Alpha Rollovers: Helpful or Harmful?

I could see the bite coming before it happened, but was too far away to do anything. The German Shepherd puppy was adorable – fluffy and uncoordinated, with ears that couldn’t quite decide whether to stick up or flop over. He was also incredibly terrified. His eyes were wide and his tail was tucked so tightly to his belly that it touched his belly button. His body posture was low and he slunk rather than walked as his owner browsed the pet store aisles.

Nothing that cute can go unremarked for long, and the puppy was quickly set upon by an excited employee of the store. As she reached out to pet him, the shepherd puppy became very still, closing his mouth and turning away. His owner shortened his leash so that the puppy couldn’t run away, and when the employee grabbed the puppy to pick him up and hug him he yelped in fear and bit at her hand.

The next few moments seemed to slow for me as the puppy’s owner barked out a gruff “no” and grabbed her pup’s scruff. Picking him up, she forced him onto the ground on his back, holding him in place by his neck. The puppy’s little body became absolutely still, then he slowly looked away and licked his lips with wide eyes. The owner looked equally miserable as she held her tiny puppy down, apologizing to the pet store employee. “They have to learn, though. It’s the only way.”

Photo by Robert Neff

Photo by Robert Neff

Whether used in response to unwanted behavior or simply to prevent aggression, alpha rollovers are still commonly practiced with many dogs. This technique was originally recommended by the Monks of New Skete as a “natural” way for people to teach their dogs who was in control, although the monks later stopped recommending it as too many people were bitten when they attempted to replicate the technique with their own dogs. Simply put, the goal is to roll a dog over on his back with his belly facing the sky and to hold him there until he stops fighting to get up. This technique is supposed to teach dogs that people are in charge and that the dog should always submit to people in times of conflict.

Alpha rolls first gained popularity when researchers noticed that lower-ranking wolves would go belly-up for higher-ranking animals. Dog people quickly latched onto the idea that the belly-up posture was a concrete way to ensure or prove their pup’s submissiveness. The practice of rolling pups (and misbehaving adults) over and holding them down spread like wildfire.

The problem with this idea is twofold. First of all, wolves don’t actually force one another down. And secondly, dogs are not wolves.

Let’s start with the first issue. The original theory was that higher-status wolves would physically force their less important pack-mates down and hold them there.  This was quickly proven to be false, as video after video and interaction after interaction showed the lower-status animal willingly offering this behavior as a cut-off signal to avoid aggression. In nearly every case, the higher-status wolf never even touched the wolf who was offering their tummy.

In fact, neither wolves nor dogs physically force one another into this position, except with one exception. If a Canid is about to kill another, he may physically flip the victim over before disemboweling them.

Think about this for a second. Most of these behaviors are quite instinctive. As far as your puppy is concerned, you mean to kill him when you flip him on his back and hold him down. No wonder so many puppies panic! Whether your pup’s panic manifests as freezing in place, screaming, flailing, or biting at your hands, this is quite literally a terrifying situation for dogs to be placed in. Your dog has no way of knowing that you don’t intend to do her serious harm when you flip her on her back, and thousands of years of evolution telling her that she’s in mortal danger. It hurts my heart to think about.

Even if this weren’t the case, it’s important to remember that dogs are not wolves. While dogs and wolves share common ancestors, their behavior and physiology is still distinct. Wolves have shorter critical socialization periods and display more ritualized behavior than the neotenized dogs we live with. There’s a reason why wolves make horrible pets, and it’s the same reason why dogs don’t respond the same to body language as wolves. They’re not identical.

Furthermore, making conclusions about wolf behavior from observing captive animals is in and of itself a problem. Just as trying to judge human behavior based on the actions of people living in a concentration camp would give us very false interpretations of normal behavior for people, captivity does not allow us to see the normal expressions of wolves’ behavior either.

In the case of the shepherd puppy, I quietly approached the owner after she’d let her puppy up and handed her my card. I hope for both her and her puppy’s sake that she considers training class and private lessons sooner rather than later, so that we can help them both be successful together. Living with a fearful puppy isn’t easy, and living with a fearful dog is even worse. Alpha rollovers will not fix most behavior issues, but they can cause quite a few.

Whether your dog is fearful like the shepherd puppy or has other behavioral issues, we can certainly help. But alpha rolling your dog is not the answer.

