Bang! is a really neat trick for a few reasons. First, some dogs are so seemingly dramatic about it, it’s hilarious. Like, look at this kid.  Amazing, flashy, hilarious, fun.

It’s also a trick that confounded me for a long time. I just could not visualize how to move through the series of steps it would take to get there. And then I decided to write my own plan and take Hazel through it. It came down primarily to splits and fading. I had to edit along the way, because we did hit some stick spots and rather than, at best, frustrate both of us or, at worst, cause her to give up completely, I used splits liberally throughout. We train for a few minutes at a time, I allow for some processing time in between sessions and we have made big gains this way.

Before I unveil the plan, there are some important concepts that I learned from The Academy for Dog Trainers  that are critical to being able to train effectively.

  1. Use Push/Drop/Stick (PDS) rules. I always train in sets of 5 because this is what I was taught and it works. If the dog gets 5 right, we push on to the next step. If she gets 4 right, I generally stick and do another set- I’m conservative that way. If she gets 3 right, we definitely stick at that step and do another set. If she gets 2 in a row wrong, we drop to the previous step.
  2. Use splits. A split is a step inserted in between 2 existing steps- so the previous one was too easy, but the next one too hard.
  3. Fading is important in regards to your lure and hand signal here. It’s also important in regards to your body position. Every time we change positions, we are changing the picture for the dog. Doing this gradually can really help speed up your success, reduce your frustration and make things more clear and less confusing to your dog.

The thing that is so great about trick training is that it’s meant to be fun and entertaining and so we tend to feel a little less pressure when working on them with our dogs. I love that! And it gives me a reason to continue working with Hazel on things that are good for her body and mind, as well as giggle-inducing for us. She’s got one trick dog title and we are working on a second. They’re both novice level and that’s good enough for us, until I feel more ready to tackle the more difficult tricks! I am all about people enjoying their dogs more and even the simplest tricks seem to do just that for many.

So, here’s the plan. As you go through it, make note of where you may have had to split, so that when you go back to practice next time, you know exactly where you left off without any guesswork or confusion. Start there to warm your dog up. The beauty of a written training plan is that it can really put you on a clearer path to your goal.

Follow the steps, don’t skimp on the PDS rules, be sure to record any splits and have fun! We’d love to see some video of you training this, so feel free to post on our Facebook wall!

Bang! Plan

Step One:  Use a “gun” hand signal to move your dog into a down. This is assuming that your dog is already fluent at down. Changing the shape of the hand signal should not matter if you’ve built up to a verbal, as you’ll be moving your hand in the same downward motion. You may also do approximations of your new hand signal, and this may make it easier if you have a very “literal” dog. So, at first you might have your palm facing down, with your thumb and your pointer facing towards her in an L-shape. You would then turn your hand so that your thumb is facing up and pointer forward as your next steps.

Step Two: Move your dog onto her side by moving your hand signal around your dog’s head and over her side. She may follow you with just her head at first- reward this. We want to reinforce movements that approximate our final step along the way. You can gradually build up to her being fully on her side.

Step Three: Add the cue “Bang!”. Assuming you have had several repetitions of the steps above, you can add the cue. It looks like this: Bang!–> gun hand signal–> dog lays down
–>continue hand motion above head. Your dog should be fully on her side at this point. Reward while dog’s head is on the ground.

Step Four: Begin cuing the behavior by using a less exaggerated hand signal for the roll onto side. This means that you will begin making smaller “loops” in order for your dog to roll over. Make sure that you have several successful reps before fading. These are essentially “splits” to use before moving onto the next step.

Step Five: You also have to fade yourself out of the picture, so that you are eventually standing. I recommend doing this as splits, from kneeling to bending over, to standing straighter after successful repetitions at each stage.

Step Six: Once your dog is successfully following the cue- Bang!=down and roll over, you can start to build duration on how long her head is on the ground. I chose to leave this for last because I wanted to be able to do a few reps at a time so Hazel was reinforced often before adding duration to the whole trick.

And then here’s the final product, head on the floor. I built up (2 seconds) duration by just waiting for her to put her head down. She had a good amount of progress before I even tried this, because I didn’t want her to pop up thinking reinforcement wasn’t coming. I urge you to take this part slow. I stay still and then reward her with a few bits of food on the floor near her mouth to encourage her to keep her head down. How ’bout that side eye to the camera? She knows what’s happening here!

Check out adorable Clover and the enthusiasm with which she approaches this trick!


Disclaimer: No dogs were harmed during the building of this trick! I understand that some people may have an issue with the use of a gun hand signal at a dog, but please know that this is strictly a human hang up (that is understandable) and the dogs attach no violence to it whatsoever.