How to Teach a Dog to Play Dead? Step by Step Guide

Playing dead is a great dog trick. Playing dead is built on top of the basic commands “lie down” and “stay,” so be sure that your dog is proficient in those commands before you start training them to play dead. 

How Long Will It Take to Teach a Dog to Play Dead?

All dogs learn at a different pace. Keep training sessions upbeat and end the session if your dog seems frustrated, tired, or bored. Always try to end sessions on a positive note, even if that means switching to a simpler action like “sit” or “down” as the last thing you do. Remember to be patient and consistent. Long practice sessions are tiring for both you and your dog, so keep them to around 10 minutes or less to make learning easy and fun.

Supplies And Planning For The Training Session

  • Choose a Reward: Choose something that your dog enjoys; the more appealing the treat, the easier it will be to train your dog. If your dog enjoys playing, you can use their favorite toy and engage in some playtime as a reward. On the other hand, treats are the most successful way to train a dog for most people. The best treats are those that your dog enjoys, which are also easy to carry, split into bits, and nutritious. 
  • Pick a Cue: Choose  a word to be your dog’s play dead – we will use  “bang” as our verbal cue for the rest of this article but feel free to pick any word. As always, best practice is to make sure it doesn’t sound too similar to another command you use with your dog or your dog’s name.
  • Marker Training: You should use a “marker” to tell your dog that he has done something correctly. Since the clicker produces a clear, distinct sound that is consistent, it is very effective. If you don’t have a clicker, you can also use a verbal marker such as “yes” or “good.”

Steps to Teach a Dog to Play Dead

If you are planning to add “play dead” to your dog’s collection of tricks, here’s a step-by-step guide: 

Step 1: Pick the side your dog naturally lays on

Many dogs have a selective side that they prefer lying down and rolling over. If your dog seems to favor one side over the other, make use this side when training your dog to play dead since it will be more natural for them.

Step 2: Give the “down” command

Using the verbal command and/or hand signal your dog is already familiar with, command them to their down position. 

Step 3: Lure your dog onto their side

Hold a dog treat between your first two fingers, a few inches above your dog’s nose. Bring the treat over to their side, tempting your dog to roll onto their side to continue looking at the treat. (If your dog has already learned the “rollover” trick, they may roll over when learning how to “play dead.” Be sure to give them the treat only when they’re in the correct position.) Mark and reward.

Step 4: Repeat

Repeat steps 3 and 4 several times till you see your dog starting to predict what you are going to ask them to do.

Step 5: Add your verbal command and visual cue

Once your dog understands that you’re rewarding them for lying on their side, add your verbal cue word and hand signal (the most common command is “Bang,” “Boom” accompanied by a gun-like hand signal). Do this first from the down position and then from the standing and other positions. Remember to say use your verbal cue and/or hand signal before luring your dog into playing dead.

Pro Tips

  • Repeat the process for up to 10 minutes, always making sure to reset your dog, so they are under control and attentive before you begin the command. 
  • End each session on a good note with your dog successfully performing the technique to keep the sessions feeling fun and upbeat for both you and your dog.

Problems and Proofing Behavior 

My dog rolls all the way over

If your dog is already familiar with how to roll over, their natural inclination is to go all the way over when you start to lure them to their side.  

Lure your dog onto its side with a treat, click your clicker immediately and give the dog a treat. If it tries to keep rolling over, step away for a minute. When your dog realizes that the treat disappears when it rolls entirely over, it will most likely stop doing that and only do the action (i.e., play dead) that gets the treat.  

If you are having trouble getting your dog to follow the treat so that it ends up lying on its side, you can show what you want it to do instead. Use the treat as a lure, and at the same time, you can very gently push them onto their side. As soon as the dog is in the correct position, mark and reward.

My dog jumps up from the play dead position too quickly

If your dog jumps up from playing dead more quickly than you want them to, you can train them to lie there longer. Instead of giving the dog a treat the second, they lay over on their side, wait a few seconds, and then give the treat. Increase the amount of time progressively till your dog learns that they can only jump up when you mark.

Other Tips

If your dog makes more than two or three mistakes in a row at any point in the training, chances are you’ve moved ahead too quickly. Go back a step or two and practice, and only when the dog is successful at that step begin moving slowly ahead again.  

Remember to be patient and consistent. All dogs learn at a different pace. Keep training sessions upbeat and end the session if your dog seems frustrated, tired, or bored. Always try to end sessions on a positive note, even if that means switching to a simpler action like “sit” or “down” as the last thing you do. 

If you prefer to learn from a video, here is an excellent resource:

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