What do you think: were you taught to roll your dog on their back? What happened? What alternatives would you suggest if you met the shepherd’s owner in the pet store? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below!

62 responses to “Alpha Rollovers: Helpful or Harmful?

  1. I was taught this (at a class with a woman I Do Not Like; stopped going to her class) with my now-14month old German shepherd when she was maybe 4 months old. It has been a head-shaking bad thing. I quit doing it almost right away, but she STILL doesn’t comfortably allow me to sit on the floor beside her for fear I’m about to upend her. I feel badly & want to try to help her over this. How?

  2. That puppy did what any scared dog could/would do and nip to protect itself. How do people respond when startled? They too will lash out at times, verbally or physically. I think it is very important in training classes that owners be introduced to a dog’s body language so they can appreciate what their dog is communicating to them and potentially avoid situations like this. We have to be our dog’s first line of defense.

  3. I saw a woman on FB once comment that she had no idea that she had a dominant puppy until her vet told her so and showed her this “technique”. Also a German shepherd. *shakes head* I directed her to some articles to peruse. I hope she actually looked at them. It makes me so sad to read stories like this, especially considering I live with two GSDs myself. They’re one of the breeds that typically gets lumped into this whole, “You must train with a strong hand for strong breeds” stereotypes. Sigh. What a shame.

    • This is exactly what my first vet for my Meteor said… that I had to break this alpha puppy with the primal stare, before he became dangerous. Meteor is a TOY POODLE, and was 2 months old at the time!

  4. This makes me very sad. We were taught to do this with our Shih Tzu when he was a puppy. They taught it in puppy kindergarten and he was our first dog so we didn’t know any better and listened to the “experts”. He did end up being very well behaved but always fighted going on his back even for a belly rub. Maybe this was why…. :-(

  5. I too was taught this technique and used it on a fear-aggressive Great Dane – Pit Bull mix. Once he “submit” I stood up and he launched himself at my face. He mauled me. He bit my face, lip, jawbone, chest, arm, stomach, both legs…until they finally pulled him off me. I can guarantee that it’s not a safe technique.
    We still have vets who use and teach this technique unfortunately.
    We don’t need to bully, assault, scare, injure our dogs for any reason. Otherwise what does that make us?

  6. This story makes me so sad – i have seen so many people try this dominant nonsense on a fearful dog and then wonder why the dog develops either worse fears or aggression. I hope this owner learns to read calming signals so that she can support and guide her dog through such situations and intervene before the puppy feels the need to take matters into its own ‘mouth’. I have been working with socializing my own scardy pup and have had good sucess with positive reinforcement and behavioural therapy, sure it takes more patience than ‘domiance’ training, but it yeilds much better results

  7. IMO, the pups owner didn’t protect her pup nor was she in tune with the pup by allowing someone to rush at the pup when pup was displaying all the signs of fear. Then after that, she apologised to the person coz the pup bit. She is lucky the pup didn’t rip her hand off. Third mistake was alpha roll that went out with the dinosaur. Even the Monks who were way behind the times abandoned the alpha roll.
    My BP rose when I read this article coz of the stupid owner.

  8. I have an alpha minded Shepherd, only pup in litter and not dog socialized or highly people socialized as a surprise during normal vacation time. A gift horse, she was replacement donation dog for my son to have service dog. But I am worried, she is the most stubborn dog to train I ever had (incl an alaskan wolf).
    I don’t use rollover…
    I think it is bizarre twist on wolf behavior so avoided. My sister’s husband was wild animal trainer and never did that type of training. it even when suggested. I did not have this problem with any dogs I have rehabilitated from E list. Mastiff, Chows, Pits, terriers, hounds. Closet to problem child in past was people aggressive Brittany Spaniel.My sons therapy dog was a min pin, and by coincidence his first service dog was a oversize Dobie girl (both were poisoned).She is 5 months old and almost outweighs her sire. Beautiful markings and form. Has euro lines in mother, most her former siblings are still local tri state law enforcement dogs, one is a guide dog.
    But she started marking at showing inappropriate behaviors after I had her boarded for 1 week. She has obsessive water drinking, counter surfing as her main crimes indoors, she is very rough , more than just size and clumsiness. Refusing to stop jump ups which are partial mount attempts half the time, which means the cat and kid wont play with her anymore, she clean bill of general health. She will be first dog of any breed I needed a clawed training clooar for. : ( I had a second hand Shepherd growing up-a big white one. He was never like this.
    I don’t see rollover as a viable training method

    • HI Ginger, I also have a service pup who has sometimes had training difficulties. Do you want to talk about it in more depth?

