Do Alpha Rolls Show Dogs Who's Boss?

You may have seen it in some books and on some TV shows: trainers recommending to roll a dog on his back to show him who’s boss, but should you?

By | Posted: September 29, 2014, 3 p.m. PST

The so-called "alpha-roll" became the craze in the 80s, but like many things in the 80’s, while people still embrace them today, it’s probably better to leave them in the past. So take that bedazzled, jean jacket off and give your dog a treat instead of menacing glare.

 80's dog
 Some things are better left in the 80's. Photo from FunnyPictures 


Most dogs react badly to alpha rolling, either going completely submissive, freaking out, or becoming more aggressive---even biting the roller.  The situation escalates, more rolling and biting ensues, and before you know it the dog is labeled as aggressive when he may have just been scared out of his wits. So then how did it become so popular? 

Back in 1978, a popular dog training book advocated the technique, which they based upon watching a wolf pack interact.  Unfortunately, there were several problems with using the wolf pack as a model: 1) the pack was in captivity and kept in a small pen, bunching members together than wouldn't normally be together; 2) the behavior is seldom seen in normal packs except between mating pairs, where its purpose is unknown; 3) dogs don't do alpha rolls except in serious fights; 4) most instances of wolves presenting their belly are voluntary, in which the wolf rolled over on its own. 

Photo from Pinterest 

The second ediion of the book that popularized the technique rescinded the advice but the damage was done. It's still kept alive by TV trainers like Caesar Milan, who advocates it along with other dominance-based techniques---which have been criticized by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers. A 2009 study by University of Bristol’s Department of Clinical Veterinary Sciences showed that dominance-based techniques provoked aggression in dogs, leading to increased aggression in 31% of dogs that received the alpha roll.  

Other techniques that resulted in aggression were hitting or kicking the dog (41%), growling at the dog (41%), forcing the dog to release an object (38%), forcing the dog down on its side (29%), grabbing the jowls or scruff (26%), staring down the dog (30%), spraying the dogs (20%) and yelling at the dog (15%). 

The only thing rolling your dog over tells him is that you’re the biggest bully on the block and he’d better avoid you. It tells your dog you’re really upset and you’re going to open up a can of whup-ass. It can scare an already frightened dog to the point of biting you in self-defense. Don't do it!

Modern trainers don’t worry about "showing the dog who’s boss” because consistent training will establish that you’re boss anyway. Studies have shown that reward-based training is more successful in reducing aggressive or fearful behavior than punishment or dominance based training. In fact, if you look back to wolves as models, they don't lead by punishment but by being benevolent leaders. They lead because the other wolves follow---willingly. 

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Cheryl - 801   Kansas City, MO

2/29/2016 6:25:46 AM

I have a female Boston who lets everyone know she's the boss!

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Autum - 297511   Caldwell, ID

5/10/2015 2:21:29 PM

I had never heard of doing this before reading this article, and it sounds just terrible!

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