Teach a Trick: Play Dead | Keoki's Corner

Keoki's Corner

Teach a Trick: Play Dead

Teach your dog how to play dead when you say “BANG!”

How do dogs learn? Dogs learn by doing the same behaviors repeatedly and being reinforced for that behavior. There are different types of reinforcement, but positive reinforcement has been proven to be an effective training tool and helps establish and strengthen the human-animal bond. Positive reinforcement is usually in the form of praise and food. You can teach just about anything using this method, such as the trick described below.

Pre-requisite behaviors:

Start by having your dog sit and then lay down. Put a treat in front of their face and use it to lure their head to the side. This position should cause them to roll slightly onto their hip. Continue this process until they will take the treats without sitting back up or standing.To begin, make sure you have some soft tasty treats and a soft place to practice.

Try holding the treat above them and slowly move it over their head so that they roll onto their side. Once your dog is completely on their side, point your fingers at them shaped into a gun and give them treats continuously to keep them lying down for 5-10 seconds. Keep the treats low to the ground so that their head is touching the floor. As they get more comfortable in this position, increase the time between each treat. Always use a cue word to let them know it is okay for them to get up. When they can perform the task consistently, use the cue word, “BANG!” with your hand signal,and give treats only when they perform the task but make sure it is every time they perform it.

To get the treats to your dog faster, you can hide them in your gun hand. Keep the gun hand low to the ground and close to their face in the beginning and then slowly transition it further away from your dog.


If you are having trouble getting your dog to roll onto their side, you can wait for them to perform the behavior and then use the cue word, point your fingers at them in a gun shape, and reward with a treat. If your dog will lie down when you have a treat in front of them, use your cue word, your fingers, then lure them into position using the treat. Avoid using the cue word when they do not immediately perform the behavior because that will teach them to ignore the word.

Once they consistently perform the trick, you can use treats intermittently. Also, begin practicing it in different rooms or situations, when you have company over or you are outside.

Click here to watch a video of Michelle and Kirby performing the play dead trick.

For more information on positive reinforcement visit:
HSUS Positive Reinforcement