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Teaching your cat to play dead won’t be the easiest trick you’ll ever work on, but it may be the funniest. Just as when training a dog the same trick, using a verbal cue and a hand signal together seems to get the job done.
Not all pet parents will want to use the hand signal that looks like the shape of a gun. Instead, you can use your palm to make a flipping motion, which your cat will eventually learn means flip onto the back, or “play dead”.
Having a cat that performs tricks just like a dog does will be entertaining and quite a feat. Cats can learn, you just have to remember that they may not cooperate if you make the training sessions too long. When training your cat to flip over or “play dead”, you will be giving them much-loved attention and needed stimulation.
Sure, cats love to sleep in the sun all day, but when they are awake, they like to be entertained and use their intuitive minds. Give their brain a workout by teaching them tricks for up to 5 minutes a day.
Your cat could take a while to learn this one, so have your patience on hand along with treats and a soft blanket for them to flip over onto. Your cat may begin to associate training time with the blanket, allowing them to prepare to focus when they see you bring the special blanket out.
The Back Method
This method will train your cat to play dead by lying on their back. Remember to start the training in a room without distractions like noisy people or other animals. Bring out the training blanket.
First the down
Your cat needs to know the down command. You’ll have to take a few weeks to perfect that first. Train them in a favorite lying-down spot and that will be half the battle. When your cat starts to lie down on their own in this location, say “down” and reward them. After a while, they’ll do it naturally upon command.
Have your cat lie down as the first step to teaching them to roll over. Then take a tasty treat and move it in front of the nose and across their shoulder. This should draw them into the rolling over position.
Keep it smooth
Once your cat knows the down and roll-over moves, it’s time to put them together. At this point, you can add the verbal cue. The aim is to have the two movements fluid.
Work on the two movements in succession over a few weeks, 3-4 minutes per day. Add the “play dead” hand signal of a gun, or for a more gentle approach, use the verbal cue “flip” and flip your hand as the visual signal.
The Front Method
This is a much more simplistic version of “play dead”. If you are looking for another verbal cue, “drop” would work.
Gather treats and your training blanket. Call your cat to you with a cheerful voice. Give them a pat, and start the session.
Crouch for treat
Place a treat on the ground in front of your cat. Let them enjoy it, and continue patting them on the back. They’ll most likely be in the crouched position.
At the same time, say “play dead” or “drop” as they move into the lying on their stomach position. If they automatically stretch onto their side, even better. Each time you practice this, give them a treat. After a few weeks, you should be able to give the command and have your cat “drop” on their own.
The Take a Chance Method
It’s okay to train your cat “on the fly” now and then, taking a chance that they’ll understand the purpose of your method. When your cat is relaxed and lying down, pat them all over the body, letting them enjoy it.
Because cats love the petting motion and attention, chances are they’ll roll over onto their back. This is the appropriate time to say “play dead” or “back”.
Repeat verbal cues
If your cat attempts to get up right away, gently nudge their head to the ground and repeat the verbal cue you’ve chosen.
Praise and reward
Allow them to get up, praising them and giving them the treat reward. Train in this way once a day, whenever you see your cat lying down and relaxed. The trick will be to have them "play dead" by rolling over from a lying-down position whenever you ask.
By Darlene Stott
Published: 02/26/2021, edited: 02/26/2021