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. Lure dog training is useful for many skills!
I taught my dog Neirah to play dead when I make fake shooting sounds (Pew pew!) with my fingers looking like a gun, and I taught Brooks by saying “Bang!”. You can pick any cue or hand signal that you like, so feel free to pick something hilarious 🙂
If you want to watch this tutorial on Youtube, click HERE:
Here’s how I train a dog to play dead in just a few sessions!
What you’ll need to train the “play dead” trick:
- A quiet, distraction free room (such as the living room) so your dog can focus
- Previously taught “Sit” and “Down” cues
- A loaded marker word (I use Yes!)
- Tiny, high value dog treats
It’s also really helpful if prior to training you pay attention to whether your dog has a preferred side to lay down on. If you get the direction correctly, your dog will learn this trick more quickly. Brooks prefers lying on her right side, so that’s the direction I trained her to play dead.
How to teach your dog to play dead:
Step 1: Lure your dog into the play dead position
Call your dog over to you while you’re sitting or kneeling, then ask them to sit & lie down. Reward them for doing so.
Next, hold a treat between your thumb and index finger. Bring the treat a few inches in front of your dogs nose. We’re going to use it to lure them into position.
Next, move the treat backwards towards your dogs shoulder, then out to the side away from the dog. Move your hand slowly at first so that your dog is encouraged to follow it!
Once your dog is lying on their side in the play dead position with their head against the floor, mark yes and reward them!
Repeat these steps until your dog is quickly following that treat lure into the play dead position!
Step 2: Add the verbal cue and hand signal for play dead
Now it’s time to add the cues!
This time I say “Bang!” and mock shoot at Brooks IMMEDIATELY before repeating the treat lure sequence.
We’re building an association between the cue & action now, so repeat this at least 5-10x!
Step 3: Phase out the treat lure
The ultimate goal is to have your dog quickly fall over from the verbal cue and hand signal, so we need to phase out that treat lure.
You’ll repeat the same process at step 2 EXCEPT this time don’t have a treat in the hand you guide your dog with. Instead, motion with an empty hand, then reward them with a treat for completion from your opposite hand!
With repetitions, slowly phase out your arm guidance by making your motions smaller and smaller. Once you can simply say “Bang!” and shoot at your dog and they complete the trick, progress to step 4.
Step 4: Play dead (You standing, them lying down)
Now it’s time to make this trick more applicable for real life: you standing!
We’ll start bridging the difficulty by teaching the trick while you’re standing and they’re lying down. Repeat the same steps as above, but remember that the difficulty has increased! You will likely need to start by motioning them through the trick with your hand:
As able, phase that out your arm motioning. Once your dog can do it from visual and verbal cue, progress to step 5!
Step 5: Play dead from a sit
This seems similar, but is a significant increase in difficulty for the dog!
After mock shooting at your dog, immediately use your hand to guide them into a down position:
And then over to their side:
And reward them in the completed play dead position with their head flat on the ground!
With repetitions, phase out your arm motioning again until your dog can complete the sequence just from your visual and verbal cue!
Advanced version: Mid-motion play dead
Normally the play dead trick is only taken to step 5, but I love making it epic and training the dog to play dead in motion. As they run towards you, you’ll give the cues and they’ll drop in motion. People love it!
To train this, the next steps are:
- Play dead from a stand
- Play dead from slight motion (I like tossing a treat, then as soon as the dog eats it ask them to play dead)
- Call your dog over to you and as they’re approaching, give the play dead cues!
To watch these more advanced steps and see my dog play dead from a run, watch this:
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 🙂
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