An alpha roll is a technique previously used in
training to discipline a misbehaving dog. It consists of flipping
the dog onto his back and holding him in that position, sometimes by the
throat. The theory is that this teaches the dog that the trainer is the
pack leader (or
This method is now known to be unsafe for both the trainer and the dog. Even
the authors of the book that originally introduced the idea have changed their
position and no longer recommend it.
The alpha roll was first widely popularized by The Monks of New Skete, in the
1976 book "How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend" (see reference below). The book
itself is widely regarded as a classic in dog training literature and highly
recommended for people trying to better understand their dog. However, the monks
themselves later expressed regret that they had included the alpha roll
technique in the book, as it was often taken out of context and misused. In the
original context, the alpha roll was only meant to be used in the most serious
cases and always in combination with positive reinforcement techniques.
It is now known that by nature, a dog will only forcibly flip another animal
onto his back during a serious fight back where the intent may be to kill the
opponent (this should not to be confused with the behaviour when a dog rolls
over on his own to show submission). So in other words, when you perform the
alpha roll your dog will believe that you are trying to kill him. Many dogs, not
only dominant or aggressive ones, will instincively try to defend themselves,
which can be very dangerous or even fatal to the trainer.
It can also
traumatize the dog, causing serious psychological disorders, and leading to further undesired behaviour such as
fear-biting or submissive urination. For aggressive and dominant dogs, it may
increase aggression rather than reduce it.
The alpha roll can also irreparably damage the relationship between the
trainer and the dog.
Despite the dangers, a few trainers (rarely
still use the alpha roll or recommend its use. Even then, it is usually used
only with the most dominant dogs to correct very serious transgressions. It
should never be used by inexperienced trainers, and never to correct
undesired behaviour caused by the dog's failure to understand your command. This
will increase anxiety in the dog. Used in a controlled way and coupled with
praise and rewards when the dog changes his behaviour appropriately, it may have
some (often short-term) positive effect, but there are better and safer
If the alpha roll appears to have any positive effect, it is usually due to
the fear it instills in the dog rather than establishing true dominance. An
animal controlled by fear can become anxious, emotionally unstable, and
unpredictable. The dog will learn that using violence is acceptable behaviour
and may attack people or animals he percieves as being weak when you are not
Alternatives to alpha roll
If a dog is showing dominant behaviour and challenging his trainer, there are
many safer and better ways of dealing with the problem. Some of these are listed
below. In the most serious cases, a canine behaviourist should be consulted.
In nature, an alpha animal does not maintain its position by fear and
violence. Instead, the subordinate animals respect the leader for being firm but
fair and making good decisions for the pack and naturally follow. The key point
is to reinforce your dominance over the dog using non-aggressive means that
emulate those seen by alpha animals in nature. These include, for example:
- Making the dog wait for your command before allowing him to do a desired
action. For example, letting him wait for a minute when he wants to go out
instead of giving in immediately.
- Eating your own food first before feeding the dog, and making the dog
lie down while you eat rather than beg.
- Walking through doors before the dog.
- Praising and rewarding the dog when he shows submissive behaviour, e.g.
rolling over on his back or licking you under your chin.
- Follow through with your commands, by not letting it pass when the dog
- Being firm but fair when correcting bad behaviour. Always be consistent,
to make sure the dog understands what behaviour is allowed and what is not.
- Never give commands that are unsafe for your dog to obey. If the dog
does not know he can trust you, he will not respect you as a leader.
If you are unable to cope with a dominant animal on your own, a dog
behaviourist will usually be able to help. There are also several books on
dog psychology that may help you better understand the dog.
References and links
- Monks of New Skete, The (1978). How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend.
Little, Brown & Company.
 - About That Alpha Roll - from about.com
 - Alpha-Roll Training Can Cause Serious Problems - from
 - Dogs Challenge Authority
 - rec.pets.dogs Behaviour FAQ
 - Canine Handling in a Clinical Setting
| Alpha Roll
| Dog Attack
| Clicker Training
| Dog Collar
| Animal Communication
| Dog Communication
| Crate Training
| Dog Aggression
| Dog Trainer
| Dog Intelligence
| The Intelligence of Dogs
| Obedience School
| Obedience Training
| Operant Conditioning
| Prey Drive
| Dog Society
| Dog Whistle
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