How to Teach a Dog to Play Dead

by Jamie Tedder on Oct 19, 2022

How to Teach a Dog to Play Dead

We've all seen those cute dog videos on social media.

You know, the ones where Fido walks on two legs, Spot jumps through a hoop, or Hugo learns how to hug his owner. These videos make us laugh or smile every time!

Your dog can be the entertainer-in-chief, the star of the show, every time you host friends or post a video. Whether you're looking to impress your audience on social media or make a fun compilation using a video editor app, one trick always steals the show‚ÄĒgetting your dog to play dead!

Have you ever wondered how to teach a dog to play dead? 

You have come to the right place! All dogs, young and old, can indeed learn new dog tricks! Keep reading for an easy-to-follow list of training steps and simple tips to have you teach your dog how to play dead in no time.  

You'll Need These Things to Train Your Dog to Play Dead

Before you get started teaching your dog how to play dead, you'll need a few things. Start by pulling out all of the patience and determination you have because you'll need it! 

A Clicker

A clicker is a small noisemaker that makes a clicking noise as a positive reinforcement tool. Clickers were developed based on animal science that has determined that when you reward a behavior, your pet is more likely to repeat that behavior in the future. 

The clicking sound marks the moment your dog did what you asked of them. It focuses on what they did right instead of what they did wrong. 

There are clicker devices specially designed for this, but you can use other sound cues, such as a snap of your fingers, clicking your tongue, or blowing a whistle.

Your Dog's Favorite Treats

Have a big stash of your pup's favorite treats on hand. This helps reinforce the cues given during training. Some dogs are picky, but with the right choice of treats, there is no better training incentive for your dog!

A Wide-Open Comfortable Surface

Make sure you have lots of space when attempting to teach your dog a new trick, like playing dead. You want your pet to be comfortable and not stressed by obstacles or challenges that get in the way. 

Also, try to put away other toys that might be a distraction to your pet. If you have more than one pet, try training them one at a time. 

You could even use a special pad on the floor as a signal that it's time to have some fun learning new tricks. 

Steps to Teaching Your Dog to Play Dead

Ready to get to teaching your dog a new trick? Plan on spending a few minutes every day for weeks to reinforce the learning process. Here are the simple steps to teach your dog how to play dead. 

Sit, Stay, and Down

Most dogs have learned the basic commands of "sit", "stay" and "down" long before they begin to learn new tricks. But, if they have not been trained using those commands, that's where you should start.

Sitting is a natural position for a dog, so this can be learned very easily. Hold a treat over your dog's head and say, "sit." If he sits, he gets a treat. If he doesn't, coax him into a seated position and repeat the command "sit." Repeat this until he sits regularly, and be sure to reward him with a click and a treat when he does it. 

Telling your dog to stay in place is a power command. Tell your dog to sit in front of you. Take a step backward, then immediately step forward. If your dog stays in place, reward him and repeat.  

Because "down" is also a power command, coax your dog to the ground with the command, and reward him when he responds with the correct action. 

Steps to Getting Your Dog to Play Dead

Once your dog knows the basic "sit," "stay," and "down" commands, you are ready to begin teaching them new tricks, including how to play dead. Follow the steps below, and repeat the training regularly for the best results. 

1. Begin With "Down"

Start your dog's training by giving him a "down" command. It's helpful to kneel beside your dog when he does. 

2. Take Out a Treat

Hold a treat in front of your dog's nose and move it in such a way that it positions the dog to lie on his side. Say "yes" or use a clicker as reinforcement, and follow by giving him a treat. It's best to coax him to the side he naturally leans to‚ÄĒthis makes the movement more natural for your pet.¬†

3. Hold It

Have your dog hold the lying down position for one second before you mark with a click or other reinforcement. Repeat steps one and two, increasing the hold time to two seconds, then three seconds, then four seconds, and so on. Making sure to finish this step each time with a treat. 

Use the command "stay" if needed to make sure your dog holds the position. 

4. Remove the Treat From Your Hand

The first times you work through steps 1-3, you will have a treat in your hand that guides your dog to the lying down position. 

In step 4, you will do the same, but at this point, command your dog without a treat in your hand. Be sure to reward him in the form of a click and treat for the correct action, but don't hold the treat in your hand. 

5. Move Further Away

At this point, you should still be kneeling next to your dog as you work through steps 1-4, still without the treat in your hand, but still rewarding him with a click and treat for correct commands. 

Slowly move a little further away each time, and repeat. 

6. Come to a Standing Position, Add Your Term of Choice and Hand Signal

At this point, try repeating the commands while you are in a standing position. Add your "playing dead" term of choice when giving the command. Some options are "bang", "play dead" or "sleep".

Make sure you choose one command word and stick with it. Include a hand signal with the command. Some use fingers formed into holding a gun. 

Each time your dog completes the action, say "yes" or use your clicker, as you have been doing to this point. Then, give your pet a treat. 

7. Give Your Dog the "Play Dead" Command 

As you stand in front of your dog, repeat the command. If he still struggles with understanding what he is being asked to do, help him get into position by going back to earlier steps. 

Eventually, your dog will only get his reward once he holds the "dead" position long enough and "revives" himself. 

To be sure that your dog plays dead and masters the trick, you must practice it daily for at least a week.  

Some Additional Tips

Training your dog takes time, but the work is rewarding and fun! Here are some extra tips that might help you teach your dogs new tricks, including how to play dead. 

Always Use the Same Words and Actions

Keep distinct commands clear by using the same words and hand signals each time. Changing the terminology or failing to use the correct hand signals could confuse your pup. They want to please you, so make it easy for them to understand and respond to your commands!

End Each Session With Positivity

As frustrating as any particular training session may be, embrace the time with your pet, and encourage bonding. To do so, make sure you end each training session on a positive note. Cuddle them, rub their belly‚ÄĒshow them you are proud of them. ¬†

This encouragement will put them in the right frame of mind if you choose to add a new trick to their trick repertoire.

With Little Progress, Take a Step Back 

We all have bad days, and there may be some dog training days that don't go as smoothly as others. If you or your pet has had enough for the day, step away and try again later or the next day. 

Exercise Your Pup Before Training Sessions

Have your dog exert some energy¬†before¬†your training sessions. Let them run take them for a walk, or¬†encourage them to play‚ÄĒthis will calm your pup enough to be able to concentrate on the lesson.¬†

Always Pack Some Treats

Whether at home or on the go, always keep some treats handy. You never know when your dog will be asked to do some tricks, play dead, or just for good behavior reinforcement. 

Practice in Different Places

Change up your training locations, and ask your dog to perform the tricks they've learned in different environments. This will signal to your dog that he can be the entertainment anywhere you go!

How to Teach a Dog to Play Dead

Now that you know how to teach a dog to play dead, you and your dog are ready to get to entertaining each other and the crowds! Follow the steps we provided to make sure your training is easy and stress-free. 

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