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Why Does My Dog Roll Over While Playing

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Why does my dog roll over while playing? Is he being submissive?

A new study shows that your dog rolls over during play for defense, not submission. It is to stop the other dog from biting on the neck or humping. Other research shows that rolling over is a signal to begin play time. Many large dogs will roll over to be at the same level as a smaller or younger dog. This study found that only 10% of dogs rolled over out of fear.


Why rolling over during play is not a sign of submission:

Down but not out: Supine postures as facilitators of play in domestic dogs – Highlights

  • In dog play, rolling over is a combat tactic, not an act or signal of submission.
  • The likelihood of rollover occurrence is set only by play bout duration.
  • Most rollovers were either defensive (evading a nape bite) or offensive (launching an attack).

Rollover during play: Complementary Perspectives  –Highlights

  • Some dog plays rollovers occurred in response to an “attack” whereas others appeared to be voluntary.
  • In adult dyads, the older, bigger, dominant dog tended to end up as the top dog during rollovers.
  • A recent article (Norman et al., 2015) proposed defense as an alternative explanation for many dog play rollovers.
  • We show that rollovers can be both defensive and asymmetric and argue that both approaches are useful.

Does my dog roll over out of fear while playing?

You may have noticed that your dog rolls over when playing with other dogs or family members, and are wondering what this behavior means. Kerri Norman and colleagues at the University of Lethbridge and the University of South Africa wanted to answer these questions: when a dog rolls onto his or her back during play, what does it mean? Is it an indication of submission akin to a person tapping out or screaming “Uncle,” or is it instead “a combat maneuver adopted as part of an ongoing play sequence”?

They found that NONE of the 248 rollovers were submissive. Submission usually would mean decreased play, the dog would remain passive, or is performed my the weaker/smaller dog. This was not the case. Researchers found that all play partners rolled over the same amount of time or not at all. The researchers report, “no dog rolled over in response to an approach or aggressive action by the partner and did not remain passive in its back.” Being on their back simply helped them block bites and launch bites at their partner.

They concluded two things:

  1. Rolling over is a facilitation of play. It is all simply a part of play fighting.
  2. Rolling over is like a self-handicapped behavior to encourage play with a smaller or weaker dog. So a larger dog would roll on their back so a smaller dog can play with them easier. In Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, Alexandra Horowitz describes the behavior: “Some of the largest dogs regularly flop themselves on the ground, revealing their bellies for their smaller playmates to maul for a while—what I called a self-takedown.”