Why the Alpha Roll Is Bad for Dogs

Naturally submissive Golden; not alpha rolled.

The alpha roll is an outdated training technique that involved forcibly rolling a dog onto its back and holding it there by applying pressure to its neck. The move was meant to show the dog who was the leader, but the method was later deemed dangerous for everyone involved.

Rolling a Dog Can Increase Fear and Aggression

The alpha roll, a type of aversive training technique, is now mainly deemed dangerous and unnecessary as a training technique. By performing what seems like an attack to a dog, humans leave themselves vulnerable to a bite to the face, and they lower the trust and respect their dogs have for them. The alpha training technique can have dire consequences for dominant or fear aggressive canines.

According to the Whole Dog Journal, Companion Animal Solutions, and the Richmond, VA SPCA, the alpha technique can:

  • Increase aggression in an already dominant dog
  • Generate more fear in a submissive dog's psyche
  • Cause a loss of trust
  • Possibly cause fear biting

The alpha method is not a good way to build a sound, healthy relationship. A stable leader shows his dog the rules in a fair, gentle and firm manner, built on clear communications and mutual respect.

In the dog world, the only reason one dog will forcefully flip another dog on its back is to kill it. In the alpha method, physical force is used. Often, dogs flip over on their backs of their own accord to show submission, but this action is not the same as the alpha roll. It is completely voluntary.

"Alpha" does not mean physically dominant. It means "in control of resources." Many, alpha dogs are too small or too frail for successful physical domination. They have earned the right to control the valued resources in their domain without using physical prowess. You can be the alpha in your house without using the alpha technique.

Study Results About Aversive Training

According to a study conducted by the Department of Clinical Studies, School of Veterinary Medicine, at the University of Pennsylvania, aversive training techniques, including the alpha roll, elicited an aggressive response from about one quarter of the dogs on which they were attempted. Dr. Sophia Yin, DMV, MS also refers to the same study on her website, and she concurs with the conclusion that alpha training techniques can do more harm than good.

Training Alternatives to the Alpha Roll

There are more constructive ways to train a dog to accept your leadership. Young puppies benefit from early socialization with people and other dogs. By offering your puppy exposure to a variety of new situations during this crucial development period, he'll learn to adapt easier to other changes that may come along later in life. This is easily accomplished by enrolling your pet in a puppy socialization class at your local dog training facility.

Obedience Training

Older puppies, typically at least four to six months old, and even adult dogs benefit greatly from basic obedience training. This course teaches you how to teach your dog a standard set of commands that will give you better control over his behavior. The course is not designed to increase your dominance over your pet, but rather to increase your leadership skills. When trained in a positive environment, your dog will develop a deep trust in you and happily obey your commands. This allows you to keep his attention when he may be otherwise distracted, and it could just save his life in a dangerous situation.

Clicker Training

Clicker training is a reward-based dog training method developed by Karen Pryor that involves using a sound to encourage positive behavior. When clicker training a dog, you use a clicker - a plastic and metal gadget that makes a "click" sound when pressed.

Clicker training involves the following steps:

  • The dog learns to recognize the click sound that always means he gets a treat.
  • The dog associates good behavior with the click sound and treats. You teach him this by using the clicker every time the dog performs a positive behavior and then give him a treat. For example, when you tell a dog to "lie down," you hit the clicker at the exact moment the dog lies down to obey your command. You then give him a treat as a reward.
  • Use 15 minute training sessions to teach basic commands and deal with behavior issues.

The clicker training method is a good one for puppies as well as adult dogs, including senior dogs.

Importance of Positive Training Methods

Alpha roll training methods should not be used due to the danger to both the human and the dog involved. Current dog training techniques encourage positive reinforcement of good behavior and are generally more effective than punishment methods. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) recommends reward-based training methods because they can deepen the bond between the owner and the pet, and helps create a happy, polite dog.

You should never use physical force or hit a dog when trying to discourage a bad behavior. These types of negative methods, like the alpha technique, may accidentally harm the dog or cause the animal to be fearful or distrustful of you. Using positive rewards in dog training will encourage good behavior in a relaxed and safe environment for your pet. Why not train your dog in a way that is enjoyable to both you and your pet?

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Why the Alpha Roll Is Bad for Dogs