Have you ever watched an old Rin Tin Tin or Lassie episode on TV where the doggie star pretends to be dead during a climactic scene? Just as the bad guy is about to get away or hurt somebody, our hero leaps up, coming back to life. He jumps onto the back of the bad guy, forcing him to the ground, and saves the day!
'Play dead' is a fun command! The more dramatic it is the funnier it can be. It can also pull a lot of heartstrings when a dog on TV does this command and pretends to be injured or dead. A fun spin on this trick is to use another word or phrase in place of "play dead", such as "go to sleep" or "Bang!".
Expect 'play dead' to take between three and six weeks to train. If your dog feels insecure while he is on his back or rolling, then expect this command to take a bit longer to teach because you will need to go slower, to get him comfortable with rolling and holding the position.
If your buddy does not like being touched, has ever shown any form of aggression, or seems stressed or afraid when you begin to teach this, then do not use 'The Flip Method' because that method will require you to move your dog and position him. That method is best used for dogs who enjoy being touched and are very comfortable being handled.
If you choose to use 'The Lure Method', then be sure to let your dog know when he is making progress and be patient with him. Most dogs will not roll onto their backs the first time that you lure them with a treat, which is why this method is broken down into smaller steps. If your pup does not progress quite as far as a step in the method describes, then praise him and reward him for whatever amount of progress he does make, and then practice it until he can do it completely.
'The Capture Method' will work best if your dog tends to roll onto his back on his own frequently. If your dog never offers this position on his own, then choose either 'The Lure Method' or 'The Flip Method' instead.
Be patient while teaching this. Your dog might feel vulnerable while he is on his back and uncertain about rolling over. Stay encouraging and give him plenty of time and practice to get used to the new position and movement. Also, make sure that you practice this on a soft surface such as a rug, carpeting, a mat, or grass. Your pup might refuse to do this trick altogether if the surface is hard. After all, nobody, including your dog, likes to lie on something hard, especially when your spine, ribs, and shoulders are getting rubbed and bumped constantly.
To get started you will need lots of small, easy to eat treats that your pup loves. You will also need a soft surface, such as a rug, carpeting, a mat, or grass, to practice this on. Your dog will need to know the 'down' command, and you will need patience, gentleness, persistence, a positive attitude, and good timing. If you are using 'The Flip Method', then your dog will also need to be completely comfortable with being moved and touched, and you will need enough strength and dexterity to be able to gently move him onto his back. If you are using 'The Capture Method', then you will also need a treat pouch or a small Ziploc bag to place your treats into and to attach to yourself or place into your pocket. You will also need attentiveness, to notice when your dog is lying on his back.