Three Cool Calm Dog Tricks

3 | Posted:

Sophia Yin, DVM, MS June 19, 2009

Play dead (a.k.a. Lie on back or sunbathe)

Play dead (a.k.a. Lie on back or sunbathe)

You know your dog is the coolest canine on the block. Want your friends and family members to know too? Whether your pooch is 7 weeks or 17 years old, he can learn flashy tricks and enjoy performing them too. Better yet, these tricks can also help train Fido to be calm.

Bang (a.k.a: Lie on your side)

Start with Fido lying down with his belly on the floor. The “trick” to this trick is training him to turn his head to the side so that he will shift his weight onto one hip without your having to physically position him since that can cause many dogs to resist.
We will train this in little steps.

First, place the treat to the side of his nose just enough so Fido will turn his head a little. Once you give him the first treat, see if you can follow with several more before he moves his head back to a different location. This may require holding several treats in the treat hand. Do this 5-10 times and then next time hold the treat further to his side so that he turns his head more.

With each step, lure with the treat so that he turns his head more. Soon he'll turn his head enough so that he has to roll over onto his hip and then lie on his side. Once on his side, give a string of treats low enough so that he remains on his side. At first have the sequence of treats come frequently, then increase the interval between treats so that he learns to stay in that position for longer amounts of time for the same amount of treats. You can even have him lie on his side for extended periods of time.

When you get to the point that it's easy to present a treat and have him immediately lie on his side, where he stays, you can start pointing your finger like a toy gun if you're going to call the trick “bang.” Then reward him once he's lying on his side.

Next add the cue word. Say “bang” and then immediately follow by pointing with your hand and give him the treats once he lies on his side. Once he's on his side give a sequence of treats spaced out as much as you can. You can then start expecting him to lie down for longer periods before he gets a treat.

Play Dead (Lie on Back)

With a slight revision of “bang” you can change the trick to “lie on back.” Once Fido can lie on his side, lure his head using a treat until he turns it enough so that he lies on his back. Once on his back give him a string of treats. The rest of the steps are the same as “bang,” except that you can use a different cue word such as “play dead,” “sunbathe,” or your own unique word.

By the way, when my Jack Russell wants my attention at night, he sometimes lies on his back and then growls while wagging his tail. This is a million times better than what most JRTs do, which is to bark and jump on you.

Head Down (A.K.A Rest Your Head or Go to Sleep)

As with “bang,” start with Fido lying down with his body on the floor. For this trick the goal is to teach Fido to lay his head flat on the floor between his front paws. You'll do this by sitting on the floor to the side and front of Fido. The hand closer to Fido acts as a ceiling under which you will teach Fido to place his head. The hand farther away will distribute the treats. First, place your ceiling hand parallel to the ground, in front of Fido's head and close enough to the floor so that Fido has to place his head flat on the floor to get his head under. Then with the treat hand, lure Fido to place his head under your hand. Once under, give a sequential string of treats quickly enough so Fido keeps his head flat on the ground and learns that this is a great position. When you finish the string of treats, remove your ceiling and your treat hand and start again.

headdown1headdown2headdown3

As Fido gets more comfortable sticking his head under your hand and keeping it there, spread the treats out more. That is, space the treats out by several seconds.

Practice this over 20-30 times so Fido thinks sticking his head under your hand so it's lying flat on the floor is fun. Then see if he gets the idea. Place your ceiling hand out flat but hide the treats. Wait a few seconds to see if Fido places his head under your hand on his own. If he does, quickly start giving him a string of treats. If he does not, then go back to the last step where you just lured him.

Once he's immediately responding to the visual ceiling cue by placing his head under your hand even without seeing treats yet, you can add the verbal cue. Say “head down” and then place the visual hand cue out. Reward him after he lays his head down. By saying the words before you show the visual cue, the words will come to predict to him that you will show the hand cue and want him to place his head down. Alternatively you can just tell him “head down” right before you think he's going to lay his head down on his own. Ultimately when you think he might know the behavior, test by walking away a few steps, saying just the verbal cue and then waiting to see if he places his head down.

You can also extend the amount of time he holds that position by waiting progressively longer before rewarding him with treats.

I use this trick as a way for my dog to greet little kids. They want to pet him so I give them a treat and then show them his “head down” trick. The kids get to reward him once he's performed the trick and my dog gets used to adopting a calm position when he greets kids.

Do you have tricks you want to learn or that you use for training purposes too? Please describe them in the comments section.

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3 responses to “Three Cool Calm Dog Tricks

  1. i realy like the fetch the kleenex trick but u dont show the steps to get him to do the trick or i cant find the video could u please send it to me step by step i have a jrt and hes so smart i think all the work u do is great

  2. I haven’t taught the play dead trick, but I did teach “lay flat” as an intermediate step to “roll over.” It also comes in handy in a veterinary setting. And, yes, we did teach Lilly to put her head down. We call it “chin.”

    I also taught her to hand target “poke” people who want to meet her. That way, she can control the initial interaction on her own terms. Poke then, come back to me for reward.

  3. These are great! I taught “Bang!” to my older dog but never thought to use it to control Thor, our crazy teenaged shepherd boy. “Sit” and “Down” work in a pinch, but he already rolls on his back in play, so “Play Dead” should be easy to reinforce. Also harder to ‘break’ from when he’s getting riled up.

    Definitely going to start working on these.

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