Playing dead is a great dog trick. While it's not as important as teaching your dog to obey commands like "sit" and "stay," it's not difficult to train most dogs to play dead. It can be a fun game, both for the dog and its audience.
All you need is a handful of his favorite treats, and you are ready to start training your dog to play dead. This is a great trick to train with a clicker, too. If you decide to go the clicker training route, be sure to have your clicker handy.
Start in a Down Position
If your dog doesn't lie down on command yet, go back and work on that before you begin training it o play dead.
Offer a Treat
Hold a treat close to your dog's nose, and slowly pull it over to its side so it will have to roll over on its side to get it. It helps if your dog already knows how to roll over, as it will already be familiar with the action of rolling onto its side.
As soon as your dog is lying on its side, say "yes" or "good." Or, click your clicker. Then, give the dog a treat. Repeat these steps several times.
Add a Signal
After your dog has been able to complete the action a few times, add a cue word and a hand signal. Most people choose to use the verbal command "bang" along with a hand signal command, holding the fingers to look like a gun pointing at the dog. Others prefer to simply use "dead." Of course, you can choose any word and hand signal you like. Some people like to say a fun phrase, like this: "Would you rather be a cat, or would you rather be dead?" It's fun to see a dog play dead after that one.
Give the chosen cue word and hand signal, then repeat steps. Practice this trick several times a day for a few minutes each time, and it won't be long before your dog falls to its side in response to your signal.
Problems and Proofing Behavior
If your dog already knows how to roll over, its natural inclination might be to go all the way over when you start to lure it to its side. This is a great time to get your clicker out to capture the exact behavior you want.
Lure your dog onto its side with a treat, click your clicker immediately and give the dog a treat. If it tries to keep rolling over, step away for a minute. When your dog realizes that the treat disappears when it rolls completely over, it will most likely stop doing that, and only offer the behavior that gets the treat.
If you are having trouble getting your dog to follow the treat so that it ends up lying on its side, you can show what you want it to do instead. Use the treat as a lure, and at the same time, you can very gently push it onto its side. As soon as the dog is in the correct position, click your clicker (or tell him "yes" or "good") and give it a treat.
If your dog jumps up from playing dead more quickly than you want it to, you can train it to lie there longer. Instead of giving the dog a treat the minute it lies over on its side, wait a few seconds, and then give the treat.
Practice this a few times, and then add a few seconds. In this way, you can slowly add more time until your dog will lie down and play dead for several minutes or more.
If at any point in the training your dog makes more than two or three mistakes in a row, chances are you've moved ahead too quickly. Go back a step or two and practice, and only when the dog is successful at that step, begin moving slowly ahead again.
Remember to be patient and consistent. All dogs learn at a different pace. Keep training sessions upbeat and end the session if your dog seems frustrated, tired, or bored. Always try to end sessions on a positive note, even if that means switching to a simpler action like "sit" or "down" as the last thing you do.