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The alpha roll was repopularized in the book 'How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend' by the Monks of New Skete which came out in the late 70's or early 80's. Before that it faded in and out of popularity and use.

I'm told that in the latest edition of this book the alpha roll is no longer included as a training tool.

To perform the roll you're supposed to grab the dog by the excess skin around his neck, force him backwards into a sit and then roll him to one side. Some trainers advocate rolling him all the way onto his back. The idea is that you're simulating something that dogs do to one another when the dominant dog is displaying his dominance to the submissive dog.

But it's just not so. If you watch some dogs at play, for example at a dog park or the zoo, or watch the Discovery Channel. Use a Video Camera (or record the TV) so you can play it back several times. You'll see what at first looks like an alpha roll but when you examine if carefully it's not even close. When dogs do this, the dominant dog doesn't force the submissive dog to do anything. It's the submissive dog who's doing all the work. The dominant dog puts his foot up on the submissive dog's shoulder or back and the submissive dog rolls himself under the dominant dog.

And so when you do the alpha roll thing you're doing something that's completely foreign to the dog, rather than something he's familiar with. You're showing him that you're bigger and stronger than him, but he already knows that. It's the action of a bully, not a fair and just leader.

Real dogs in the real world don't do anything like this. When a submissive dog rolls himself under the dominant dog it's because he's showing submission. This isn't a case of the dominant dog showing dominance. He's already done that merely by placing his foot on the other dog's shoulder or back and that's the reason that the submissive dog has gone down.

And so the alpha roll as dogs do it, isn't a display of dominance; it's one of submission, where the submissive dog is doing the work. It starts with the dominant dog putting a foot up but the rolling portion, the part that the alpha roll is simulating is done by the submissive dog. The alpha dog is only present by virtue of his personality, he's not rolling the other dog at all.

If you do this to the right dog (wrong dog) he'll eat you for your trouble. And since the closest thing to bite is your face, that's where you'll get it. It's hard to give an out command when the dog is holding you by the face!

For over 20 years I've been training some of the most dominant, most aggressive, most fearless dogs on the planet. I've never found the alpha roll necessary. I've done it once or twice when I was new and someone told me that I should. It didn't have the desired effect and after thinking about it and talking about it to the right folks, I discarded it.

Dogs almost NEVER submissively pee to other dogs, especially members of their own pack. That's reserved almost exclusively for their humans who, without realizing it put the dog into an overly submissive position and the dog has no choice. Some dogs extremely low in the pack pecking order, the omega dog may show submissive urination every time that a dominant dog (that's every other dog in the pack) approaches, but that's still a very rare display.

Your height already provides a cue to the dog that you're dominant. There are some trainers who will tell you to never let your dog stand over you but I think that you need to permit this once in a while. Some trainers tell you to NEVER allow it. But if you think about what I do and how it gets done, training and working police service dogs, you'll realize that it's good to, once in a while get on the ground with your dog and play with him as dogs play together.

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine the type of handler who's been trained that he has to alpha roll his dog once a week to remain the alpha. Also imagine that he's been trained never to let his dog be on top of him. The handler gets into a fight, and like most fights it winds up on the ground. He calls his dog for assistance and as the dog runs to the scene he sees the 'alpha dog' on the ground, someplace he's never seen him. He remembers that this 'alpha dog' has been rolling him every week since they've been together and maintaining his alpha position with brute force. He sees this alpha dog fighting with a complete stranger, someone who's never hurt him or done anything to him before. Do you think it's possible that he'll think that NOW is a good time to rise to the top of the pack? Could be!

Wouldn't it be better if that dog had been lead by a fair and just pack leader who didn't use physical force to maintain his position? Since the #2 dog has rights that the #3 or #4 doesn't, wouldn't it be better if the dog thought of himself as the #2 dog in the pack not just as any subordinate animal.

If you alpha roll your dog consistently he'll become afraid of you. That's not a good relationship, particularly if you want the dog to work protection for you. He'll do it but you might find him "attached" to you occasionally. I think that the best relationship between the handler and the dog is one of mutual trust and respect. A dog that's rolled won't trust the handler, he'll fear him. This may not show up in the form of the dog cowering from the handler, except in extreme circumstances. But there other, much more subtle ways it shows up.

