Dog Trick: Train Your Dog to Play Dead

Fun and Easy Dog Trick: "Dead" or "Bang"

Play Dead!
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Can your dog play dead? Playing dead is a great dog trick. It looks impressive when you're showing off to your friends, but it is actually rather easy to train a dog to do. Teach your dog to play dead, and he can be the life of the party!

What You Need to Train Your Dog to Play Dead

Grab your dog and a handful of his favorite treats, and you are ready to start training your dog to play dead. This is a great trick to train with a clicker.

If you decide to go the clicker training route, be sure to have your clicker handy.

How to Teach Your Dog to Play Dead

  1. Start by putting your dog in a down. If your dog doesn't lie down on command yet, go back and work on that before you begin training him to play dead.
  2. Hold a treat close to your dog's nose, and slowly pull it over to his side so he'll have to roll over onto his side to get it. It helps if your dog already knows how to roll over, as he'll already be familiar with the action of rolling onto his side.
  3. As soon as your dog is lying on his side, tell him "yes" or "good." Or, click your clicker. Then, give him a treat.
  4. Repeat step two and three several times.
  5. After your dog has been able to complete the action a few times, add a cue word and a hand signal. Most people choose to use the verbal command "bang" along with a hand signal command, holding the fingers to look like a gun pointing at the dog. Others prefer to simply use "dead." Of course, you can choose any word and hand signal you like.
  1. Give the chosen cue word and hand signal, then repeat step two and three.
  2. Practice this trick several times a day for a few minutes each time.

It won't be long before your dog falls to his side in response to you "shooting" him with your pointing finger and saying "bang!" Some people like to say a fun phrase, like this: "Would you rather be a cat, or would you rather be dead?" It's hilarious to see a dog play dead after that one!

Troubleshooting

  • If your dog already knows how to roll over, his natural inclination might be to go all the way over when you start to lure him onto his side. This is a great time to get your clicker out to capture the exact behavior you want. Lure your dog onto his side with a treat, and click your clicker immediately and give him a treat. If he tries to keep rolling over, step away for a minute. When your dog realizes that the treat disappears when he rolls completely over, he will most likely stop doing that, and only offer the behavior that gets him the treat.
  • If you are having trouble getting your dog to follow the treat so that he ends up lying on his side, you can show him what you want him to do instead. Use the treat as a lure, and at the same time, you can very gently push him onto his side. As soon as he is in the correct position, click your clicker (or tell him "yes" or "good") and give him a treat.
  • If your dog jumps up from playing dead more quickly than you want him to, you can train him to lie there longer. Instead of giving him a treat the minute he lies over on his side, wait a few seconds, and then give him the treat. Practice this a few times, and then add a few seconds. In this way, you can slowly add more time until your dog will lie down and play dead for several minutes or more.
  • If at any point in the training, your dog makes more than two or three mistakes in a row, chances are you've moved ahead too quickly. Go back a step or two and practice, and only when he's 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.

Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT