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Teaching your dog tricks is entertaining and teaches him to respond to commands in a fun way. This is not life or death stuff! No need to take it too seriously. The main object is that your dog looks cute and has fun! Some people take this trick a step further for added effect. Molly, a husky mix from a shelter, responds to the command, “is it bed time?” by immediately laying on her back with her front paws tucked up. Her owner then brings a blanket to cover her up and Molly lies on her back with the blanket on, much to the delight of onlookers, and Molly gets lots of attention and a treat after the trick is completed.
You can teach your dog all kinds of fun tricks, including how to lay on his back. A variation of this trick is to play dead, but if you do not require your dog to act like they are dead when lying on their back, then an alternate command to direct your dog to lie on his back can be used. Because this is a behavior your dog may perform to get a belly rub, you can add a command like, “want a belly rub?” or “are you tired?” or “bedtime” to instruct your dog to lie on his back. The trick itself is not usually that hard to learn, as dogs roll over or ask for belly rubs by lying on their back, and for most dogs it is easy. However, some dogs with physical limitations may find balancing on their back more difficult. The trick requires your dog to lay down, roll onto their back and balance there with front legs tucked in. For some dogs, this is difficult due to their shape, or discomfort in their back. If this is the case, the trick may take longer to teach or, depending on your dog's condition, should be avoided.
A prerequisite behavior required to teach your dog to lay on his back is the 'down' command. If your dog can lay down on command reliably then you are ready to start teaching him to lay on his back. You will need lots of treats, and depending on the training method you select, a training stick and/or clicker. Remember to have patience and make this fun, it is a trick, not an obedience command, so it should be fun for your dog too! Do not punish or use negative reinforcement when teaching fun tricks like 'lay on your back', it is unnecessary and counterproductive.
The Shape Method
Start with dog lying
Ask your dog to lay down.
Reinforce 'lie on side'
When your dog rolls onto his side, click and treat. You can guide your dog with your hands, do not force him down, use your hands or a training stick to direct. Click and treat when your dog is on his side.
Reinforce on back
Once your dog is lying on his side to get a reward, guide him into a roll over onto his back with a training stick or your hands. Again guide, do not force, have patience, wait until your dog rolls onto his back, support him for a moment, click and reward.
Repeat and practice until your dog is rolling onto his back for reinforcement and reward.
Add a verbal command when your dog performs the behavior, click and reward.
Precede the behavior with the verbal command, “lay on your back”, or “bedtime”-- whatever command you have chosen. Click and reward when the dog performs in response to the command.
Gradually remove the click and increase length of time your dog is required to lay on his back to receive a reward.
The Natural Behavior Method
Wait with clicker
If your dog lies on his back to encourage you to rub his belly, capturing this behavior is an easy way to train. Have a clicker handy and wait until your dog lies on his back for a belly rub.
When your dog lies on his back, click and reward with a belly rub or treat.
Add the command, 'belly rub' or 'bedtime' when the dog performs the behavior, click and reward.
Repeat; practice over several days. Start initiating the command for lay down on your back prior to your dog performing the behavior.
Gradually increase the length of time your dog has to lie on his back before getting his treat or belly rub.
The Lure Method
Have dog lie down
Ask your dog to lay down.
Lure onto back
With a treat in hand, move your hand to encourage your dog to roll over onto his side then onto his back.
As soon as your dog is on his back, provide the treat.
Repeat over a few days, gradually increase the length of time your dog needs to stay balanced on his back before giving him the treat.
Add a command when your dog performs the trick in response to the lure, such as "lay on your back”, or “sleep time”.
Start preceding the trick with the verbal command, gradually withhold the treat as a lure and only provide the command. Produce the treat only after you dog performs the lay on his back trick.
By Laurie Haggart
Published: 10/20/2017, edited: 01/08/2021