Want to be an Alpha? Begin by acting like one. Stand up tall and act like a leader. Notice that most dogs are submissive to a good trainer just by him walking onto the field. That's because he knows how to stand, carry himself and talk as a leader. He hasn't alpha rolled your dog. He hasn't kicked your dog's butt, but your dog knows, at a glance, who the alpha is. Use a normal voice. When adult dogs play with other adult dogs they use a certain tone of voice (bark). When puppies play with adults or other puppies pitched they use a high pitched yip. If you use a high pitched voice when playing with or praising your adult dog how do you think he thinks of you? As a mature adult capable of leading him? Or as an immature pack member? Now I'm not saying that he'll immediately become alpha if you praise or talk to him in a high pitched voice but I am saying that you're sending a mixed message to him. One that can put some doubts in his mind as to your exact position in the pack.

Being accepted as the alpha doesn't mean that you're the biggest, baddest one in the pack. Anyone who teaches that really doesn't understand what it means to be alpha. In human packs, without the politics, often it's NOT the biggest or strongest one who leads. It's the one who exhibits "leadership qualities." In dog packs it's the same way.

Another part of being alpha has to do with food. In the wild the alpha leads the hunt. He decides which animal the pack will kill and when the eating will begin. Generally you provide the food for your dog so that helps him think of you as the alpha. I suggest that when you get a new dog you spend a couple of weeks hand feeding him. That establishes, even more than just putting down a food bowl, that you're providing his food. Don't let him crowd in and 'demand' the food. Make him stay at a respectful distance and wait for you to give it to him, one handful at a time.

Another way to be fair and just is to be fair with your correction level. The Ecollar is perfect for this because it allows you to dial in exactly the level of correction that your dog needs. Not too high and not too low. It's difficult for the average handler to consistently give the exact level of correction that a dog needs with a leash and conventional training collar.

Play is another way to get this but not the form of play that has the handler throwing a ball for his dog. Watch the Discovery Channel or spend a few hours at the zoo watching wild dogs play. They run, they bump shoulders, they throw hips into one another. Their interaction is quite physical.

Another way to establish dominance and one of my favorites is through yielding. I stole the concept from someone who stole it from horse trainers. Yielding is based on the idea that a submissive animal will move out of the way of a dominant animal. Almost ritualistically the dominant animal will force the submissive animal to give way, even if he doesn't need to. It's just a reminder.

To do this have the dog on leash and start walking into him. Going head to head is probably best, at first. Don't give any commands, just head towards him. When you get real close start quietly saying "move, move, move," Don't kick him and don't bump into him unless it's absolutely necessary. What you are trying to do is to force him to move by the power of your personality.

As soon as he does move, step back and praise him lightly. Not enough to break his concentration, but enough so that he knows he got something right. You should see a relaxation of tension in the dog's body. Think of your forward motion as applying pressure. Pressure that the dog can relieve by moving away. At first just one or two steps will relieve the pressure, but as you progress he has to move more to gain relief.

As the training progresses you can approach from off to one side, then directly to one side, then from the rear quarter and finally from the rear. When you start this have him move several times in a row. Once he's caught on you can go to about ten times a day.

This is so subtle that many people believe that it won't have any affect on the dog, particularly one who's very dominant. But it will have more and better effect than a dozen alpha rolls. And it will establish your position with VERY little chance of a handler challenge or an attack on the handler.

If you're going to do an alpha roll you'd better pick the dog you do this on carefully and you'd better make sure that you can kick his ass. You'd also better be ready for a trip to the ER, because sooner or later you're going to miss.

It's really too bad that some people are still caught up in using force all the time for all of their training. It's not necessary. It's hard on the dogs, and it's hard on the handler. AND most importantly it doesn't give a good a working relationship with the dog as more subtle, but still effective methods.


Copyright © 2006, Lou Castle
 

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This is a wonderful article! excuse me I'm still working out how this forum works.. I notice no one replied to this.. I am not sposed to?
 

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Mica, the "sticky" posts are here for information but there's no problem with answering them.
 

