Sure, rolling over is a simple for us, but a dog has limited intellectual capability, even those that do well in dog training classes. To get a good grasp of how your dog feels when you first try to train it to roll over, imagine yourself going to tango classes for the first time. It takes a lot of mental power as well as physical coordination.
Or if you have a natural dancing ability, imagine trying to play a sport such as basketball for the first time. It can be frustrating and difficult, but with training and habit, you begin to internalize the intricacies of the movements until it is second nature. The same is true for your dog.
Choose Your Command
Rolling over is a somewhat complex maneuver and is a good transition for more complex commands. It’s good to choose a one word command like ‘Roll’ or ‘Over’. I suggest ‘Over’ because it has more authority when spoken. Your dog will respond better to a quick, loud command.
Teach ‘Sit’ and ‘Lie Down’
First, teach your dog how to Sit and Lie Down outlined in the previous articles. When that is completed, bring your dog to a quiet area like a backyard or empty park. Have him on a leash and make him sit, then lie down. Once your dog is on his belly, you can give him a treat. He should know by now that you are trying to teach him something, so it won’t be too difficult.
When on his belly, hold up a treat with your right hand. Put your hand on the left side of his face (near his left ear), which would be your right. He will try and turn his head towards the treat. Clearly say ‘Over’, then move your treat-hand towards your dog’s tail. Your dog should follow your hand so that his nose is pointed backwards.
Sometimes your dog may stand up to go for the treat. You may need to pull down on the leash or push his back down to keep him there.
Next, move your hand over your dogs body so that it is on the right side of his body (your left). If done correctly, your dog will lose his balance and roll onto his side. Keep moving your hand farther and farther, and your dog’s face should follow the treat.
Eventually, your dog will roll all the way over and you can give him the treat.
Now, things will not work perfectly the first time, but don’t get frustrated. You make need to push your dog (gently) to roll over, but eventually he will understand what to do. Repeat this over and over again.
Repeat as Necessary
You will need to repeat the Roll Over many more times than you did with ‘Sit’ so your dog gets used to the motion. Rolling over is not an intuitive movement in dogs; they are forced to expose their belly which is an unnatural and uncomfortable feeling. However, the more you do it, the less uncomfortable they will be.
Next, try and repeat it faster and faster until your dog completes the trick in a fluid motion. Again for recap; make your dog sit then lie down. Say ‘Over’. Hold a treat next to his left ear with your right hand and move it towards his tail then over his body. Your dog’s nose should follow your hand until he rolls completely over. Then give your dog the treat.
Shorten the Command
After doing this multiple times (sometimes you need to do it a couple days before they get the point), use shorter hand motions. Instead of bringing your hand all the way to the tail and back over, just move your hand over his back.
Eventually, stop using your hand and just say ‘Over’. Your dog will be hesitant, but after a few times the trick will become consistent.