Tricks & Games

How To Teach Your Dog To Play Dead

November 3, 2021

Teaching your dog to “play dead” is a classic trick that makes people laugh. It’s also a wonderful introduction to teaching tricks using a lure which can allow you teach more advanced tricks in the future!

I taught my dog Neirah to play dead when I make fake shooting sounds (Pew pew!) with my fingers looking like a gun. I find it hilarious watching her play dead from a distance, and she loves that she gets treats for simply rolling on her side!

This is a basic trick to teach, but your dog does need to know how the “down” command before you start.

How to teach your dog to play dead:

Before starting “play dead” pay attention to whether your dog has a preferred side to lay down on. Many do! If you get the direction correctly, your dog will learn this trick more quickly.

  1. Choose your location. Pick a quiet, distraction free place to teach (such as the living room).
  2. Get your dog to lie down. Call your dog in front of you while you kneel, and ask them to lie down. Reward them with a treat.
  3. Teach your dog to lie on their side. Hold a treat between your thumb and index finger (we’ll use it as a lure). Bring the treat a few inches in front of your dogs nose, then move it backwards towards their shoulder. This should tip your dog onto their hip.
  4. Teach your dog to put their head flat. Nobody “dies” with their head elevated staring at a treat! To get your dog to put their head flat on the ground move the treat in a arc slightly above their head out to the side.
  5. Reward your dog! As soon as they’re lying on their side with their head on the ground, say “Yes!” and give them a treat.
  6. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Practice playing dead with a lure several times (rewarding every time) until your dog performs the motion quickly.
  7. Add your visual cue and verbal command! Once your dog is successful with the lure ~80% of the time add in your commands. I make shooting noises with a gun-like hand signal, but choose anything you like! Saying “bang” is another popular option that we’ll use for this example!
  8. Use your verbal & visual cue before luring. Make sure your dog is looking at you, then say “bang” while motioning with your hand, immediately followed by luring with the treat.
  9. Phase out the lure. Once your dog is quickly playing dead, test their understanding by removing the treat lure. Give your verbal & visual command, and see if your dog performs the trick! If they seem confused, try motioning sideways with the “gun”. If that still doesn’t work, go back to step 8 and practice a few more times.
Teach your dog to play dead

Making the “play dead” trick more difficult:

Your dog playing dead while you kneel in front of them is definitely cute! However, to be truly impressive with an audience you’ll want your dog to be able to perform the trick while you’re standing a distance away “shooting”.

This is more advanced, so don’t expect your dog to grasp it in one day! Practice playing dead from farther and farther distances for ~ 5 mins each day until it’s easy for them.

  1. Work towards “play dead” while you’re standing right in front of your dog. Instead of kneeling, crouch close to your dog with the “gun” still close to them. Follow step 9 above. Practice until you can be fully standing in front of your dog and they still understand the trick.
  2. Increase the distance! Very slowly ask for “play dead” when you’re farther and farther from your dog (with them sitting). Take this slow! Increase the distance by a few inches per session making sure they always seem to understand the trick. If they struggle, move back to the last step where they were successful and practice longer.
  3. Progress to a moving death! Have your dog sit & stay a distance away from you. Call them, and as they’re coming towards you give the verbal & visual play dead commands. Reward them lavishly for mid motion “deaths”!

Always remember- tricks are supposed to be fun for you AND your dog! If your dog seems stressed or too excited to function, take a break! Every dog learns at different speeds.

Happy training 🙂

Disclosure: Happy Hounds uses affiliate links. Purchasing with these links will not cost you any extra, but I get commissions for purchases made through these links. Affiliate links help me to continue to offer free resources & blog posts. I would love if you used them!

How To Teach Your Dog To Play Dead

About the author:

Stephanie Rombough, DBTMc, is a force-free dog trainer in Edmonton, Alberta. She owns Happy Hounds Dog Training, offering private in-person or virtual dog training services. 

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My mission at Happy Hounds is to help owners train their dogs using positive, force-free methods. A trained dog is less likely to end up in a shelter, and a dog trained with positive methods is more likely to be confident & happy. Everyone wins!

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