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Playing dead is a great dog trick. While it’s not as important as teaching your dog to obey commands like “sit” and “stay,” it’s not difficult to train most dogs to play dead. It can be a fun game, both for the dog and its audience.
All you need is 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, too. If you decide to go the clicker training route, be sure to have your clicker handy.
Training Guide: How to Teach Your Dog to Play Dead
While there are numerous tricks that you can teach your dog, such as how to shake and how to spin, playing dead is always one of the most exciting and entertaining.
Learning how to teach a dog to play dead is really just like playing a game with your dog. It requires some laughter, some time and a bunch of dog treats. You can make it even easier if you use a clicker.
Once you’re prepared, all you need to do is diligently follow some simple steps and your dog will be playing dead in no time.
Here’s all you need to know about how to teach a dog to play dead.
1. Begin with Your Dog Lying Down
When you start training your dog to play dead, you will ask them to lie down.
If you haven’t trained your dog to lie down, now is the time.
Dogs typically favor one side, which is important for getting them to play dead. When they’re on the ground, pay attention to the side their weight is leaning on.
2. Put the Treat at Their Nose and Move it
Take the treat and hold it right at their nose. You’re going to move the treat from their nose, over the shoulder of the side they’re not favoring.
So if they’re lying on their right side, you’ll move the treat over their left shoulder.
3. Provide a Reward
While you’re moving the treat over their shoulder, they should eventually lean backward towards the treat. Once they move backward, reward them with the treat.
4. Repeat the Process
Practice the cycle – lay down, treat to nose, treat over shoulder, lean back, reward – about five times.
You want to make sure that they really have it down and know what they’re doing before you move on to the next step.
5. Repeat – But Don’t Reward Right Away
Practice moving the treat from their nose, over their shoulder, again. However, this time you won’t reward them when they move backward.
Instead, you’ll keep moving it backward until your dog is actually lying on their back.
Once they’re on their back, you will give them the reward. Repeat many times.
6. Repeat Again Without a Treat
Once again, you will practice moving your hand over their shoulder until they are lying on their back. This time, however, you won’t have a treat in your hand.
Have them roll onto their back without being led by a treat. However, you still want to give them a treat when they lay on their back. Repeat a few times.
7. Add a Command
When your dog is lying down, now it’s time to add a verbal cue associated with the trick. This can be “play dead” or something else of your choosing.
The goal is for your dog to associate the command with the expectation to lie down, roll over and “play dead.”
After you say the command, continue the process until they are lying on their back and reward them with a treat.
For best results, continue practicing until your dog has the process down, always starting with the verbal cue.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
If your dog already knows how to roll over, its natural inclination might be to go all the way over when you start to lure it to its side. This is a great time to get your clicker out to capture the exact behavior you want.
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 completely over, it will most likely stop doing that, and only offer the behavior 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 it onto its side. As soon as the dog is in the correct position, click your clicker (or tell him “yes” or “good”) and give it a treat.
If your dog jumps up from playing dead more quickly than you want it to, you can train it to lie there longer. Instead of giving the dog a treat the minute, it lies over on its side, wait a few seconds, and then give 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 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.
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