Should you use alpha rolls? No.

When I am working with my clients, I focus on determining what strategies are most effective with each individual dog. I have found certain techniques to be extremely effective and I also see mistakes and read about other trainer's suggestions that can create problems and cause the treatment to take longer or be ineffective.

Approximately half of my private dog training caseload involves aggression directed towards other dogs or people. While more difficult than basic or advanced training, my success rate for helping a dog overcome aggression is very high. I practice very measured, systematic strategies to lower dogs overall anxiety and help them learn to be comfortable in situations that currently make them aggressive.

I only recommend, and use, positive reinforcement techniques.

Mistake - Alpha Rolls

Some trainers recommend flipping a dog on his back when he shows aggression. This is called an "alpha roll". Sometimes I have heard that it is also recommended for someone to put their face close to the dog's face while they are in this position. This is named after the supposed, and incorrect, notion that the best way to modify a dog's behavior is to "show it whose boss" or "be the alpha". Trainers lacking in understanding of animal behavior think that wolves flip subordinate wolves on their backs in this position to exert dominance in a pack situation. In reality, submissive pack members will roll over on their own to show that they mean no harm.

Why It is a Mistake

You are punishing the behavior and not addressing the underlying anxiety. A dog often shows aggression because he is uncomfortable with something and wants it to move away.

For instance, if a dog growls at a child and then the dog is alpha rolled, this puts the dog in a very vulnerable position at the same distance away from the child that originally caused the anxiety and aggression. 

The dog will not become more comfortable in that situation.

He is still uncomfortable, but now he is also more vulnerable. This can increase the negative association with the child because sometimes it results in the added trauma of being rolled. It can also have the added problem of punishing signals. Barking or growling is a signal to the child to move away.

If the dog is punished for giving signals, he might stop giving signals but still remain anxious. Besides being anxious that a child is going to come too close, the dog is also anxious that he will be punished for giving signals. The dog might remain quiet in that situation, but this is a false reading of comfort around children. As the anxiety builds over repeated exposures, a dog is repeatedly put into emotional turmoil and can reach a point where he can't handle the proximity to the child and attacks, seemingly unprovoked.

A few months ago a client called me up because her dog bit her in the face after she alpha rolled him when he growled at her. She was told to roll her dog and put her face right up to the dog's face and say, "NO!". This advice was given to her by a trainer that advocates choke chains and other physical punishments.

Her dog bit her in the face, requring 5 stiches. After assessing her dog for handling, approach and resource guarding issues, we worked together over a few weeks and I showed her positive reinforcement strategies to address these issues. She has had no problems since and she also doesn't have to jerk her dog around with a choke chain. The dog isn't afraid to growl at her, he is more comfortable with the specific interactions that my client has with him.

Big difference.

Latest Blog Posts

Let's talk about corrections in dog training

While working with a private client recently, we ran into another local Chicago trainer. It was interesting, because we were both teaching our clients the exact same lesson, using different...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-20 19:37:38
  • Hits 11268

Teach emergency stop

On Friday I met a client for the first session and met his wonderful 1.5 year old Labrador Retriever named Riley. Our session ended after some fantastic leash work, placement cues and some work on...

  • jeff-millman
  • 2010-12-21 03:50:21
  • Hits 8441

Do not ask an aggressive dog to sit

I work with dog-dog aggression a lot. I get lots of practice in the congested city of Chicago, and I use techniques that work. As with any training topic, there are many competing strategies out...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-28 21:32:17
  • Hits 49839

Don't repeat cues and other dog training tips

Just some quick thoughts to make your life as a dog trainer much easier. After training thousands of dogs, it still amazes me how the little suggestions can make the biggest difference.
  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-30 19:22:30
  • Hits 27921

Dog training myths

There are so many dog training myths perpetuated by old school techniques, bad trainers, or trainers that do not give their clients the benefit of the doubt and "dumb down" everything into simple...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-29 19:37:00
  • Hits 10744

Tips to train your dog to come

I realized that I never taught my dogs what "Come on guys let's go for a walk" meant. That was many years ago, and since then I have taught them that, but it reminded me of the importance of...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-30 21:35:06
  • Hits 10520

Find time for dog training in your busy schedule

Everyone is busy. My wife and I have a wonderful new baby boy and it is challenging to find time to work with my dogs, satisfy all of my client's expectations and have time to breathe. I am sure you...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2010-12-31 22:14:00
  • Hits 15317

Summer dog training tips

As we approach summer, it is important to think about keeping your pooch safe. I live in Chicago where I have some unique things to worry about (such as dogs getting stolen out of cars), but...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2011-04-06 12:19:00
  • Hits 26927

Choke chains can increase dog aggression

I got a sad call from a new client recently. She said her dog was showing signs of dog-dog aggression and, from the advice of someone in the dog park, she hired a trainer that uses choke chains. She...

  • Jeff Millman
  • 2011-01-01 18:49:00
  • Hits 14212

What to do if your dog growls at you

It is so important to gently handle your dog throughout his or her life. I received a typical call a while ago from a client that is afraid because her dog growls when she puts on his harness.
  • Jeff Millman
  • 2011-01-02 23:07:00
  • Hits 61921