The old saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” is not entirely true. Dogs can be taught tricks with simple conditioning, positive reinforcement. This is simply staying consistent while teaching the dog what you do want, and what you don’t want them to do. To teach a dog you really only need your dog’s favorite treats. This, along with a simple “Good!” reply is all you need for positive reinforcement. Throughout the whole process of teaching a dog a trick, it is important to make your dog feel love. A dog aims to please and showing them that you are happy with what they are doing can greatly affect, not only your dog’s quality of life, but also their response to your commands and what you teach. While training your dog is effective for control, sometimes it is enjoyable to teach them fun tricks to enhance your play time together. Say you want to teach your dog to “play dead”. It is helpful if your dog already understands the command “Lie Down”; understanding “Roll Over” is also helpful, but this trick can be taught without them knowing this command. The first step to teaching your dog to “Play Dead” us to prepare them.
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Step 1: Prepare Them for Training
To begin training it is best to let your dog run and play to burn off some energy. This will keep them focused on what you are trying to teach them. After about five to ten minutes, give your dog a few minutes to come down from their activities and relax; keeping them focused on the task at hand.
Step 2: Comfortable Area
Take your dog to a comfortable area, whether it be a soft rug or a flat area of grass. Make sure to pick a spot that is free from distractions like other dogs and people. When you begin, start with easy commands that your dog already knows like “Sit” and “Lie Down” to get them prepared for what you will teach him/her.
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Step 3: Begin Training
Most people, when they teach their dog to play dead, often point their finger like a gun and say
“BANG”; as if they were shooting at the dog. Once you say “BANG” the result you want is for the dog to lie down and roll over on their back to look like they have been hit by your “gun”. Have your dog sit, as you usually would, and then have him/her lie down. If your dog is familiar with the “Rollover” command, you can simply have them roll over. If your dog is not familiar with rolling over, there are a few steps you can take to show them what you want them to do. If you hold the treat close to your dog’s nose and then slowly move towards his/her side, he will follow the treat and roll over to get it.
Step 4: Praise
After your dog has completed these tasks, praise him/her with a “Good” response and a treat. The treat
shows your dog that they have done what you asked. This positive reinforcement helps your dog to understand what you are asking and helps them see that they succeeded.
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Step 5: Repeat
In this step you will repeat the last two steps until your dog grasps the commands. It is easier for your dog to comprehend what you are teaching if you focus on each command separately until he/she gets the hang of it. Afterwards you can begin to limit the commands until you are able to just point and say “BANG” and your dog will roll over. It is not quite as simple as it sounds, however.
Step 6: Consistency and Patience
When using conditioning, the key is to be consistent and have patience. To be consistent, you must show your dog the same thing every time so that they don’t become confused. You also must have patience with your dog. When learning new things, it may take more time with some dogs, than others. You also have to remember that what you are teaching your dog is something that they are unfamiliar with, so like any person who is learning something, they have to have time to understand it.
You may run into some issues when teaching your dog this trick. If your dog is familiar with the “Rollover” command they may continue to roll completely over when this command is given. To show your dog that this is not what you want, simply stop him/her when their legs are in the air and rub their stomach. This shows them that you don’t want them to completely roll over. Also, if your dog jumps up from “playing dead” more quickly than you want, you can fix this by waiting for a few seconds before giving your dog the treat. If your dog is constantly making mistakes, then you may be moving too fast through the steps. You may want to take a little more time with each step until you are sure that your dog understands it. So, while it may take time to teach your dog to “play dead”, you can do it with minimal tools and patience.
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