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Rolling over is my dog’s least favorite trick, and that’s saying something because I’ve asked him to do a lot.
He can stand on his hind legs and jump up on a stool. He can find a hidden object anywhere in the yard I hide it. And he can sit and stay long enough for me to forget about him…
But he hates to roll over! He knows how, I know he does, but I find myself either having to ask him to do it two or three times or I just avoid it altogether.
What makes smart dogs who know how to roll over refuse to do it?
Why won’t my dog roll over?
Your dog may not know how to roll over but, if they do, they probably won’t roll over because they are being stubborn, dominant, anxious, or bringing some other negativity to this otherwise fun activity. Maybe they’re overly excited or just unmotivated, or it could be physically uncomfortable for them to do the maneuver.
I go into 8 of the main reasons that your dog may not be rolling over when you ask them below as well as some fixes you can try for each of those specific reasons.
Every dog is a unique combination of a lot of different characteristics, and some things won’t always come naturally to them.
My dog took forever to learn how to catch, but we did eventually get there after trying a few different things and working out a system that worked for both of us.
So you should consider each of these fixes separately as well as together in order to find the right solution for your dog.
Reason #1 – Your Dog May Not Know How To Roll Over
If your dog will not roll over, there’s a good chance that they simply do not know what you are asking them to do.
This is, of course, the first and most important step to take to get your dog to roll over.
Before you jump to “Well, he didn’t roll over, he must be stupid” – take a moment and consider if you REALLY taught him how to roll over.
While it may seem like a very simple maneuver, it does take setting aside time to teach them how to do it.
It is also a surprisingly difficult move for a dog to do, one that they are unlikely to do themselves naturally.
If your dog used to know how to roll over but now they don’t, it is possible that they have forgotten what that word is.
However, it’s more likely the case that your dog knows what to do but they are simply being stubborn about it. If that’s the case, skip to Reason #2.
Or it may be that your dog is physically incapable of rolling over anymore. If that’s the case, skip ahead to Reason #8
Teaching dogs how to roll over could be a long article in and of itself, but here’s an excellent resource for anyone looking to quickly treat-train their dog.
Once they get that down, here’s a fun little variant you can whip out at parties:
Reason #2 – Stubborn
This is YOUR dog we are talking about, so you are probably best suited to determine whether or not your dog is being stubborn or if they simply don’t know what you’re asking them to do.
I have met a lot of dogs, and “roll over” has never been a favorite trick.
Many dog owners have a difficult time getting their dogs just to lie down. Often, the last thing that they want to do is go prone and hold themselves still in the down position.
Less even than that is to roll over. Some dogs may be willing to roll over onto their backs for a belly rub, but will not roll over all the way on command like you want them to when you’re going through their trick repertoire.
If you’re sure that your dog knows how to roll over but is still refusing to, they’re probably just being stubborn.
In life, everything has a price. This is just as true for dogs as it is for people.
If your dog is stubbornly refusing to roll over when you ask them to, you need to up the ante by giving them a higher value reward.
This may be a really fatty or smelly treat like these beef liver ones on Amazon. They’re the perfect size for training sessions and stink in a way that dogs love.
Or you can get away with cooking some chicken or using peanut butter as a cheap alternative that you may already have in the house. But avoid treats like lunch meat or similar people foods.
Still, though, motivation is not always just enough. You need to teach your dog that when you command them to do a trick, that they need to do it. And do it the first time.
This isn’t just being overly bossy or domineering behavior.
Teaching your dog how to do tricks and respond appropriately the first time teaches them potentially life-saving skills.
A well-timed “sit and stay” could keep a dog from running out into traffic. Teaching them that your words and commands matter while your trick training can help reinforce their overall attentiveness.
So make them do other tricks to get them in the training mood and then insist that they rollover. This may have to begin with a few losing battles, where the dog simply refuses to.
Repeat yourself only once or twice at the beginning, but gradually begin to transition to saying it only once and waiting for the dog to respond.
By not repeating yourself and consistently enforcing the rules, while also giving them high-value treats and rewards for doing what you asked, you are setting your dog up for success and set clear expectations from them when you say “roll over.”
Reason #3 – Dominance
Dominance is different from stubbornness. A stubborn dog may give you a few huffs of reluctance when they refuse to roll over, but a dominant dog’s behavior will be very different.
Think about the motion of rolling over for a moment.
Your dog has to wholly contain their bodies and lay down on their bellies. They then have to roll over and expose their tummies and put their heads on the ground.
Then they have to jerk themselves over and, in a moment of vulnerability, hoist themselves over to the other side.
Even a dog who does not normally show signs of dominance may find it uncomfortable to be so vulnerable on command. Their rejection of this request from you to roll over, not because they just don’t want to, but instead because they do not want to expose themselves or give you an opportunity to control them, is a show of dominance.
A dominant dog we’ll have prolonged eye contact, stiff posture, or may even just walk away from you when you ask them to roll over.
Dealing with a dominant dog is a tricky situation when you’re trying to teach them, and blanket generalizations about how to deal with their behavior are difficult to make.
