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An alpha roll is a technique used in dog training to discipline a misbehaving dog. It consists of flipping the dog onto its back and holding it in that position, sometimes by the throat. The theory is that this teaches the dog that the trainer is the pack leader (or alpha animal).



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".[1] The book itself is widely regarded as a classic in dog training literature and highly recommended for people trying to better understand their dog. In the original context, the alpha roll was only meant to be used in the most serious cases. It is now considered to be risky and is highly controversial among animal behaviorists, since the theory of canine dominance has been drawn into question.


It has been argued by some that a dog will only forcibly flip another animal onto its back during a serious fight where the intent may be to kill the opponent[2][3]. Many dogs, not only dominant or aggressive ones, will instinctively try to defend themselves, which can be very dangerous or even fatal to the trainer.

Further, the name alpha roll is considered a misnomer by top wolf experts, such as David Mech, because the practice as used as a behavioral correction bears little relation to the natural behavior shown by wolves in the wild. Dr. Mech refers to this behavior as pinning, which he describes as a dominance behavior.[4] These dominance behaviors are shown significantly more often by the breeding pair of the pack, but the purpose or role of the behavior is controversial.

On one hand, there is evidence to suggest that this behavior is initiated by the submissive dog as a ritual, and is not resisted. This suggests that this ritual does not serve as a behavioral correction or punishment, nor as a reinforcement of the dominance of the breeding pair. On the other hand, dyadic play between wolves involves behavior like pinning. Wolf puppy play patterns demonstrate that puppies prefer to assume the dominant role in play (see dog behavior), and avoid the submissive roles such as being pinned. This suggests that dogs do not instinctually panic if they are forced into this submissive position against their will. Although neither of these positions speaks directly to the issue of whether the alpha roll is an effective correction tool, it does call into question the behavioral validity of the technique.

Contemporary use

The alpha roll is currently still in use by some trainers, primarily only with the most dominant dogs to correct very serious transgressions. Many, however, feel that this method is outdated and dangerous, especially given the position statements on dominance released by AVSAB and APDT in 2009, which draw into question the science behind techniques that rely on dominance theory. It should never be used by inexperienced trainers, and never to correct undesired behavior caused by the dog's failure to understand your command. This will increase anxiety in the dog, which may lead to aggressive behavior. Used in a controlled way and coupled with praise and rewards when the dog changes her behavior appropriately, it may have some positive effect, but there is disagreement about its long-term effectiveness and safety. A 2009 study by University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences showed that methods of handling that relied on dominance theory actually provoked aggressive behavior in dogs with no previous known history of aggression.

Alternatives to alpha roll

If a dog is showing dominant behavior and challenging its trainer, there are many safer and potentially more effective ways of dealing with the problem. Some of these are listed below. In the most serious cases, a canine behaviorist should be consulted.

In nature, an alpha animal does not maintain its position by fear and violence because an alpha is a parental figure. In wolves, a pack is made up of the breeding pair and its offspring, who stay with the pack until they reach maturity, around 2–3 years of age, at which point they split off and form their own packs. This is why it is neither necessary nor scientifically accurate that wolves force other pack members to submit. Instead, they control the resources as a human parent does with their children.

  • Control feedings by limiting food to two twenty-minute feeding sessions before all food is taken up until next feeding. Dog can perform commands, tricks or simply wait patiently for their food.
  • Control attention by not allowing the dog to demand petting or play.
  • Control access to furniture by only allowing access on invitation, or not at all.
  • Control freedom in the home by requiring the dog to sit and wait at doorways, stay on a bed or specific area during mealtimes, when visitors are over, etc. It is still important you initiate movement actions (getting off a bed or removing the dog, exiting the house for a walk in front of the dog, etc).
  • Teach the dog to heel. This instills the sense that the dog must look to the handler for cues on what it should do next. This sense of permission carries over to all aspects of the dog's life.
  • Train the dog extensively and continuously. Consider group training. as enrolling in a group class exposes the dog to an increasing level of distractions, where they learn to look to you for direction. That will help solidify you, the owner, as the indisputable leader.
  • Positive does not mean permissive. Set boundaries and rules and stick with them.
  • If you are unable to cope with a behavior problem on your own, a dog behavior consultant will usually be able to help. There are also several books on dog psychology that may help you better understand the dog.

Further sources


  1. ^ Monks of New Skete, The (1978). How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend. Little, Brown & Company. ISBN 0-316-60491-7.  
  2. ^ Nicole Wilde, CPDT (2001). "Leadership vs. Dominance". Retrieved October 8, 2007.  
  3. ^ Dr. Ian Dunbar. "History & Misconceptions of Dominance Theory". Retrieved October 8, 2007.  
  4. ^ L. David Mech (1999). [ "Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs"] (PDF). Canadian Journal of Zoology 77:1196-1203. Retrieved October 8, 2007.  


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