in a quiet room free of distractions so you can help your dog to focus. You can use a clicker if you wish, or alternatively, you can use a verbal marker such as an enthusiastic “yes!” or “good.” The clicker or the verbal marker is necessary because it allows you to train your dog with precision. The following steps will have your dog playing dead in no time.
- Hold the treat between your thumb and index finger so that it protrudes enough to get your dog interested in it. You will use the treat to lure your dog in the “dead” position.
- Ask your dog to lie down on command and then use the treat to lure your dog on his side. Simply bring the treat to his nose level and then slowly pull it to the side so he’ll have to roll on his side to get it. Dogs that are already familiar with the “roll over” command will be more fluent in performing this behavior. The moment he is on his side, mark it using your verbal marker or the click of the clicker. Immediately give the treat and tell your dog the exercise is done by giving a release command such as “OK!” so he can get up.
- Repeat several times until the behavior becomes more and more fluent.
- Once the behavior seems more fluent, ask your dog to lie on his side and introduce the verbal command “bang” and say it right before using the food lure to get him on his side. Repeat several times during the day.
- Fade the food lure. Say “bang” and instead of using the treat to lure your dog on his side, point your index and middle fingers like a gun and mimic the sideways movement you were doing with your hand holding the treat to get him on his side. Mark the behavior and immediately give the treat.
- Gradually, make the hand movement less and less evident, so your dog will rely on them less and less. With practice and repetition, your dog should immediately lie on his side upon hearing the verbal cue “bang” and seeing your fingers pointed as a gun.
- Practice the trick in more and more distracting environments. Start at home, then in other rooms and also try on different surfaces. Later on, try at the park, on walks and around other people. The more you practice, the more likely your dog will perform despite distractions.
- If your dog rolls over all the way when you ask him to roll on his side, make sure you quickly capture and mark when he is on his side and are ready to reward promptly before he has a chance to roll over all the way.
- If your dog doesn’t seem interested in rolling to his side or appears distracted, try using higher value treats or move in an area with less distractions.
- Many dog owners would like their dog to play dead for a longer time so to attain a more dramatic display. Duration can be added gradually by giving the treat a few seconds later when the dog lies on his side, or if the dog is familiar with the stay command, he can be asked to stay in the sideways position for a few minutes before being released with the familiar release command “OK!”
Some dog owners prefer to call the play dead command the “go to sleep” command, and instead of using the fingers in such a way as to mimic a gun, they place their palms together and put them on the side of their faces to mimic a sleepy position. Regardless of how this trick is named, it surely makes a great ice breaker that will bring much laughter and smiles to everybody’s faces.