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You want to teach your dog to roll over but you have no idea where to start. I’ll show you how to do it.

Teaching your dog to roll over is a simple series of steps. Just hold a treat in your hand and they’ll follow it as you direct them through the motions. Reach for their shoulder, then their back, followed by their opposite shoulder, and your dog will roll over.

I’ll tell you what exactly you need to teach your dog this trick. It’s not much: some high-value treats and enough space for your dog to roll over. We’ll go over each of the steps in detail and troubleshoot some common issues you might see when you first start to teach this trick. As with most everything else, practice really does make perfect. You’ll also find tips on how to modify rewards, if needed.

I’ve worked with dog rescues for eight years and, sometimes, to get a dog adopted, they need a little extra something so teaching them tricks was an undeniable way to get some attention. I started with roll over when I decided to start teaching my first dog tricks. Gizmo is an old man now, at fourteen years old, but he still rolls over and has fun doing it. This technique is honestly easier than it might seem. It was one of the first tricks I ever taught my dog, before I ever though of making a career out of working with dogs.

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What do I need to teach my dog to roll over?

You will need two things: a treat that your dog loves and some time. That’s honestly all you’ll need for most tricks, so don’t be intimidated by teaching tricks. Teaching them how to roll over usually works better with a treat, but if your dog is not food motivated, a favorite toy will work, too. I taught my own dog to roll over by touching him on the shoulder and back, then rewarding with praise and affection, because he was neither food nor toy motivated, but he did love attention. The basics remain the same, no matter what you use to get your dog's attention.

You’ll need a space big enough that you and the dog can be on the floor at the same time, but you’ll want it to be distraction-free. It needs to be an area that your dog knows and is comfortable in. Don’t worry much about hard surfaces or the like, but do make sure that your dog isn’t going to roll into a wall or, in my case when I first started, furniture.

Have high-value treats. High-value treats are those treats that your dog just can’t get enough of. Be certain to account for the extra calories with a little less in their food bowl, especially if you’re watching their weight. Treats work best to teach them how to roll over, because you can reward without breaking focus. Using a toy would distract them and, as soon as you handed the toy over for a job well done, your training is over.

Once you have everything you need, carve out some time to do the training. Even just five or ten minutes a day is enough to teach this one. This keeps training fun, focused, and will keep you from over-treating your dog.

How do I teach my dog to roll over?

Start by sitting or kneeling on the floor with your dog in a distraction-free area. You will need to be at your dog's level to teach this trick. It likely won't work otherwise, because the dog needs to follow the reward. There should be no distractions; your dog needs to focus on you and the treat only.

This is a trick best taught in stages, so don't get discouraged. You likely won't get a complete roll over done in one training session, but you will build upon each step.

First, while on the floor with your dog, put him in a down position. If he doesn't know this, start by placing him in a sit, then move the treat down toward the floor in front of his nose while saying "down." He should lay down to reach the treat. Practice this until he can consistently lay down before moving on to teaching him to roll over. This should be something you teach anyway, if you haven’t yet. It’s a useful basic command that many tricks are built on.

Once your dog learns the down command, or if your dog is already consistently obeying it, you can start working on roll over. You will not have success teaching him to roll over until he can get into a down position every time.

Kneel or sit in front of your dog. You will need to close enough to reach behind his head. Once he knows that you have the treat, reach past his head and toward his shoulder. The goal is that he will follow your hand with his head, which will force him to lay flat on the ground.

It may take a few tries to get it right. If you have an over-eager dog, he may try to get up and follow the treat. That's why you need to keep your hand close to his head when you reach for his shoulder.

Every time your dog lays flat, treat him. You should stay on this step until your dog is consistently laying flat when you reach behind his head. Don't rush things. You could end up confusing your dog if you try to add too much at once.

Once you and your dog have this step down, move on to the next. Now, when your dog is laying flat, keep moving your hand with the treat toward his spine. He should follow the treat - he will have lots of practice doing it by now - until he is on his back.

Treat promptly when your dog rolls onto his back. Again, stay on this step for a bit, though you likely won't need to repeat it as much as the first step. Your dog already knows to follow your hand, which is half of teaching this trick.

Once you've gotten to the point where your dog is rolling into his back, move on to the next step. While on his back, move the treat around to his opposite shoulder. This is when you can finally add the verbal "roll over" command. You will need to say “roll over” every time you do this, so that your dog connects the command with the action. This is very important. You won’t be able to ever move on from kneeling on the floor with a treat if you don’t.

Your dog will have been practicing following the treat for long enough by now that it shouldn't be a problem, but don't get discouraged if it doesn't work out right away. Just try again, or go back a step if you need to. Adjust as necessary to fit your dog’s learning style.

When your dog does roll over, lavish him with praise and, of course, his hard-earned treat. Congratulations! You taught your dog to roll over.

Once your dog has successfully rolled over, you're not done. Keep practicing every day until he can do it all the time, whether you are kneeling on the floor with him or across the room. It will just take lots of practice to get to that point, so don’t give up.

Tips for teaching your dog to roll over

In general, this method will work on most dogs, once you find a reward that works for them. Treats are, of course, easiest and the most likely reward. Because this is a trick done in stages that relies on rewarding at every step while teaching, treats are easier to use as a reward without breaking concentration. Giving a ball, for example, would break a dog's focus enough that it could mean the end of your training session. I mentioned that I used touch on one of my dogs. In his case, I touched his shoulder, then his back, and then his opposite shoulder. It's the same hand motions, but without the treat. That dog is very picky and never liked toys much, but he loved attention, so it worked for him. Whatever is a “high value” reward for the dog is going to be your best tool.

Because all dogs are different, there are no hard and fast rules. The general method can be adjusted to what works best for you and your dog. Some dogs do best with short sessions, while others have the focus to go longer. With a little trial and error, you’ll quickly figure out how you and your dog work best together.