By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Professional
Dog behavior and training can be stressful, but teaching your pup how to do impressive tricks can make it a lot more fun. One easy trick pet parents love teaching their dogs is rolling over. Building this skill requires more than teaching a simple sit or lie down. However, with patience, positive reinforcement, and consistency, you can teach your dog to roll over in no time.
Follow this step-by-step guide to break it down into achievable steps and start working towards mastering this fun cue with your best furry friend!
Preparing for Your Training Session
This trick requires some prep work. You'll want to have three skills onboarded before beginning a training session dedicated to the rollover cue. Those three skills are luring a reinforcement marker and the down cue.
The Reinforcement Marker
If you don't already have one, you'll want to build in a signal that says, "Yes! You did exactly the behavior I was looking for, and you get a treat!" - but in much fewer words. This signal is a marker; it tells the dog they did the thing and a reward is coming. Dog trainers often use "yes!" with enthusiasm as the reward marker.
Alternatively, clicker training is an excellent way to build a reliable marker for your dog and one that comes in handy for teaching this specific trick. If your dog still needs to be clicker trained, fear not: we have a handy guide for how to clicker train your pup. We'll wait here until you're ready.
The Down Cue
Next, you'll want to ensure your pup can lie down on cue. This will be the starting point for teaching the trick and is the foundation for the behavior. If your dog is unfamiliar with moving into a "down" position on cue, or they're a bit rusty, you'll want to start there first.
Luring means showing a dog something they love (like a treat or a toy) and encouraging them to follow it. Place a tasty treat in front of your dog's nose and slowly move it around. If your dog is following the treat readily, when you stop moving, immediately give your pup the treat, turning the lure into a reward. Luring is a great building block, but you'll want to phase it out quickly so your dog doesn't think it's part of the cue and only responds when you present a treat first.
With these preparations ready, grab your canine companion and treat pouch with a mix of delicious dog treats, and let's have some fun teaching your pup to roll over!
Step-by-Step Guide to Teach a Dog to Roll Over
These steps will lead to your participatory pup rolling in the clockwise direction. Once you've mastered that, you can have some fun teaching the counterclockwise direction as well!
Step One: Lure From the Lie Down
Start by asking your dog to lie down. Then hold a treat close to their nose and slowly move it just up over their head clockwise in an arcing motion (picture the St. Louis Gateway Arch - in the city Native Pet was founded). End your arch on the floor next to your pup. As your dog starts to follow with their nose, you'll want your treat to land slightly out of reach. This will cause their neck to stretch out and a natural shift in the shoulders to be able to reach the treat. Eventually, this will evolve into your circular hand signal for your rollover cue, but for now, think arch! When your pup shifts their body to reach the treat, click (or give your verbal reward marker) and release the treat.
Repeat several times before moving on to step two.
Step Two: Stretch it out Further
Now that your pup extends their head out and their shoulders slightly shift to achieve grabbing the treat, widen your arch. You'll begin by following the same Gateway shape, but you'll end up outstretched wider at the bottom of the arch causing your dog to also stretch wider for the treat. At this point, the goal is to have their shoulders and head shifting laterally to the ground to get the treat and their back end to eventually follow. If their hips have also not shifted laterally, keep the treat on the ground at the end of your arch position and wait. Allow your dog to try something different (like moving their hips to where they are laying laterally) and immediately give your click and reward them.
Repeat several times.
At this point, you've actually taught your pup the steps to play dead! This is where you could add your verbal cue to start associating the lateral movement to the ground with the cue "play dead." Since you came here to learn rollover, let's keep the lesson going!
Step Three: Full Circle
Now that they are lying in a lateral position take a treat and place it in front of their nose again. With a tight circular motion from the lateral position, circle around their nose with the treat until their paws are up in the air, then click and let go of the treat.
Repeat this step, beginning with your pup lying laterally a few times, and then complete your full circle clockwise to get them to rotate to their other side. Give your marker your treat, and celebrate with your pup! You're almost there!
Step Four: All-in-One Motion
Now that you've provided training treats along the way, as your pup progresses, start at the beginning with your dog in the down position and slowly rotate your hand with the treat all the way around. You'll hold on to the treat and lure your pup all the way around so they can piece all the moves together in one complete motion. When the dog rolls over and completes the full circle, click and treat.
You'll want to repeat this step several times. End your training session on this step, and then start here the next time your pup is fresh and ready for a new session.
In your next session, repeat this step several times before widening your circle with your hand to transition from a luring technique into a hand signal. Gradually increase the circumference of your circular motion each time until you reach the desired hand signal for the rollover cue. Once your pup readily rolls over each time you make the circular motion with your hand, you're ready to name the cue!
Step Five: Adding the Verbal Cue
With the hand signal down, if you want your doggo doing this trick from just a verbal cue, this is how to advance your trick!
Begin with your hand signal for your puppy to roll over. As soon as they start the action, name it with the verbal cue "roll over." This will associate the motion of rolling over with the words. Repeat, repeat, repeat! Click and reward your dog for each full circle rotation completed. After several practice rounds, pair your hand signal with the verbal cue simultaneously but don't make the full circle with your hand. Instead, stop ¾ of the way and still reward your pup for the full completion. Then gradually diminish your hand motion with the verbal cue until you can fade the hand motion out altogether with just the verbal cue remaining.
Be patient with this step, as it can take some time. Really celebrate with your pup as they accomplish the full rollover each time you lessen the hand motion.
Once they've got it down pat, you can have fun going back and forth from a hand signal to a verbal cue. Really test their skills by throwing their newly learned skill into a series of cues such as "sit, down, heel, roll over, sit, high five, roll over, heel" click to mark success and then throw them a scatter treat party for completing the series successfully.
Use this Technique with Other Tricks
You can teach your furry best friend many fun new tricks, and many are even easier than teaching the rollover cue. Using the same technique of luring and rewarding, you can quickly and easily teach tricks like a leg weave and sitting pretty. With just a few sessions, your pup can know these easy dog tricks like the back of their paw now that you have practiced consistently luring your dog into different positions and rewarding them for landing there.
Troubleshooting Training: What to Do If You Get Stuck
Start where you are succeeding. At what step is there a breakdown, and can you break that step down further into more simple steps to help link the behaviors?
Don't hesitate to seek help from a certified professional dog trainer. If you're struggling to teach your dog to roll over or if you encounter any behavior issues during the training process, trainers are skilled at coaching pet parents. They can provide guidance tailored to your dog's needs to help you overcome challenges.
Older dogs may be hesitant to participate in the rollover game if their joints are not as sturdy, their muscles are not as strong, or they are more likely to experience the aches and pains that sometimes come with aging. Be sure your pup is feeling fit before trying this skill. Opt for less physically demanding tricks with your senior dog, like a chin rest or giving kisses.
Training dogs to do fun things can be very rewarding for both ends of the leash. Whether you are puppy training and trying out tricks to keep sessions fun for fast minds or teaching dogs new tricks to add to their repertoire of already impressive skills, the rollover cue is a favorite among dog owners.
Remember to make the training sessions fun and celebrate each small win as your pup excels every step of the way. For more training tips and expert ideas to have fun building your bond with your dog, be sure to check out our behavior and dog training blog articles.