  9. We were told to do this with our boxer when he was a puppy. Everytime we did it, he jumped back up and tried to bite us. I stopped doing it and he started to behave nicely towards me. My husband continued a bit longer and their problems got even worse. Then he also understood that this is not the correct way. Since then we have used positive training methods only and now we have a very kind 4-year-old boxer!

  10. I worked at a well-known dog daycare & boarding facility and brought my dog to work with me. If I wasn’t in the group with her, she was in one of the boarding cages because there were several other employees who firmly believed in dominance theory. Once someone else let her into the playgroup with one of the employees I knew I didn’t want her with; she was under a year at the time, displaying normal puppy behaviors- high energy, running, chest bumping, etc. Next thing I know, the employee came running to the front desk to tell me that my dog tried to bite her. She insisted that my dog having the zoomies was dominance and in order to teach her to calm down, the employee had held her on the floor. I just looked at her and said, “Good, I’m not sorry she tried to bite you. That’s inappropriate handling.” THANKFULLY there has been no fallout behavioral problems from that incident (for which I can take no credit; it’s simply that my dog has a phenomenally forgiving spirit).

  11. Question – is the baby hold as detrimental as the alpha hold, in your opinion? Our vet showed us the baby hold (cradling the puppy in our arms like a baby, tummy-up, making him look at us, holding it until he stopped fighting) and we used it a few times when our puppy was really wound-up/hyper. It seemed to really work at calming him down and we haven’t noticed any bad effects. He is much calmer now – can’t remember the last time we needed to use the hold. He still appears to love to have his tummy rubbed; he is always positioning his tummy over our hands for a good rub:) But he is only 6 months, so maybe we have done some harm and just haven’t noticed yet? Thank you for clarifying

    • That’s the same as an alpha roll – you’re still restraining him against his wishes to force him to ‘submit’. In some ways it’s worse because the position means he’s closer to your face.

      Rather than trying to restrain him make sure he’s getting enough exercise, and if he gets crazy take him outside to run it off or ignore him jumping and nipping you. Addressing him when he’s nipping and jumping is giving him attention – which is what he wants. Ignoring him until he offers different behavior (sitting, standing calmly, getting a toy) will teach him that it’s those positive choices that work.

  12. We have never used alpha rolls (although I see them regularly and am always torn about whether to say something), and as Amadeus gets older, I get more and more pleased about that. As a little guy, I would have been able to do it, but he’s grown into a big dog (right at 100 lbs at 2 years), and I would not be able to force him down now. Also, he’s a “sensitive soul”, and I’m sure that being manhandled would have seriously harmed our relationship. Using positive methods lets my big boy trust me to not ask him to do anything unsafe and is willing to do what I ask in almost every situation (even when it makes him a little nervous to do so).

  13. Rule #1, know your dog! This person did not! Way too many dogs with the wrong owners. I grew up with GSD’s. A puppy is a puppy and needs to be protected while they are learning! I’m happy The Monks of New Skete updated their books. They still have valuable information! Redirecting a puppy works so much better!

  14. I hate to go contrary (not really). After I got my 6 month old terrier/lab mix from the shelter, she got food aggressive growling and snapping at my hand when it got near her food dish. I grabbed her by the neck and pushed her to the floor – not belly up – I did it once. She’s now a 10 year old sweet puppy and never growled or snapped again.

    • we breed service, hunt and show dogs and the only time we ever put a puppy on it’s back (not on the floor, either, but in a “baby hold” during the multiple-step personality/temperament test we give all our puppies — and that is for a few seconds only. We correct our puppies the same way their mothers do — with a growl or a gruff, low “no”, sometimes with a hold on the neck or muzzle, then a pause and then followed by petting — the mom would lick the pup after a correction, but we’re not quite that doggy ;) And we never correct a dog for being fearful or growling — that’s how people end up with dogs that bite without warning.

      • excellent post. When we were breeding and had pups, we would to each pup every day, pick up, hold, play with feet and tail, turn pup over in our arms and rub tummy, as well as weekly trim nails.

