Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Training Tuesday: Playing Dead

Training is a very important part of a relationship with a dog, especially one who is an adept food thief and an expert at ignoring owners when he feels like it. Training Tuesday is my weekly installment in my adventures with getting a Basenji, a notorious breed for not wanting to listen, to listen to me.  I use positive reinforcement and copious amounts of treats to bribe train Indiana so we can have a healthy relationship and my leftovers will stay on the table.  Advice and commiseration are always welcome because I am no expert.

Today is a late post for Training Tuesday.  I meant to run out to stock up on some more training treats after Indiana demolished the last of his puppy crack yesterday.  But, Denver got whopped with a morning storm of several inches and the city seems to have a moratorium on plowing in my neighborhood.  So, I eventually hunkered down and went through the fridge and cabinets for a replacement wet treat that I could feed him in bits.  I ended up with some grated cheese, which Indiana, of course, loved.

Because I know that Indiana won't yet "listen" to me when I want him to stop doing something, I like focusing on tricks that are entertaining to build that bond.  And I love a good play dead.

I think the "Bang" really is much better than "Play Dead."  So, that is what I'll eventually be aiming for.  I find Indiana responds better to hand signals, mostly because I can keep up the same hand signal for a long period of time, while he wags his tail and tries to figure out what I want.  (I've been using a "quack like a duck" hand signal for speak, which he is really catching on to.)

Breaking it down-
1. I start with Indiana in a "Down" position, where he tends to sit like a sphynx.
2. Then I shift him into his "Settle," so he doesn't have his legs tucked underneath him.
3. With my hand shaped like a gun (that sounds pretty bad), I gently nudge on his head until he puts his head on the floor and rolls totally over onto his side, hoping for a tummy rub.  It's important that he mostly moves by himself and is just getting a bit of pressure from me.  I want him to figure out I'd like him on the floor!
4.  When he is in full begging for a tummy rub position, he gets his audio reward (either a "click" or a "Good") and treat!

Mostly just posing.  We're not to the point where I can be that far away.

As we keep practicing I move my hand less and less, keeping it more still, so just seeing my signal is enough for him to know to roll onto his side.  Eventually, I'll be able to move my hand back and not start with him in a "Down."  I'll add the verbal "Bang" once he's got that down pat.  Indiana tends to mix up his verbal cues in excitement.

If I keep that up, one day, he'll listen to me without the promise of a treat!  The hardest part is not expecting too much from him and knowing when to slow down and go back a step when he is confused. 


  1. I know that trick! We use the command ''bang'' instead of play dead as I tend to respond better to one word commands. Once mom taught me down (you have no idea how hard that was) bang was super easy
    Dachshund Nola

  2. We love the way the pug stumbled a little before dropping to his side. Hilarious! Sounds like you're doing a good job in getting Indiana to do down with a *bang*. LOL.

  3. What is this training you speak of, hahahahahahahaha!!
    Dip Bridge and Elliot x

  4. Fred and Gloria have trained me really well! LOL

  5. Wow! Good job, Indiana!

    I'm still wondering whether hand signals are better than speaking. I've also notice Peanuts taking in hand signals better.

    Huggies and Cheese,


  6. Excellent advice, I can't wait to try to teach my dogs this trick! We have a Malamute in our training class and she points her 'gun' finger and he plays dead. I've always wanted to do this. :-)


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