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How to Teach Your Dog to Play Dead

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jul 30, 2020 • 2 min read

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Brandon McMillan Teaches Dog Training

“Play dead” is a classic dog trick where the dog owner gives a signal, and the dog flops onto their side with their belly exposed. While playing dead is not a necessary dog training command like “sit” or “heel,” it is a fun trick that can be enjoyable and rewarding for both dogs and their trainers.

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Brandon McMillan Teaches Dog TrainingBrandon McMillan Teaches Dog Training

Expert animal trainer Brandon McMillan teaches you his simple, effective training system to build trust and control with your dog.

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How to Teach Your Dog to Play Dead

Playing dead builds on the basic commands “lie down” and “stay,” so be sure that your dog knows those tricks before you start teaching them to play dead. If you’re ready to add “play dead” to your dog’s repertoire of new tricks, here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Note which side your dog likes to lie on. Many dogs have a particular side that they favor for lying down and rolling over. If your dog seems to prefer one side over the other, make a mental note to use this side when training your dog to play dead, since it will be easier for them to adopt the action.
  2. Choose the right setting. For your dog’s training, you should choose a comfortable, distraction-free spot where you are in control. Avoid teaching commands at the dog park, where they’ll be easily distracted by the other dogs.
  3. Give the “down” command. Using the verbal command and hand signal that your dog is already familiar with, command them to their down position.
  4. Coax your dog onto their side. Hold a dog treat between your first two fingers, a few inches above your dog’s nose. Bring the treat over to their side, luring your dog to roll onto their side to continue looking at the treat. (If your dog has already learned the “roll over” trick, they may roll all the way over when learning how to “play dead.” Be sure to give them the treat only when they’re in the correct position.)
  5. Reward your dog. When your dog is lying on the correct side, reward them with the treat and verbal praise (or, if you’re using clicker training, click your clicker).
  6. Repeat. Repeat the action several times, rewarding your dog each time for lying on their side.
  7. Add your verbal command and visual cue. Once your dog understands that you’re rewarding them for lying on their side, add your verbal cue word and hand signal (the most common command is “bang,” accompanied by a gun-like hand signal).
  8. Repeat with verbal cue and hand signal. Repeat the process for up to 15 minutes, always making sure to reset your dog so they are under control and attentive before you begin the command. After 15 minutes, give your dog a break—their short attention spans call for shorter training sessions. End each session on a good note with your dog successfully performing the technique to keep the sessions feeling fun and upbeat for both you and your dog.

Want to Learn More About Training the Goodest Boy or Girl?

Your dream of having a dog who understands words like “sit,” “stay,” “down,” and—crucially—”no” is just a MasterClass All-Access Pass away. The only things you’ll need to train up a well-behaved pup are your laptop, a big bag of treats, and our exclusive instructional videos from superstar animal trainer Brandon McMillan.

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