  15. Our first ever vet visit (supposed to be a general “hi, this is us, just want our puppy to know who you are” occasion) ended with the vet grabbing three month old Hayate from the examination table, flipping him down onto his back on the floor and lying on top of him. Our terrified little boy immediately evacuated his bowels, which further infuriated the vet. Hayate had been mouthy when the vet tried to examine his teeth. The vet did this without our permission and insisted that if we didn’t assert our dominance immediately we’d end up having to euthanase him.
    We’d done our research before getting a dog and simply never went back to that vet (although the incident left Hayate with a fear of examination tables we haven’t been able to heal), but I wonder how many other worried first-timers took this vet’s word and trusted his “expertise”?

  16. I took my 4 month old blind moodle to the groomers for the first time to get a hair cut. She Informed me that I was to leave my puppy with her the day because they groom in sections to percent stress. When I returned she told me that my puppy had been naughty when she tried to clip her nails. So the groomer instructed me (not knowing that we do positive reinforcement training) to stick my fingers down her throat when she’s mouths. Luckily Shiloh has such a beautiful nature that it had no effect on her but Needless to say I haven’t been back.

  17. Worked for my Chihuahua, did it twice when she nipped. Hasn’t nipped at me since and she loves her belly rubbed!! Actually, she’ll “show her belly” on command to strangers just to get a belly rub!

  18. WOW, I cannot believe the stories about the vets and groomers and the crap they do to your pets without your knowledge or permission.
    Years ago, we adopted a firm policy NEVER to let our dog(s) out of our site whether at a groomer or vet or where ever. There are facilities out there that will accommodate that policy, albeit, few and far between, however, they are out there. For the sake of your pet(s), I implore you to find them.
    Little off topic but worth it IMO.

  19. There’s an “instructor” in my area who has a tremendous following and has used this technique for at least 30 years. A bunch of us were going to Canada for an obedience show. Practicing at her house. Two Rotts started eyeing each other and posturing. They were maybe 15 feet away from each other. The one growled a bit. This “instructor” had the owner flip the dog, sit on its chest, and start slapping it. This was an 18 month old dog. After a couple of minutes, the dog went at the owner. The owner got maybe two dozen stitches. Owner and dog were separated.

    The “instructor” started telling the owner how the dog was dangerous, etc. I told her that she was full of it. That the dog though it was going to die and was simply protecting itself. At that point I realized that I had crossed a boundary with this “instructor” and simply left in disgust.

    About three months later the dog was placed in another home. Dog was NEVER a problem.

  20. Why are people so stupid? This pictued pup looks like a lhasa or a shitzu seriously this is all you could do? Wow I have a Lhasa and had I done this to him I would of been bit time and time again. He does have attitude at times mostly when startled but still I would never do this !

  21. I was taught alpha roll pinning and hanging by collar with our current Doberman by breeder/trainer. We were told we had spoiled the dog and he needed to be put in his place etc. Had some private lessons with this person who did multiple pinnings and some hangs by collar. I did not like what was happening and what happened is our dog turned to be very aggressive and quick to react to any threats or possible signs of a pin or roll etc. He was neutered and the day of and after I was bite multiple times and had numerous close calls because I’m sure now the dog was feeling vulnerable and any actions that he though could be a pin or roll he was reacting. Went to a pretty world renown behaviorist, did major evaluations prior and spent an afternoon with the behaviorist. We were at our wits end and the dog was close to being considered to be euthanized. It was so apparent what the issue was and the behaviorist saw it long before we were there in our evaluation questionnaire. we were provided with solutions, no pinning, no alpha rolls, give the dog his place of security( In our case it’s his dog pillow) so the dog always knows that’s his place and he will not be bothered there. never bother him on the bed, call him off if you want him to come etc, Find a new trainer that did not train with pinning, alpha rolls etc and back to basics and train and time. We did all, new trainer who’s been amazing and actually is a very good friend, consistent obedience training and try and continue each day since even if it’s just a sit at street corners on a walk. What we have is a completely changed 180 dog. Hard to believe it’s even the same dog. I maybe didn’t mention? This is a Doberman, he’s our 5th doberman in 30+ years so we are not unfamiliar with the breed or dogs in general before this dog. Now? He’s the best Doberman we have ever had hands down. Lesson learned source out other clients of trainer, try and speak with owners and meet other dogs that were trained by the trainer. If something doesn’t seem just right? it may not be, ask questions, do your homework, no different then choosing a breed of dog and/or a breeder for getting your choice of dog….and last but not least don’t alpha roll or pin your dog…..I agree totally with this OP explaining not to alpha roll.

