Rollover is one of the quintessential tricks that all dog owners love to teach their dogs. But unless you have a dog that happens to offer (do it by themselves) this behavior often, it can actually be quite tricky to teach.
For some dogs, it’s about confidence. If they don’t trust you fully, or don’t like to be handled, than they aren’t not going to feel good about exposing their belly to you. So, if you have a dog that is nervous about handling or doesn’t like it, work on this first.
For other dogs, it just about figuring out what you want. It’s unlike any other behavior you ask them to do, and so It can be confusing to them. This is where patience comes in. Your dog will get it! It just may take longer than you expected.
The easiest way to teach rollover is using a lure. Though you have to fade the lure eventually, most dogs don’t offer anything close to a rollover enough to make shaping (rewarding your dog for making small movements toward the desired finished behavior) possible.
A lure is when you take a piece of food or treat, put it close to your dog’s nose so he can smell and even taste it but not take it, and then slowly move it to move your dog into the position you desire. Your dog then gets the treat when he has completed the behavior.
Step 1: The Down
Start with your dog in a down position. If your dog knows “down” you can cue it, or just lure him into a down, by putting a treat close to his knows and slowly move your hand down and into your dog a bit (toward his chest) until he is in the down position.
Quick tip: If you can get your dog to do a “lazy” down, where one hip is rolled over, rather than a sphinx down, you will have an easier time of this.
Whichever hip your dog is leaning on, that is the one you are going to roll towards.
Quick Tip: To start, work on only rolling in one direction.
Step 2: Laying Flat
Once your dog is in the down position, place a treat by his nose and slow move it to the side opposite of the rolled hip (or the direction of the roll you want). Your dog will probably just twist his head around. At first, just reward that by clicking (if you clicker train) or by praising your dog and giving him the treat.
After a few repetitions, when your dog is easily doing that, continue to move your hand around. The goal is to get your dog to drop that shoulder that is on the same side as the rolled hip, underneath him, so he is basically lying flat on his side.
Quick Tip: If you want, you can turn, lying flat on his side into a second trick such as “dead dog” or “chill”
Step 3: The Roll
Once your dog is lying flat, just continue your lure, with your hand going up over his head and he will naturally follow you and roll over – big party when he does!
Step 4: Fading the Lure
When your dog is consistently rolling all the way over with one fluid lure, you can start fading it by first trying it without the treat in your hand (still reward for the finished behavior).
Then, you can start to move your hand slowly away from your dog’s face.
You can also start adding a verbal cue, if you wish, or just use the hand signal once you have lured away from your dog (so you can do it at a standing position and still get your dog to rollover).