You’ll need to understand that the issue at hand is a trust one. You need to make your dog understand that rolling over is not a punishment or an opportunity for you to take advantage of them, but is instead a fun activity for you to do together.
This means getting involved in the activity with them in a way that you currently are not. Give them lots of treats and use your happy voice.
A great maneuver is to get on the floor with your dog too, provided that this does not wield them out anymore.
Dogs love to do what you’re doing, and by getting on the floor with them, you will encourage your dog to lighten up a bit and take the act of rolling over a bit less seriously.
You don’t want to push it too much with your dominant dog, but you do need to recognize that a dog’s refusal to roll over is a dominance issue that you need to work on.
If your dog has shown you that they do not want to roll over because of dominant behavior, your new goal with your dog should be to make them roll over on command, happily, whenever you ask them to.
Reason #4 – Anxious
The first part is pretty simple.
If the act of rolling over makes your dog anxious, it makes sense that they won’t want to do it.
Why your dog has anxiety about rolling over when you ask them to, is more complicated.
If this is a brand new trick that you’re trying to teach them, they may be confused or overwhelmed by the act of learning this new, extremely physical maneuver.
Your voice, body language, and the environment you’re in may all be making them unable to learn the trick.
If they know the trick, they may be responding with anxiety and, thus, not rolling over because they anticipate something negative happening.
Unpacking a dog’s anxiety and all of the strange behaviors that go along with it is not something I can do in only a few words.
However, there are some things you can do to help your dog get over a few mild symptoms of anxiety when you ask them to roll over.
Interestingly, the tactics for dealing with an anxious dog who doesn’t want to roll over are similar to the ones I listed above about dealing with a dominant dog.
The issue goes back to trust.
An anxious dog does not trust that they are going to be okay if they do what you ask and roll over.
This may be for any number of reasons, the most serious of which may require intervention from the veterinarian.
If your dog has extreme anxiety when you ask them to roll over, stop asking them to roll over first of all.
And then second, bring them to your vet so that you can make sure that they are actually okay.
Most mild cases of anxiety, like sitting all whale-eyed when you asked them to roll over, can be treated by making sure that the dog understands that this is a fun activity.
Lay on the floor, give them high-quality treats, use your happy voice, mix it up with other activities that they know that they like, and generally try your best to make your buddy feel relaxed.
Since this is your dog, you probably know a few tactics to help lighten the mood. Use these to help diffuse their tension.
Reason #5 – Negative Associations
Anxiety and dominance are common enough that they deserve their own commentary, but they are both manifestations of negative connotations that your dog has with the act of rolling over.
Since you are on the Internet looking up answers to your dog’s questionable behavior, I think it’s safe to assume that you love your pet and are doing your best to provide a fun environment for them.
But that does not mean that everyone has always been as nice to your furry buddy.
They may have a background, with people or other dogs, that is making them reluctant to roll over.
Very aggressive people may force a dog to roll over out of dominance or some other misguided nonsense like that.
People often do this because they think that it’s a great way to communicate with dogs. Dogs will do this to each other sometimes too.
When a dog makes another dog roll over, they are using their dog communication to establish a hierarchy or resolve a conflict.
When a person does this to a dog, they are ignoring the fact that they are, in fact, a person with better tools at their disposal to communicate with their dog.
If you picked up a rescue dog who has had the misfortune to come from a situation where a person or a dog has aggressively rolled them over, then it probably comes as no surprise that they are reluctant to roll over for you now, even if it’s years later.
So, what should you do with a dog who responds with fear or other negativity when you ask them to do a simple thing like roll over?
The tactics to deal with a dog who is bringing so much negative baggage to the interaction is similar to dealing with an anxious dog in that you need to use lots of positive reinforcement to earn their trust.
However, an anxious dog is likely dealing with misinterpreting your command in the moment.
They may misunderstand your body language as a sign of aggression or think that you are suddenly yelling at them, but the source of the anxiety is wholly occurring right then and there.
A dog who has negative associations with the act of rolling over is simultaneously present in the moment with you when you are asking them to roll over, and also remembering, consciously or subconsciously, the other times when rolling over was so terrible.
For that reason, a dog who is bringing negative associations to the training yard needs to be treated with a higher degree of patience.
You two will need to work slowly over a period of time to build up new positive associations with rolling over that outweigh, outshine, or otherwise outcompete their negative memories and associations with it.
Reason #6 – Excited
Over-excitement will especially be a factor if you are asking your dog to roll over in a different environment than they are used to or if there are new people or dogs present.
The next time your dog successfully rolls over or if you get the opportunity to see someone else’s dog roll over, pay very close attention to them.
You’ll see that it would be basically impossible to multitask while they’re rolling over.
Rolling over requires full focus from both of your dog’s mind and body to successfully pull off.
A dog, overwhelmed with excitement at the sight of a visitor or meeting a stranger out for a walk, may be too overwhelmed to be able to focus on rolling over.
These dogs will perhaps lay down for a moment and then stand back up. They may even pop one of their legs up while they are down like they’re about to roll over before they jump back up and continue to happily ignore you.
