Today: Erin McDowell, our Test Kitchen Manager, and her dog Brimley are here to prove that with a little patience, a treat or two, and a purposeful flick of the wrist, any dog can learn how to roll over on command.
I am no dog trainer or expert of any kind. However, when I brought home Brimley at 8 weeks old, I knew I needed a game plan. Cute as can be but devilishly clever and rambunctious, this pup gave me a run for my money from the very first day. All the pre-puppy research I’d done gave lots of advice that seemed difficult or intimidating at times, but one thing that really stuck with me was the importance of training your dog to do tricks—not just for fun (and yes, it’s fun) and not just for the cute factor (oh yes, there’s definitely that too).
Teaching your dog to sit is the first step to rolling over, as demonstrated by Brimley and Erin.
I taught Brimley tricks to exercise his mind the same way I exercise his body by taking him on walks. Teaching your dogs tricks puts you on top: Your dog looks to you for instructions, commands, and guidance. This tendency is obviously very beneficial when it rubs off on their everyday behavior. It’s also a great way to stimulate your dog if he/she is left home alone for long stretches of time and great for stormy/rainy/snowy days when you can only manage to get outside for a quick jaunt.
Of all the things I taught Brimley as a pup, rolling over was one of the most difficult. This is because most dogs don’t like to be on their backs; it’s considered a vulnerable position. I followed the guidelines from several training books and found that a combination of their tips worked wonders!
Here are the 5 steps to get your dog to roll over:
1. First things first: Start with "high value" treats and lots of attention. For my dog, high value treats mean small pieces of bacon or cheese, but the thing he wants most is my praise and lots of petting. Find what motivates your dog and run with it. I have a friend whose dog only does tricks if it means he will get a tennis ball thrown for him afterward! When Brimley was a puppy, I would train him to do tricks using his regular kibble as the reward. That way, I was just feeding him his usual meal but he really had to earn it!
2. Teach your dog to sit. Seems obvious, but most training sessions should start with your dog sitting and getting a reward for doing so. Now he’s engaged and ready to roll (hopefully).
3. Teach your dog to lay down. For this other important command, trainers warn against using the same word for lay down and the “get off the furniture” sort of down. I also received an amazing tip to teach your dog to lay down by holding your arm straight up in the air rather than motioning towards the ground. This way, your dog can see you asking him to lay down from a distance whether it’s across the room or across the dog park.
Use whatever treat will get your dog to respond, whether that's regular kibble or a high value treat like bacon.
More: Need a better reward? Here's how to make your own dog biscuits (a very high value treat).
4. Get your dog comfy on his side. Once your dog is laying down, offer him high value treats as you pet his belly, encouraging him to lay on his side. This is pretty easy with most dogs, but if your dog is skiddish at all you may need to spend a good amount of time here, rewarding your pup for this good behavior. (I used this opportunity to teach my dog to play dead before moving on to rolling over.) Once your dog is comfortable on his/her side, practice leading through all of the above steps in order.
5. Lead with your hands. Once your dog will lay on his/her side, hold a treat between the thumb and forefinger of your dominant hand starting with it near your dog’s mouth and then drawing it backwards slowly, heading for behind their neck. Your dog’s instinct will be to follow the treat, and this motion will naturally roll them over. (You may find it’s easier for your dog to roll one direction rather than the other—make it as easy for them as possible!)
Having been trained to roll over by following a treat led over his shoulder, Brimley demonstrates like a pro.
More: Not a pet owner? Enjoy these DIY corn dogs, which can be used to train humans.
Admittedly, this teaching process may take a while, but when it happens, reward your dog like crazy! If you go too long without success, move on and try again later. Eventually you can remove the treat from your hand, and teach the dog a regular hand motion like spinning your finger around to command them to roll over.
In my case, teaching Brimley to roll over was also a great way to manage puppy insanity, meaning the hour and a half every evening when he would go insane and run in circles around the coffee table and bounce off of walls, etc. Redirect all that crazy puppy energy into learning a new trick, which sounds a little wacky, but it really works. At least it did on puppy Brimley, who now at 3 years old, lazily does a command every now and then for a piece of bacon and a pat, then promptly wanders back to bed.
The big flip.
Have you taught your dog to roll over? Do you use kibble or high value treats? Share your ways in the comments!