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How to Teach a Dog to Roll Over

Dog in the middle of rolling over for owner
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Do you need to learn how to teach your dog to roll over? Of course not. But is it one of the cutest dog training tricks around? Yup! 

This trick is the perfect way for you and your dog to have fun for fun’s sake, plus it’s a great way to impress all of your dog’s fans. 

The roll over dog trick might seem complex, but the secret to success is dividing the behavior into small, easy-to-achieve steps. 

Why Teach a Dog to Roll Over?

Dog in the middle of rolling over in the grass

Any dog training you and your dog do together is great for your relationship. Positive, dog-friendly training gives you a common language and allows your dog to experience more freedom, plus it’s a phenomenal way to cement your bond. Done the proper way, training is fun for both ends of the leash. 

What’s even more fur for you and your pup is trick training. The pressure is off when you work on tricks; sure, your dog needs to have a solid recall and dependable “stay” to help keep him safe, but it doesn’t matter if his “spin” is sloppy or his “wave” isn’t perfect. The most important part of trick training is that “brain training” is one of the best ways to wear out your busy pup and teaching them tricks is cute.

Roll Over Dog Trick: Before You Begin

Giving dog a treat outside

Your pup will be spending a fair amount of time on his side and back as you work through this trick, so pick a training spot that’s comfortable. A quiet, carpeted space is best. You’ll be giving your pup many treats during the initial stages of training, so load up on tiny (about the size of a fingernail), high-value treats

It’s helpful to use a clicker when training “roll over” because things move fast, and some of the behaviors your dog will be doing might be tough to catch. You can also use a marker word like “yes” to bridge your dog’s successful attempts to the food reward.

How to Teach a Dog to Roll Over: 6 Easy Steps

Dog rolling over outside in a yard

A fun and creative way to teach roll over is “shaping,” which breaks down a complex behavior into small, manageable steps and makes it easy for your dog to be successful.

Think of it as the childhood game of “hot and cold.” You’re using the marker to let your dog know when he’s “getting warmer” and rewarding him for it, which will make him less likely to give up. Instead of capturing the whole behavior right away, shaping allows your dog to get treats for approximations of the finished product. When using shaping, you build the behavior, bit by bit, until you have an adorable dog rolling over.

Here are the steps to teaching your dog to roll over:

Step 1: Lure your dog into a “down” position by using a treat to get him to put his belly on the ground (asking for a “down” turns the roll over trick into a two-step process). Place the treat in front of your dog’s nose and slowly bring it downwards and between his front paws. Most dogs are already familiar with this luring motion and will plop into position quickly.

Step 2: While your dog has his belly on the ground, watch for any small movements. This step is where you want your dog to be creative–he’s not sure what you want from him, but he’ll likely keep trying different things to earn a treat. Anything from a paw swat to a head bob can signify the beginning of the rolling process, so mark these gestures with the clicker or marker word, then follow up with a treat.

Step 3: After a few repetitions of marking and rewarding whatever movement your dog is offering, hold off and wait for your dog to do something more obvious (if you keep rewarding the same behavior, your dog won’t do anything else because it’s “working” to get a reward). So, if your dog was flicking his paw, withhold marking and rewarding the gesture. He’ll likely get frustrated that he’s not earning a reward and will try something different, like scooting his entire shoulder as if to say, “don’t you see what I’m doing?” Mark and reward the new behavior for several repetitions, then continue the sequence of waiting for a bigger, more obvious behavior to replace the one you were rewarding.

Step 4: The first time your dog shifts from one side of his body to the other – the middle part of the roll over trick – is worthy of a major celebration. Mark the moment your dog’s body is in motion and follow up with a treat, but toss it a few steps away so your dog has to get up to eat it. Now you’re both ready to go through the entire sequence again, although your dog will probably work through the process quicker this time. That said, it’s natural to experience stops and starts at first, so don’t be surprised if your dog needs a quick refresher before he executes the entire roll sequence again.

Step 5: It’s always best to wait until a behavior is polished before you try to add the cue to it. Once your dog has streamlined the steps, you can begin attaching a word to the process, meaning he quickly moves from a standing position and through the roll sequence. To add the cue, say “roll over” right as he’s doing it, mark the behavior with the clicker or word, and give him a treat. This step makes the association between what your dog is doing and the cue that triggers it. Repeat this step a dozen times, saying the word as your dog performs the behavior to cement the association between the cue and the behavior.

Step 6: Try the request without any preamble once your dog has made the connection and ask your dog to roll over. Be ready to have a major party the first time he executes the entire sequence – lots of treats and tons of praise.

Other Tips to Get Your Dog Rolling Over in No Time

Training dog to roll over

Remember to watch your body language as you work on this behavior. If you teach it while sitting on the ground, your dog might not understand what to do when you ask him to roll over while you’re standing up. Start the teaching process next to your dog on the ground, but switch your position to standing up as your dog becomes more familiar with the steps.

Using a small treat to lure your dog through the entire roll sequence is an option as well (envision holding the treat in front of your dog’s nose and making a circular motion), but many pet parents discover that dogs are excellent contortionists and wind up focusing on the food more than what their bodies are doing, which can slow the process. And some dogs can snag the treat without rolling over, particularly smaller pups. This can be frustrating for both teacher and student! Using shaping to teach the roll over trick allows your dog to set the pace and get rewarded quickly for his attempts, which makes the training process fun.

Tricks like roll over might seem silly, but there are real benefits beyond the obvious appeal. Allowing your dog the space to think creatively through shaping and working together as a team will strengthen your bond and make the two of you a hit any time you have an audience.