Dog party tricks are the height of wholesome fun, and you won't get a more popular shtick than the Playing Dead trick. You can expand your pooch's repertoire once you've got some basic cues down, and you don't need any equipment to teach this crowd-pleaser other than a clicker and a pocket full of treats for positive reinforcement. Are you and your canine bestie ready to rock and roll?
Before proceeding, your dog needs to know the 'sit,' 'down,' and 'stay.' These commands are necessary for daily life, so spend some time on them first, if you haven't already. Take Fido to a quiet, distraction-free spot and have your edible incentives on hand for your 15-minute training session.
Teach your dog how to sit by holding a treat high in the air, and when you see its interest in the treat, push down gently on its back end and say 'sit' firmly. If it sits, hand over the reward, but say 'no' and pull the treat back if it rises to take it after sitting. You'll have to keep practicing to make it stick, but eventually, your dog will sit without you physically nudging it.
Hold a treat out around snout level where your dog can see it. While saying 'down,' gradually move the snack to the ground. Your fur baby needs to be lying down before the treat hits the floor. If Mr. Snuggles stays down, it's reward time. Keep at it if you don't get it on the first try. You don't have to lower a treat—just pretend you have one, feint the motion, and if your buddy lies down, they've earned the real thing. After putting in some time, your dog will drop its body with just the verbal instruction.
You'll need a bucket load of patience as you work up to a ten-second stay duration. Begin with low expectations—if your dog can stay for one or two seconds, it's a good start. Once it's in the sit position, say 'stay' and put your hand up, palm facing your dog like you're a traffic officer asking it to stop. Reward your pooch every time they're able to stay a little longer.
Now, you're up to speed and can move on to teaching the main attraction. Make sure your dog can see you when you command them to lie down. At this point, you'll need to show your dog that you want them to lie down on their side. Push your pooch softly and shower them with praise for complying. Or bring a treat to their nose, then move the scooby snack to the shoulder on the side they prefer to lie down on. They'll turn their head toward the tasty treat and complete the movement.
When teaching your dog to lay on its side or roll over, be careful not to max out your treat quota. Treats shouldn't exceed 10% of the caloric intake for the day—too many treats can lead to diarrhea and weight gain. You can give it a pet or use your clicker to demonstrate your approval.
Once you've practiced the last step and your dog's transition from standing to lying down on its side is much smoother, you'll notice your dog doing the movement in anticipation of a treat. You can use the verbal cue of your choice, but 'bang' often accompanies this trick. Be warned; it's a one-and-done on the cue—if you change it, lil' buddy will get confused, and you'll compromise the trick's execution. After consistent practice, your dog will hear 'bang' and instantly do the trick.
You can couple the verbal cue with a visual aid, such as making the shape of a pistol with your hand. Your dog will learn to associate the two cues, and when training for this trick reaches its zenith, you can practice using just the pistol cue, and your dog will lay down, lift its paws, and comically play dead.
You can use a question if the pistol gives you the heebie-jeebies. A common phrase is: 'would you rather be a cat or be dead?' Treat your dog when it emerges from 'freezing.' Some dogs stay frozen for admirably long times. But again, this comes with practice, and it tickles onlookers to no end.
You'll have to practice in various locations to perfect the roll over to a point where you can trot it out at the drop of a hat. Teaching your pup to roll can take up to a few weeks, but dogs love fun and games and are happy to indulge you. Your dog is an animal that doesn't speak human, so be kind and understand its limits and short attention span. Never raise your voice in visible anger, let your buddy take breaks, and check that the trick isn't causing joint-related pain and non-compliance.
Get your paws on the latest animal news and information