Training "Play Dead" Behavior

Some people might think training a dog to "play dead" is just a cute trick. Dog owners, on the other hand, could look at it as a great behavior to teach in order to help relax a dog. Besides, when it comes time to add a verbal cue to a behavior, you can name it anything you want – regardless of whether everyone else thinks it's just "playing dead"!

Speaking of adding cues, it's important not to begin throwing either verbal or signaled cues around too early when teaching a behavior. Remember, dogs aren't people. They don't understand language; that being said, they CAN learn what movements and words mean when taught properly to cue behaviors.

Here's my first session with Zada working on getting her to lie flat – relaxed – on her side. I'm not so much shaping this behavior as I am capturing it. She was already consistently offering it in her repertoire of offered behaviors so I merely waited to capture it. (If I were truly shaping, I'd have rewarded her in the beginning for first lying down, then flipping over onto her hip, then starting towards the ground, etc.)

Notice how she'll hit a "snag" and get confused as to what I want. By remaining consistent and waiting for her to offer the correct behavior, I let her figure out what pays and she works through it. The next step is to get her consistently offering the full behavior – i.e., lying flat on her side, relaxed, and holding it – every time. Then I can start adding in cues and also work on the duration of the behavior.


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