If you’re interested in dog tricks, learning how to teach a dog to play dead is an easy one to start with. Your dog won’t have to learn a completely new behavior. You’ll just be teaching him to associate a certain verbal command with going into a resting position that he’s already used to.
To teach a dog to play dead, you'll need:
- Treats or other food reward
- Give the “down” command. When your dog is on his stomach, he’ll be leaning more toward his right or left side. Give his shoulder a light push in that direction to coax him onto his side. Say “play dead” calmly as he finishes rolling. When he’s lying completely on his side, praise him and reward him with a belly rub.
- Practice a few times. Repeat giving the “down” and “play dead” commands with the helpful push followed by praise and rewards when your dog is flat on his side. When your dog gets used to this method, stop pushing and let him roll onto his side by himself after you’ve issued the verbal command. Give him a food reward and lots of praise for this accomplishment. Repeat a few more times.
- Give the “play dead” command only. At this point, your dog should know what behavior you’re looking for when he hears this phrase. Offer him a treat and praise as soon as he flops onto his side. Pairing the verbal command with positive rewards gives your dog a greater incentive to obey you and makes training a fun experience for him.
You can also have your dog roll onto his back instead of his side when you teach him to “play dead.” Just keep in mind that not all dogs are comfortable being on their backs, since it puts them in a submissive position. Don’t force your dog into this position if he normally doesn’t like it.
If your dog has a lot of energy, tire him out with a walk or exercise before working on the “play dead” trick. He’ll be more likely to lie still if he burns off some energy first.