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Lou,
Interesting reading, and in part, I agree. If one doesn't know how to do it you can be eaten before your are up! I use it and encourage others to do the same. I had a giant Lab mix bite by right wrist 2 years ago. If I had not rolled him and tried to choke him out with the prong collar my man parts would be MUCH shorter today. As a result, I have 7 major punctures, K9 tatoos if you will, to show for the training session. This is also my only major K9 bite ever. If the dog's pawns are still over your arms, don't let him up. You will be facing a fight then.
 

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Discussion Starter #6
If one doesn't know how to do it you can be eaten before your are up! I use it and encourage others to do the same.
This looks like you're talking about the Alpha Roll.

I had a giant Lab mix bite by right wrist 2 years ago. If I had not rolled him and tried to choke him out with the prong collar my man parts would be MUCH shorter today.
There's a major difference between pinning a dog for attacking the handler and alpha rolling him as a matter of course in order to establish dominance. I think the first is fine and that the second is not good for the relationship and can actually be counterproductive.
 

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thanks for the article Lou..i've been reading about the rolling over technique a lot, and was actually going to use it if it was necessary, BUT now that you've cleared things up, i won't be FORCING my position in that manner at all.
 

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Good article Lou, I enjoyed it. I wish more people understood it. I think many are mis-informed by what they see Cesar Millan do. If you watch him as well, the dogs are usually already submitting to him when he approaches them to do his "bite" with his hands. I've seen him many times, just snap his fingers and the dogs go down on their bellies. Most people just see/hear/read about the alpha roll and that can lead to disaster.
 

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thanks for the article Lou..i've been reading about the rolling over technique a lot, and was actually going to use it if it was necessary, BUT now that you've cleared things up, i won't be FORCING my position in that manner at all.
GREAT NEWS Steven! Glad I was able to help.
 
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... I think many are mis-informed by what they see Cesar Millan do. If you watch him as well, the dogs are usually already submitting to him when he approaches them to do his "bite" with his hands. I've seen him many times, just snap his fingers and the dogs go down on their bellies. Most people just see/hear/read about the alpha roll and that can lead to disaster.
Very informative article that straightened out lots of questions for me, thanks!

Alex, you bring up Mr Millan, I like his extremely popular show very much and have tried to pick up things from it for many years. In many episodes there is this sign "don't try these techniques without a supervision of a professional dog trainer" (or similar), I have no problems getting the message as I'm new to this.

Clearly, the "alfa roll" is in his tool box for use in certain situations, also the "bite" more frequently. Recently I watched a show where a really big and aggressive dog attacked a small dog, and Cesar intervened forcefully doing the roll on the big dog which immediately submitted. While still lying on its side in a "submissive state of mind", Cesar was holding the smaller dog while the dogs were allowed to sniff each other out, incident solved.

With Lou's great article as background, what other ways are preferred to break a fight like this if you are not an experienced dog trainer? I ask because the situation may arise and I'd like to be prepared. One scenario is my dog being attacked by another dog, the other where my dog attacks another dog. I realize it is complicated in the sub scenarios who was attacking who, which dog is getting the upper hand, etc. Of course I'll work very hard to prevent scenarios like this from ever happening in the first place but "what if"?

Maybe I'm partly talking about a different thing, the original article was about the use of the "alfa roll" as a tool to establish dominance which your dog which is not the main issue in the scenario of breaking a dog fight whatever the cause. However, there is a life together with your dog also after the dog fight (hopefully) so it would be interesting to know how to intervene in the best possible way.

And yes, I'm signing up for dog training classes for me and my little pup, there will be lots of that but I'd like to have some background knowledge to bring with me in the training.

Many thanks!
 

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Lou GREAT ARTICLE!!!! When we got our first Cane Corso I was told by many to roll him when he would bite us. He had lots of drive and after owning Rotties I was not prepared for our male. Well rolling him had just the opposite effect instead of making him submissive and calm he would spaz out. I immediately stopped using this technique and started looking for other answers. It was as simple as using biting inhibition that took care of problem in about 2 weeks I no longer had him wanting to use me or my kids as the chew toy.

I still see it on another board I frequent to use alpha rolling for undesired behaviors. I would love permission to put your wonderful article on this forum to help educate the ones that are still using this technique.

