As any dog owner knows, early socialization and consistent training are essential for a happy relationship with your well-balanced, and well-behaved canine. But not all dogs will immediately understand the rules of living in a human world or will continue to exhibit issues with their behavior.
Numerous canine behavioral training methods have been developed over the years; some highly effective and others less so. And the concept of the alpha roll as a dog training aid is one that certainly splits opinion.
But what exactly is an alpha roll, and should you avoid it? We look deeper into this controversial training method to explain why PetSide does not support its use.
Before we dig deeper into alpha rolling, here are the key takeaways when trying to understand this method of training a dog:
- Alpha rolling is a training technique for controlling and asserting your dominant ‘alpha role’ over a dog in order to address an undesired behavioral issue
- It is based on dominance and pack theory, which was devised following a study of a wolf pack held in captivity.
- The idea of alpha rolling is that by pinning a dog over on its back and restraining it with physical force while maintaining eye contact, you are asserting your dominance as his pack leader and demanding his deference, and revised behavior.
- The method of alpha rolling has been widely debunked by both scientists and the dog training community as an unacceptable training aid that can actually cause more behavior issues, including aggression, in your dog.
- Positive, force-free training methods should only be used when training a dog, or when looking to correct problematic canine behaviors.
What is an Alpha Roll?
The concept of alpha rolling can be traced back to the 1940s, and a research study into the social dynamics of wild wolves. It was during this research that scientists identified a societal structure framework within the wolf pack, which they named the ‘dominance theory’.
This theory outlined the balance of power within a wolf pack and the actions individual animals take to retain their dominance. For example, the behavior exhibited by the pack leader or the strongest animal to physically manipulate and dominate other wolves and deter any resistance or challenge. This observed behavior included animals who forcibly rolled another wolf on its back or side and kept it pinned down until they submitted or demonstrated submissive behavior. This became known as an ‘Alpha Roll’.
Fast-forward to the 1970s, and a book entitled ‘The Art of Raising a Puppy’ was published to help the average dog owner train their domestic dogs. This influential book sparked a new training method in which the use of the alpha roll – forcibly rolling a pup or dog on their back and physically pinning them down until he stops struggling– was included. Alpha rolling was promoted as an effective method to discourage unwanted or problem behaviors such as barking, growling, aggression, or jumping up, and to reinforce the owner’s ‘pack’ dominance over their pup.
However, with a greater understanding of dog behaviors and cognition, the attitude of dog trainers towards such direct methods of force and aggression in canine training eventually started to change. In 2002, the authors of the original Art of Raising a Puppy book retracted their advice. Instead, they declared alpha rolling an unsafe and unnecessary technique.
Do Alpha Rolls Work?
In short, the alpha roll is an outdated technique for training domestic dogs and is both ineffective and counterproductive.
In theory, the alpha roll enables a dog owner to display and physically assert their ‘pack leader’ dominance while directing their pet not to behave in a particular way. But in reality, this approach is fundamentally flawed and can cause more harm than good, leaving your pet feeling very afraid.
The physical aggression of flipping a dog on its back and making it afraid and vulnerable can be a terrifying experience for any canine and will trigger a flight, fight, or freeze response. As the dog can neither fight back nor get away, he will default to freezing, which is not conducive to an effective learning experience. Alpha roll advocates call this a “calm submission”, but if you observe a dog in this situation, they are anything but in a calm mental state.
On top of this, the physical act of the alpha roll doesn’t even demonstrate to a dog the specific behavior that you want them to stop.
Why You Should Avoid Alpha Rolling
Alpha rolls have no place in the training of any canine, whether they are a young pup or an adult dog. Here are the main reasons why you should avoid alpha rolling your pet:
It masks natural behavior
While not always desirable, dogs have natural behavior traits that help them to be a dog! One such behavior is growling, which is how a dog either expresses anxiety or insecurity and is a key warning sign.
If the alpha roll is used to punish a dog for growling and to force the animal into silent submission, they may learn alternative ways to express their anxiety, including biting. And so, all the technique has done is replace one normal warning behavior with another, more aggressive one.
It engenders fear
Another negative outcome of regularly using alpha rolls is that the dog may also learn to fear their owner or the person conducting this training method. This fear can eventually develop into aggressive behavior or cause your dog to bite, which is the exact opposite of what the alpha roll is meant to do.
It can create an aggressive dog
The fact of the matter is that an alpha-rolled dog is more likely to bite as well as demonstrate other undesirable behaviors. And a fearful dog demonstrating aggressive behavior can be dangerous if it responds when confronted with the prospect of being alpha rolled.
They do not teach a dog what you want it to do
After all the effort of conducting an alpha roll, this direct and physical action to assert dominance is not actually telling a dog what it is they are not supposed to do. Instead, Alphas rolls create a sense of fear and insecurity, as the dog goes into submissive behavior mode towards your bully behavior in order for the ‘threat’ to subside.
