The Alpha Roll is Dangerous and Outdated


Alpha Dog Training

Despite the potential danger, some dog trainers still advocate use of the alpha roll in dog training.

What is the Alpha Roll?

The "alpha roll" is something done to a dog by a human. It is supposed to help you show dominance over your dog. It is done by putting (and keeping) the dog in a helpless position which exposes her belly. The "theory" behind it is to break your dog's will and establish you as the Alpha.

Dog Training Alpha Dog

While there are several variations, it normally looks like this:

  • Place your dog in a down.
  • Immediately roll her onto her back and hold her there until she submits by lying still.
  • If she gets up or struggles, hold her there and do not allow her to get up.
  • According to some advocates, you can also do one of the following:
    • Growl at her
    • Shake her by the scruff of her neck

One source for this idea says:

"This maneuver is patterned after something that wolves and dogs sometimes do to each other while fighting. Brood bitches will also sometimes roll their puppies in the whelping box."

"Sometimes... while fighting"?

Why is this "method" for being the alpha dog recommended?

No More Alpha Roll

Outdated dog training information recommends this poor method for showing an incorrigible dog who is boss. Do not attempt this procedure.

It is archaic. It may get you hurt. And you may lose your dog's trust.

The "alpha-wolf rollover" was popularized by the Monks of New Skete Monastery in their first edition of How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend, which was published in the mid-1970's.

The newest version removes the recommendation and strongly advises against using the alpha roll:

How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend

"We no longer recommend this technique and strongly discourage its use to our clients... It is potentially very dangerous and can set up the owner for a serious bite in the face (or worse), particularly with a dominant dog. The conditions in which it might be used effectively are simply too risky and demanding for the average dog owner; there are other ways of dealing with problem behavior that are much safer and, in the long run, just as effective.

"There is always the chance that autocratic dog owners, having learned discipline techniques, will misuse them. Watch yourself - owners who are physically or verbally domineering wind up with cringing, neurotic dogs."

~Monks of New Skete
How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend: The Classic Training Manual for Dog Owners (Revised & Updated Edition)How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend

Stanley Coren, Ph.D., who has based his career on research in dog behavior, also discourages the use of the alpha roll:

How to Speak Dog

"Forcing the dog onto its back is the equivalent of an abusive parent beating a child to force it to say, 'I love you.' Although he or she may have forced the words out of the child's mouth, they cannot force the statement to be true... Forcing a dog into a submissive position is the Doggish equivalent of this scenario. Even worse, this technique may actually anger the dog enough to provoke it to attack.

"Forcing a dog into an alpha roll, or shaking the dog, both constitute physical aggression. Physical aggression is not communication. If there is good communication, then such confrontations need not occur."
~Stanley Coren
How To Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human CommunicationHow to Speak Dog

A True Alpha Roll

When you see a dog roll over in play, it is normally initiated by the dog itself. Not its companion. In dog body language, this means, "You're the boss."

In the wild, wolves will infrequently perform an alpha wolf rollover. This is only done when an enemy wolf approaches, or a challenge is initiated by a pack member. The purpose of this is to kill the other wolf by ripping its neck.

The true intent of an alpha roll is to kill.
Not to show dominance.

It's no wonder that this maneuver evokes fear and anxiety in dogs.

In his book, Cesar's Way, dog whisperer Millan cautions that only a professional should ever forcibly put a dog on its side. With a dominant or aggressive dog, he says, an inexperienced person could be bitten, mauled or attacked.

While I admire the rest of Millan's methods, I don't believe in the use of the alpha wolf rollover.

A true leader enforces its role by exuding calm and confident behavior. Not by threat of bodily harm.

A dog is a reflection of his master.
~Captain Max von Stephanitz




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