The trick here is trying to get your dog to calm down enough to focus on a task, which you probably know is going to be pretty difficult.
So you will also need to temper your expectations about when and where you can get your dog to do this trick, at least at first.
Instead of having them roll over, have them do a trick that you are reasonably confident that they can succeed at.
It may be sit, lie down, up, whatever your dog’s favorite go-to trick is.
Have them do that trick a couple of times and give them lots of rewards.
This gets their attention and gets them back engaged with you instead of lost in whatever is that’s distracting them.
Then, you’ll need to press them a bit. If your dog can sit and stay, have them hold their sit and stay for a good long while, not as long as they have ever held their sit and stay but long enough that they have to work and concentrate to hold it.
If your dog can’t sit and stay, try to get them to run through a couple of different tricks in quick succession.
If you have been able to sufficiently calm them down and get them back into the zone, try getting them to roll over.
If it works, treat it like the greatest success of their life so that they know that it was worth it and that doing it the first time you ask next time will be well worth it too.
However, it may just be too much for you to get your overly excited dog to roll over when they are in the heat of the moment.
So maybe just don’t push it.
Reason #7 – Unmotivated
For a lot of reasons, many dogs seemed reluctant to roll over.
Even dogs who are quick to sit or lie down when you ask them to may requires two or three repetitions to finally get them to roll over.
Your dog or, frankly, getting anything or anyone, to do something that they don’t want to do requires the proper motivation.
If your dog is refusing to roll over, it’s likely that you simply are not providing the proper motivation.
By now, I have probably mentioned high-value treats, positive reinforcement, and lots and lots of treats about a couple of dozen times, but it is important for you to understand that these are not just rewards.
Treats are ways of motivating your dog. And most dogs, even the curmudgeons who don’t typically like toys, can often still get behind a treat.
Treats often work, but the point is to provide your dog with the proper motivation to do this thing that they are reluctant to do.
My dog is a “No treats? No tricks!” kind of girl.
But some dogs aren’t that into treats. Some dogs prefer a couple of good tugs on a rope toy as a reward instead.
Other dogs like cuddles or head scratches while other dogs will dutifully run through their commands all day long simply because they like to do it.
If you cannot lure your dog over with a treat, consider upgrading to a more attention-getting one.
These salmon treats are reported to have a show-stopping odor that’s bound to get your dog’s attention, even if they don’t typically like treats.
If that still doesn’t work, try getting a toy that you exclusively use during training sessions to help motivate them to do what you ask so that they can have a moment or two playing with their special toy.
One of these squeaker rope balls is small and discrete enough to carry around easily during training. It has a durable rope for pulling as well as a ball, so you can mix it up during training. And the squeaker helps get their attention if it starts to stray.
All dogs have different tastes, so try a few different positive reinforcement techniques in order to motivate your dog to want to roll over on command.
Reason #8 – Physically Uncomfortable
Last but most certainly not least, your dog may not roll over because they find it to be physically uncomfortable.
This may be because the environment that you are asking them to do it in is uncomfortable.
A finicky dog may not prefer to roll over outside, where they will get dirty or poke themselves on the ground.
Some dogs are more sensitive to hard surfaces and will not want to roll over on hardwood floors, tile, concrete, or other hard surfaces commonly found in the house.
If your dog rolls over when they are on carpet but not when they are in the kitchen on your tile, it may be that the floor is just too hard.
Or the discomfort may be internal.
Rolling over requires the full use of your dog’s body, so any injury debilitating issue makes rolling over more uncomfortable for your dog.
Hip dysplasia, luxating patella, scoliosis, inflammation, and arthritis are just a few of the many things that may be making rolling over more uncomfortable for your dog.
If your dog is getting older in years, this is the most likely culprit.
A mild injury like a scratched paw may make your dog not want to roll over but will easily heal without much intervention on your part. They’ll be rolling over again in no time.
If your dog doesn’t like to roll over on hard surfaces, well, can you blame them?
Who would want to roll over on the concrete out in the driveway?
Being sure to set reasonable expectations for your dog when you ask them to roll over is key. By making sure that you only ask them to roll over in places that they comfortably can roll over, you will have a lot more success and will continue to build trust with your dog.
Asking them to roll over on a hard surface that they don’t want to it’s just plain old mean.
If your dog used to be a rolling-over champion but has suddenly stopped, you should bring them to the vet.
Any sudden change in your dog’s behavior is a reason to be concerned, and one that is related to things like their neck and spine, like rolling over is, may be very serious.
Getting Your Dog To Roll Over
Unless your dog simply does not know what it is that you are asking them to do when you say “roll over,” there are only a couple of things that could be preventing them from going all the way.
A dog who knows how to roll over but is refusing to do so may be having some personality conflict, like anxiety, dominance, or excitement, that is preventing them from rolling over.
Or they may have some physical discomfort when they roll over, so identifying the source of that discomfort and addressing it is paramount.
Once you’ve identified the reason that your dog is not rolling over, working with them may be very simple or it may take lots of coaching to get them over their issues.
But playing games and trick training your dog is always worth it in the end.