It can lead to injury
Combining the physical exertion of an alpha roll with a scared or confused dog is never a good idea. Their initial natural behavior response is to bite and struggle in order to escape, and this raises the risk of injury – to both you and your pet.
What Alpha Roll Alternative Could I Use Instead?
Alpha rolling has been widely debunked by scientists and dog behavioral experts and is now considered an outdated technique. And the concept of using punishment as well as physical force or restraint is not condoned by the majority of dog trainers or the dog-owning community. Instead, scientific studies have shown that punishment methods of training inhibit rather than foster learning in canines.
Ask any reputable dog trainer and the alternative to the alpha roll method when it comes to tackling problem behavior in a dog is positive reinforcement, which includes reward-based dog training. Not only is positive reinforcement training significantly less stressful but it also supports your dog to learn the desired behaviors you wish to see. And this has been shown to result in higher levels of obedience in dogs, as well as less problematic behaviors such as aggression or fear.
The idea behind positive reinforcement and reward-based training is that they will naturally repeat actions or behaviors that result in something they like – e.g., praise and a tasty treat as a reward. The method can also involve removing the source of any problematic behavior in the first place – food left on the kitchen countertop, for example. This way you take away the temptation to counter surf in the first place, which your dog could otherwise see as his reward for bad behavior (jumping up on the counter, for instance).
Positive reinforcement training to teach dogs the appropriate way to behave should in no way include any punishment, physical pain, or actions that can induce fear. The idea is to replace undesirable behavior with a positive one, using rewards, toys, or praise as a motivation for your dog to positively change its habits. Clicker training can also be effective.
If you are unsure as to how to best train your dog, always consult with a professional dog trainer. Working together, you will be able to positively set boundaries, nip any unwanted behaviors in the bud, and enable your own dog to be a calm, well-balanced, appropriately behaved, and happy pooch.
We love our dogs and so we should always strive to do what’s best for them, especially when it comes to training. Nurturing a calm, happy, non-aggressive dog is an owner’s responsibility, so it seems totally counter-intuitive to use force to get the behavior change you desire. And the irony is, you are more likely to create fear and negative or aggressive behavior by using the dominant alpha roll than helping your dog to understand what it is you want them to do.
Positive reinforcement and treats-based training are the only techniques to use to tackle any behavioral issues in your dog. Thankfully, the concept of the alpha roll is totally outdated, based on a flawed understanding of domestic dog behavior and so should never be used if you want to maintain a fear-free relationship with your precious pooch.
Q: Should I alpha roll my puppy?
A: No. Alpha rolling techniques have been debunked by the experts as a dangerous and ineffective training method and should not be used on any dog, whether a pup or a senior pooch. With young pups, positive reinforcement, including sleep training, as well as early socialization is the only way to go, and there are plenty of excellent dog trainers and puppy schools you can turn to for the correct advice. Exercise is also a good way to calm a high-energy dog down and so can be included in your training plan.
Q: Is alpha roll bad for dogs?
A: The technique of alphas rolling is bad for all dogs as it has a flawed understanding of domestic dogs and can lead to more behavioral problems than it is intended to solve. it also doesn’t take the individual traits of each dog breed into account, as some dogs can be more stubborn to train than others.
Dogs who have experienced alpha rolling are more likely to be aggressive and have trust issues as the method teaches your dog to be fearful. And this fear can translate in your dog’s behavior, potentially leading to biting and aggression towards you, your family, strangers, and other dogs.
Q: What is pack theory?
A: The Pack Theory of dogs resulted from a study by Swiss animal behaviorist, Robert Schenkel, in 1947. Schenkel observed the interactions of a wolf pack kept at his zoological institute, which indicated a clear dominance hierarchy within the group.
From his studies, the concept of pack theory was developed and is based on the idea that each wolf pack has an Alpha who uses dominance to control his pack. However, the theory was flawed as the test pack was held in captivity and so didn’t demonstrate the natural behaviors, or group set up of wolves in the wild.
Q: Why is dominance theory wrong?
The 1940s study into pack theory is at best unreliable and so are its conclusions on the associated dominance theory, when applied to domestic dogs. The captive wolf pack studied was a pack of individuals, unlike wild wolves who come together in a family unit. So, when the captive wolves demonstrated the dominance theory in relation to alpha rolling, this behavior was born out of fear and mistrust of the other animals. However, in the wild, wolves would only conduct an alpha rollout of submission to defuse a fight or aggressive situation, and the two animals involved would not touch each other.
Another reason the dominance theory is wrong in domestic canine training is that dogs are not wolves in the wild. Dominance theory assumes that dogs are wanting to outwit or out-dominate their human owner as a part of a ‘pack’ and so the hierarchy needs to be reasserted, e.g., with an alpha roll. But research has shown that domestic dogs don’t actually see humans in the same way as other dogs and so the theory is based on an inaccurate understanding of domestic canine behavior.
- If you are aggressive, your dog will be too, ScienceDaily