Why you should not “alpha roll” your dog!

When I ask “how do you correct your dog” on a consult, sometimes I hear, “I roll him on his back until he submits”.  I hear this daily from owners with dogs who have aggression due to dominance or fear.  In most cases, the owners have tried to correct aggression by “rolling” their dogs and think their dog is just a lost cause because they will get right back up and show aggression again.  The old time theories were to “alpha roll” your dog into submission.  If a person had a dominant dog, they were often told to roll that dog over onto their backs and hold them in that position until they stopped struggling.  This, in theory, was to make a dog see you as a leader.  Unfortunately, many trainers and owners paid the price for misinterpreting canine body language.

   Too many people think a dog on their back is submitting when they are actually in a defensive position.  If you watch two dogs fighting or “rough playing” until the end, you will understand why this is incorrect.  A conflict usually involves two dogs, the “attacker” and the “challenger”.  The “attacker” generally is on top and standing over the “challenger”.  The “challenger” is usually on their backs, so they can use their paws to defend themselves and if the chance arises, they can inflict a fatal bite to the neck.  The fight does not end with the “challenger” on their back; the “attacker” will not end it until that dog is lying on its side. A dog on their side has surrendered and admitted defeat.

   I had the opportunity to meet a trainer early in my career who still had the scars on his face from an “alpha roll” gone wrong.  He admitted in hindsight, he should not have attempted to “roll” this dog and put himself and the owners at risk. When you put a dog in a defensive position, they will try to fight you; it’s natural.  In most cases, people receive multiple bites to the forearms upon releasing the dog and in some cases, the dog will get the chance to inflict a damaging bite to the face.

  I try to explain to people that first; your dog should not fear you! Wrestling your dog to the ground and trying to overpower them is pointless and causes more damage psychologically.  You simply cannot win a fight with a dog without getting hurt.  A dog generally will not take on a challenge they cannot win and people should learn this too.  Even the smallest dog can inflict damaging results with their teeth.  Secondly, if you have to keep correcting, you’re obviously doing something wrong! 

  Every dog has a different personality, it does not matter what breed it is.  If you try to “overpower” a fragile dog, you will make them a fear biter.  If you try to “overpower” a dog that has a high fight drive, you will definitely get hurt and normally not just a small wound. Your best chance at helping your dog is to contact a professional that can “read” your dog and work with you to rehabilitate them and start a proper program.

Tara, Brandie, and the pack


6 thoughts on “Why you should not “alpha roll” your dog!

  1. I’m glad I read this. I went to the vet this past weekend and she even did this to my puppy. I now know not to do this and can’t wait to get some training for my puppy and myself.

    1. Nicole
      Unfortunately some vets still do this to puppies, in the old days this was thought to make them submit. We hear this on a daily basis, I am hoping with the more people who get this info out there, the more we can help puppies & not place them in a defensive position. Again old methods of training still exsist today and so do the old beliefs. I look forward to meeting you and your new pup this weekend!! 🙂

  2. Hi, with the abundance of crappy blogs around it’s great to see that there are still some filled with great content! Is there any way I can be alerted when you create a new post? thanks!

    1. Hi Jake thank you! I believe you can subscribe to the blog to be alerted when I post a new one. I post new blogs as often as I can! New blogs will be posted this week, along with some instructional videos. Have a great day!

  3. Unfortunately you are incorrect. All anyone needs to do is go to your local dog park and watch the dogs. You will see puppies and other submissive dogs that will instinctively throw themselves onto their backs to show submission. It’s not a defensive position, that’s actually cat behavior not dog behavior. Dogs roll over to show their most vulnerable area which is the stomach and by doing so show complete submission. Cats have razor sharp claws and so when they fight they tend to roll a lot and take turn on their backs. If your theory was correct than a pit bulls would have adapted to fighting on their backs since the specialize at killing dogs.Instead pit bulls fight head to head even on their back legs rearing up at each other. Go educate yourself and watch a documentary on wolves and just watch the behavior without getting all sad when you see the alpha doing his job.

    1. You my friend need to research a bit more about dog language (other than your dog fighting friends and “old time” trainers). In a dog park, a large majority of unstable dogs are fighting to reach the top of the ladder by randomly picking out the fearful and weak dogs to display their strength on. These fearful and nervous dogs roll on their backs to defend themselves from rude, dominating behavior which is why so many of these dogs give rapid frantic bites when they are approached. A fear response bite (for those that believe in allowing bullying at a dog park and are clueless as to what their dogs are trying to tell them). The submissive dogs, for your information, will lay on their side and urinate to appease the dominate dog. I think you need to pay closer attention.
      Anyone that truely understands canine aggression would agree that their most vunerable area is their neck, hence the reason so many dogs with “control or resource guarding” issues defend their necks. This is also the reason why dogs, as you clearly stated, in a dog fighting pit go for the neck, head to head up on their rear legs. This is the “kill” zone, not the belly. These dogs (not just bull breeds by the way, do your research) are taught by humans, how to kill and be persistent in their attacks. They are taught that they cannot lose a fight, by using a weak animal or a restrained animal. (Which, sadly it sounds like you are clearly aware of). They are cheered on by cruel and sick humans to fight to the death regardless of their injuries which is why they do not feel the need to “defend” but rather just kill.
      Instead of watching tv, I would suggest you take the time to sit down and take notes on the real communication between dogs in a true pack like setting, not just what happens when your fighting dog sees another dog at the dog park and decides to threaten it.

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