Thank you
 

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With Lou's great article as background, what other ways are preferred to break a fight like this if you are not an experienced dog trainer? I ask because the situation may arise and I'd like to be prepared. One scenario is my dog being attacked by another dog, the other where my dog attacks another dog.
Maybe you would like to start this discussion in General Dog Discussion: http://www.workingdogforum.com/vBulletin/f30/

Click that and then "new thread" in the lower-middle of the page you get.

There are some useful things to know and to have ready in your mind for that just-in-case situation, but let's not hijack the thread on this article. ;-)

Thanks!
 

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I've used similar methods doing ground work with my horses while gentling and training them to ride. These games really make a difference in the horses view of the rider and their subsequent reaction when a stressful situation arises. Here's an article describing one method used with horses, along the lines alluded to in the article:

http://www.todayshorse.com/Articles/PORCUPINE.HTML

When the horse views the rider as a member of his herd... just above him in the hierarchy... they then look to the rider for confidence when they encounter a scary situation. Without that looking up to the rider for support you end up with a run away or a rodeo.

Most old cowboys view these methods as bunk. My neighbors were horrified when I brought home a couple wild mustangs and told me I'd never get the wild out of them. With clicker training and other methods I picked up off the internet, I loved proving them wrong.

I'm looking forward to applying some of these concepts with my new puppy.
 

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I've used similar methods doing ground work with my horses while gentling and training them to ride. These games really make a difference in the horses view of the rider and their subsequent reaction when a stressful situation arises. Here's an article describing one method used with horses, along the lines alluded to in the article:

http://www.todayshorse.com/Articles/PORCUPINE.HTML

When the horse views the rider as a member of his herd... just above him in the hierarchy... they then look to the rider for confidence when they encounter a scary situation. Without that looking up to the rider for support you end up with a run away or a rodeo.

Most old cowboys view these methods as bunk. My neighbors were horrified when I brought home a couple wild mustangs and told me I'd never get the wild out of them. With clicker training and other methods I picked up off the internet, I loved proving them wrong.

I'm looking forward to applying some of these concepts with my new puppy.
RFD is one of my favorite TV stations. I TIVO Parelli, Craig Cameron, McNabb and my favorite Dennis Reis. Many of the concepts I use in training come from my work with horses. Many of the basic concepts overlap even if some of the ethology (innate social behavior that motivates the response) is different. One thing is certain, working with a prey animal will refine your ability to apply and release pressure faster than working with a predatory species like the dog. In general horses are so much lighter and reactive.

It is interesting that a similar cultural change has affected the world of horses (Natual Horsemanship) just as it has the dog world including a horsey version of the BARF diet (low protein grass feed, free forage in a large communal pasture instead of stalls and barefoot instead of shod).

For anyone trying to perfect their dog training skills I recommend these shows as well as Super Nanny and Nanny 911. Training is training:p

I would love to hear of your experiences with the mustangs. I am trying to decide between a mustang and a PMU mare. They are polar opposites with one likely to be super light and the other super heavy but both equally challenging. I just watched and episode of Dennis Reis where he worked with a very heavy sour PMU mare. The man is awesome.

Lisa
 

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I would love to hear of your experiences with the mustangs. I am trying to decide between a mustang and a PMU mare. They are polar opposites with one likely to be super light and the other super heavy but both equally challenging. I just watched and episode of Dennis Reis where he worked with a very heavy sour PMU mare. The man is awesome.
Here's a website I got most of my wild horse training ideas from:
http://www.kbrhorse.net/pag/train.html

Many techniques should also apply to a PMU.

I'll PM you later about my experiences. I'm afraid we might be getting too off topic.

David
 

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Another great read Lou…. I especially enjoyed the part about the submissive dog “rolling” himself. I’ve noticed a variant of this many times when doing “tactics training” with new teams and crawling prone.

I noticed a number of dogs become confused when their handlers got down to the dogs level and started to crawl on the ground. The dog would become so uncomfortable with the handler being now “equal” in height and would put themselves in a “T” position in front of the handler to show submissiveness.

The problem I noticed was that handlers and trainers didn’t understand what the dog was telling them… would become frustrated….and would start to correct the dog…. Ultimately hurting their bond.

Dogs are masters at communicating trough body language….they study ours… we should do them the same courtesy.
 
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