When I first tried to teach my Border Collie, as a puppy, how to rollover, she seemed confused about what to do after lying down. I finally figured out that she needed an interim step – to lie flat on her side – before flipping herself over.
Only later did I realize this particular body position could be quite useful for a variety of veterinary examinations and treatments:
Taking a urine sample
Testing neurological reflexes
Doing a cardiac or abdominal ultrasound
Putting in an IV catheter
Casting or bandaging an injured leg
You also could turn lie flat into a “Play Dead” trick based simply on what verbal cue you use.
It all begins with teaching your dog a good, solid down-stay.
From there, you want to lure your dog to turn his head and shoulders back and down. I used food, but a toy would work as well. You probably don’t want to use his favorite toy though, because you don’t want him getting excited and popping up.
Gently help your dog flop to his side as he turns to look at the lure. Praise him and reward him in a way that works best for your dog. For calmer body postures, I often avoided using a clicker because my dog loves learning and would get amped up if she saw or heard the clicker.
Never force your dog onto his side or hold him down. This isn’t about brute control. It’s about getting your dog to lie flat willingly and in a relaxed way.
Dogs pick up so well on visual cues (often better than verbal ones), so I got in the habit of tilting my head and gesturing with a flat palm in the direction I wanted my dog to flop.
Because I’m right-handed, I taught my dog to rollover to my right (her left). I never taught her the other direction. I recommend, however, that you teach this body position both directions because your veterinarian will likely need access to both sides at some point in your dog’s life.
One of my dog training and dog blogging friends taught her Lab to lie flat as well. The photos are too funny. He’ll do this trick pretty much anywhere.