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"Play Dead" One Cool Dog Trick!

Dog tricks are all about having fun with your dog/s. Simply spending time with them, hanging out and bonding together. The "Play Dead" dog trick is one of my favorites - your friends will love to see it in action.

The best part is that the "Play Dead" is not all that difficult for your dog to learn, especially if he/she already understand the down command.

Our ultimate goal is to have your dog drop to the ground and act as though he/she is dead at your verbal request, or with a hand signal if you prefer.

Ok let's go, this is a great trick.

Teaching The Play Dead -
What You'll Need

When teaching the "Play Dead" dog trick I like to use a food lure (your dog's favorite tasty treat) and a training clicker. If your dog is not yet familiar with the clicker you should go through this exercise first - charging the clicker. It won't take you long and will set you and your dog up to be successful.

If your prefer to use a target stick to shape the trick instead of the food lure, that is also fine. [google_ad:DOTR_CMS_468x60_InArticle1]

Timeframe For Teaching "Play Dead"

I find that the most effective way to teach tricks is by conducting many short 2-3 minute training sessions throughout the day. I taught Macy my Shih-Tzu the "Play Dead" over a period of about 10 days. Some dogs will be much quicker than this and some slower - it doesn't matter either way. Just have fun with it.

Play Dead Dog Trick

As with any new trick or behavior we piece it together step-by-step.

Starting out with a simple first step and slowly but surely progressing towards the completed trick. Remember to only add one new requirement or variable per training session and if your dog seems confused at any time, simply go back a step to where he/she is comfortable again.

One thing to keep in mind is that we get the "Play Dead" behavior first (through luring) then we attach our verbal cue word and hand signal. Check out the video above if you are unsure what this means.

Step 1:
Have your dog standing or sitting in front of you. With a tasty treat in one hand and a clicker in the other hand, guide your dog into the "down" position. As soon as he/she is laying down "click" and release the treat from your hand.

Step 2:
From the "down" position use the food lure to guide your dog over onto his/her side. With your dog laying down take the food lure from in front of his nose and bring it back over the shoulders. Your dog will swivel his head around to follow the lure. You can click and treat this head movement to begin with and then only click and treat when your dog's whole body rolls over onto the side. Watching the video above will make this step clearer.

Step 3:
Now we join or link Steps 1 and 2 together. With your dog sitting or standing in front of you, lure him down and then over onto his side. Continue to click and treat as normal.

Step 4:
Now that we are successfully luring our dog into the "Play Dead" position we can add our verbal cue word. Remember we shape the behavior we want first, then we attach our cue word to it. I use the word "BANG"! Just make sure you pick a word and stick to it every time - don't confuse your dog. Simply say your verbal cue (bang!) a split second before continuing to lure as in Step 3.

Step 5:
It's now time to rely more heavily on our verbal cue "BANG"! and less on the food lure. Slowly cut back on how much guidance you use with the lure. For example, take the food lure straight down to the floor, but not around over your dog's shoulder. Withhold the click and treat until your dog works out that you still want him to roll over onto his side.

You can also take the treat our of the hand you have been using to guide your dog into position. Put the treat in your other hand. You are now using the treat as a reward only - not a lure. Don't move onto Step 6 until your dog responds solely to your verbal cue word - without the use of any lure.

Step 6:
Now that your dog is responding to your cue word you can add a hand signal if you desire. The "Play Dead" is an ideal trick to attach a hand signal to. Make a pistol shape out of your hand and pretend to shoot your dog a split second before you say your "BANG"! verbal cue. In time you will be able to fade the use of the verbal cue and rely on the hand signal only.

Step 7:
You've got the basic trick/behavior sorted now - well done.

It's now time to strengthen or "proof" the trick. It's up to you how far you want to take this. Some things you may want to consider doing:

  • Fade the clicker and treats.

  • Extend the duration of the "play dead".

  • Take your trick on the road - try it in different locations, with different distractions at play.

  • Move further and further away from your dog when you say "BANG"! Eventually you will be able to get your dog to play dead when you are on the other side of the dog park.

  • You can also add some other variables or extensions to the basic "Play Dead" trick. Maybe you want to add a stumble before your dog falls to the ground? Or how about a very dramatic full roll over before laying "dead"?

dog tricks


The "Play Dead" is a pretty simple behavior for your dog. I doubt you'll encounter too many problems in the process of teaching it.

Just have fun with it, work through the above steps slowly and you'll be fine.

If you are looking to learn more about the finer points of clicker training I recommend this great resource - Canis Clicker Training Academy.

For more fun dog tricks please visit - dog training tricks

Learn how to properly groom your dog - home dog grooming.

Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.