How to Easily Teach Your Dog to Play Dead Step by Step
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You can teach your dog new tricks and skills to strengthen your bond with them, but also to stimulate them mentally. Done correctly, this type of training can improve the dog's attention span, encourage them to use his cognitive and decision-making functions, and increase their motivation. The dog must be trained in an animal-friendly way, with positive reinforcement and without intimidating or punishing them if they do not understand an exercise or do not do what we ask. To teach your dog a new trick, you should break it down into small steps in the form of "mini-goals" and reinforce their achievement until the end result is reached.
In this AnimalWised article, we will show you step by step how to teach your dog to play dead, a fun trick that dogs and their trainers can both enjoy.
- Teach your dog to lie down
- Guide the dog's movement by using food as bait
- Increase the range of the motion
- Guide your dog's head towards the ground
- Gradually increase the time the dog stays still
- Replace the food with a visual cue
- Teach your dog a verbal command to replace the visual cue
- Problems you may encounter when teaching your dog to play dead
Teach your dog to lie down
The first thing you need to do in order to teach your dog how to play dead is to get it to lie down and to remain still. This first pose is called the sphinx. The dog is lying down, with its belly flat on the floor and facing forward.
If your dog still doesn't know how to do this on you command, then do not miss out on this article how to teach my dog to lie down.
Praise and reinforce your dog's behavior as soon as they lie down with a treat or, if you are using a clicker, by "clicking" as soon as their belly touches the floor. Offer the treat only after your dog has effectively lied down.
Guide the dog's movement by using food as bait
To teach your dog to play dead, you must use a training method called luring, in which you control the dog's movements using food as bait.
When your dog is lying down, hold a piece of food in front of its nose and move your hand in a straight line toward the animal's right or left side (whichever you prefer). The dog's head will instinctively follow the hand that is holding the treat. As soon as the dog turns their head to the side, click the clicker or verbally praise them and give them the food. The step above should be repeated multiple times so the dog gets used to turning their neck faster and faster and more independently.
Increase the range of the motion
The next step is to gently widen your hand movement to bring the food closer to your dog's back. The dog will be forced to twist their neck to reach for the food. This causes the dog's weight to shift to the other side, their hips to twist and their legs to point to the other side.
Whenever your dog leans backwards, mark and reward them. The dog is already halfway between the initial lying position and the final lying position. Now you need to gently get your dog to lie completely on their side, with their head on the floor.
Guide your dog's head towards the ground
Your dog will eventually drop its body completely onto the side, except for the head, which will prevent it from reaching the food as you move it further back.
Once you have reached this position, keep moving you hand slowly until it touches the ground. While doing this, try to keep it in front of the dog's nose at all times and do not let the dog stand up.
If the dog's head is on the ground for a short time, click the clicker or say "Okay" and give them food. Practice this movement as many times as necessary until the dog understands it and begins to perform the movement more quickly and accurately.
Some dogs will lift their paws up slightly in this position and ask for a belly rub. You can reinforce this behavior by clicking or verbalizing if you want to include it as part of the trick.
If you are interested in learning how to teach your dog other commands, such as sitting, keep reading this article on teach your dog to sit.
Gradually increase the time the dog stays still
Now that the dog has learnt the final position, we need to gradually increase the time the dog can hold the position without moving. To do this, we need to take some time before giving them the treat, but first we need to make sure that the dog has understood the previous movement.
As we have mentioned in the previous step, is important to enthusiastically congratulate and give them the treat as soon as they lie down. You need to make sure your dog understands that this is the movement for which they will receive the prize.
However, after repeating this sequence as many times, you will need to wait a few seconds before giving them the food once they are lying down. As the dog becomes more proficient in doing this, you can gradually increase the wait time to 5, 7 and 10 seconds. This way, the dog will learn to stay calm for a longer period of time. This step is more effective if you alternate the criteria randomly. That is, if sometimes you give the reward immediately, sometimes after 10 seconds, sometimes after two seconds, and so on. You can use the command "Stay" to help your dog understand what you want them to do.
If you see that the dog cannot keep still for so long, then you need to try again but waiting for a shorter period of time. As soon as you notice that your dog is able to stay still, try increasing the wait time again.
This step would be easier if your dog already knows how to stand still on your command, to learn how to do it, then do not miss our article on how to teach your dog to stand still.
Replace the food with a visual cue
Once your dog knows how to follow your hand movement and to stay still in the final position, it is time to remove the aids. In other words, you need to stop leading the movement with a treat.
After practicing the movement a few more times, lead the dog in the same way you have done before but without food in your hand. As soon as the dog finishes the exercise, click the clicker or praise him and give him the treat, which you can get from your pocket or a fanny pack this time.
If the dog refuses to follow your hand movement if there is no food in sight, use smaller treats until you can eventually stop using treats at all during this step. It is important that you reward every little progress your dog makes and go back if they get stuck at any point. Once you no longer have food in your hand, continue doing the movement in a more subtle way until it becomes a simple signal.
To learn more about how and when to give treats to your dog, keep reading this article on treats for dogs.
Teach your dog a verbal command to replace the visual cue
During these sessions, you will also need to choose a verbal command to replace the visual cue. this is the final step the exercise.
Make sure that you say the command loudly and clearly. lick the clicker and give your dog a treat only after they have performed the movement correctly by following your command. Choose a clear, simple command that will not be confused with other everyday words and commands.
It won't take long before you can replace the visual cue with the command. Keep in mind that dogs are more likely to respond correctly to visual cues than to auditory commands. Be sure to practice this step many times before you completely stop using the visual cue.
If you are interested in learning more about verbal commands, keep reading this article on basic dog commands.
Problems you may encounter when teaching your dog to play dead
As with any other skill you're trying to teach your dog, sometimes obstacles arise that make it difficult to continue the training. In this particular case, you may encounter one of the following problems:
- The dog is easily distracted: Dogs that tend to loose concentration tend to get bored or frustrated and lose motivation. You can avoid this problem by reducing the duration of the training sessions (10 minutes per day is enough). You can also practice in a place with few distractions or alternate the training with playing time to make it more dynamic
- The dog may complain or struggle during exercise: Remember that this exercise requires the dog to perform a complete body turn. This movement can be difficult for large breeds or dogs that are very old. If you notice that it takes a lot of effort for your dog to perform this exercise, it would be better to teach them some easier tricks.
- The dog is not able to stay still in the final position: If your dog is constantly moving, you should first do self-control exercises or teach them the "Stay" command before you start teaching this trick.
- The dog seems startled or stands up suddenly: Dogs are vulnerable when lying on their side or face up because they are very exposed and it would be difficult for them to get up to escape or defend themselves from danger. Therefore, the dog must be comfortable and calm during this exercise and have enough confidence in you and the environment to successfully assume this position.
If you are interested in learning about dog training, do not miss our article on how to teach your puppy to play fetch.
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