There’s nothing cuter than a dog doing tricks, and “roll over” might be one of the cutest. Roll over might seem like a complex behavior for you to teach and your dog to master, but if you break it down into baby steps, your dog will be showing off her adorable new skill in no time. Here’s how it’s done:
You’ll Need Lots of Small Treats
Before you begin, grab a handful of tiny but savory dog treats. You’ll be giving your dog a lot of them, so size matters.
It’s helpful to use a clicker when training “roll over” because some of the behaviors are fleeting, but you can also use a marker word like “yes!” to let your dog know when she’s performed the behavior that will pay off with a food reward.
Get “Down” Down
So, what’s the first thing a dog has to do in the “roll over” sequence? Move into a down position. Try not to ask your dog to do a “down” because then you run the risk of your “roll over” turning into a two-part process, where you have to ask for the “down” first then the “roll over.”
Look for Behaviors that Lead to the Final Result
The secret to teaching “roll over” is break down all of the parts that make up the whole. Dividing the behavior into tiny, achievable steps is called shaping, and is similar to the “hot and cold game” that children play. Each step in the process that bring your closer to the goal, no matter how small it is, tells the dog that she’s on the right track and “getting warmer.” This keeps the training game fun for your dog.
You can begin shaping immediately, capturing the moment your dog even looks at the floor with a “yes” and treat, and then each stage as she descends into a down.
Reward Anything that Looks Like a Roll
Once your dog is in the down position, watch for any movements that look like the start of a roll. That could be a head bob, a paw movement or a body shift that suggests the beginning of the process. Your dog probably won’t lay there completely still, so take advantage of all of the little postures she assumes. Mark these types of movements with a “yes!” and treat the first few times your dog does them, then wait for your dog to do something bigger and more obvious, like a half roll.
If you keep rewarding the same behavior over and over, like a paw flick, that’s all your dog will offer you because it’s working for them. The more “yes”/treats you give your dog for newer and bigger movements, the faster the process will go.
Make the First Roll a BIG Deal
When your dog moves from one side of her body to the other, celebrate! You’re almost there. Toss a treat so that your dog has to get up to retrieve it, then begin the process again. Your dog will probably move into a down quickly, and will go through the roll sequence with less stopping and starting. Repeat the process several times, reserving the “yes”/treat until your dog has completed the entire rolling over sequence.
Tip: Watch your body language as you work on this behavior. If you teach it to your dog while sitting on the ground, your dog might not understand what to do when you ask her to do roll over while standing up.
Add the Cue Once She Knows the Behavior
Now that your dog is readily going through the entire process with speed and determination, you can attach the cue to the behavior. Say “roll over” right as your dog is performing the behavior, which is essentially teaching her English by attaching the phrase to the action.
Keep in mind that the phrase “roll over” won’t have meaning until you pair it with the behavior a few dozen times.
And there it is! You say “roll over” and your dog does it. Your dog has a cute new party trick and you have a new notch in your trainer belt.
Victoria Schade is a dog trainer, author & speaker who has contributed to The Washington Post, Martha Stewart, and other publications.