  22. I was taught an Alpha roll for my CGC class but not quite the same. Also it was a training class that was reward based so immediately after there was treats and praise. “Jesse” was on his side only for a few seconds and it took several attempts before we got it right. He is an excellent rescue. This was never taught in any basic class I took with my Dobie or Rotti’s (3). Only my last rescue a Black & Tan, Rotti mix has his CGC. We told NOT to roll them completely on their backs.

  23. As far as some of the comments go, people need to realize that vets and groomers are not trainers, vets and groomers deal with every type of dog on a daily basis, and they need to deal with them quickly. When a dog is seriously being disobedient in a vets office (biting, jumping, generally not allowing a vet to do their work) its not the vets job to train your dog, so the vet will pin the dog down/alpha roll if need be to get whatever needs to be done, done. This is really the vets only option for the 20mins they have with you unless your dog can be well behaved about the whole ordeal, the vets do notice when dogs might react so they can save their own skin from dogs who have no training at all. When a vet notices something about the dogs attitude they are probably right, they were trained to fix physical wounds on a dog, not mental ones. You wouldn’t want your trainer performing surgery would you?

    • totally dis-agree with you. It is not the vets job to pin or roll your dog over.
      The owner should be in with the vet and dog. If the vet tries to strong-arm a dog, the owner should put an end to the session right there and leave with the dog.
      IMO, in a case like that, the vet can do much damage that will stay for a long time if not forever and change the demeanour of the dog.
      I would not stand for that for 1 second.

      • I see what you are saying, however, vets have to deal with owners far less responsible than you, and far less caring about how their pet is treated as long as they aren’t puking up blood, many different types of people show up in a vets office, including ones who wouldn’t go at all if it wasn’t illegal, or farm dogs, or outdoor dogs, or “junkyard dogs” if a vet needs to be quick, safe and helpful, and neither dog nor owner will cooperate, what choice does the vet have? Which is why in vet school, vets need to learn a “vet hold” so the dog can’t hurt himself or anyone around him. I’ve heard of instances where a dog is so poorly behaved that the owner can’t handle it at all and the vet needs to do his work in the owners car. That isn’t the vets fault, its the owners, but the vet still needs to know how to do it safely and quickly.

      • Yes, you make some very good points. I do agree that the vet and the dog must remain safe at all times, however, pinning and/or rolling is not the answer. Only 2 thoughts come to mind; have the tech assist in holding the dog or sedate the dog.
        Yes, there are many, many ignorant stupid pet owners out there.

  24. Breed Labradors for years. I would do this to each puppy from the day they were born until eyes opened. All my puppies loved th have the belly rubbed and grew up enjoying it but this is not a move to do on an adult dog.

    • excellent post. As I mentioned yesterday or day before, when we were breeding, we used to pick up each pup every day to rub tummy, play with paws and tail, clip nails weekly.
      Yes I agree that this is NOT something you do with an adult dog that has not had this attention as a pup.

      • What you’re talking about isn’t an alpha roll – it’s socialization. Accustom ingredients the puppy to being handled I’m a calm positive way.

        That’s very different from flipping an energetic dog or pup on its back, forcibly, and (typically) getting in its face.

  25. My 11 yr old female alpha shepherd mix has on several occasions met strange dogs (especially puppies) while out walking and the other dogs end up on their backs while she stands over them. I don’t know if she is placing them in that position or if they are doing it themselves. She has never hurt another dog.

  26. My former veterinarian boss would tell clients to do this with their dogs, actually reprimanded me in front of a client when I tried to offer safer, more positive ways to teach.

  27. No wonder so many people were bitten. You never force a dog down in a submission pose. Makes them fear for their life and can make them more aggressive.

  28. We adopted a terrified Jack x. To overcome a lot of her fear I taught her to “check it out” This means she only has to look at something and not go any nearer than comfortable for her. We then move a bit closer and I taught her to “touch” with her nose. When she is quite near whatever it is and not so worried I command her to touch then it turns into a game for her. We have used this with parked tractor trailers which have suddenly appeared on our walk, scary tarpalins and other things too numerous to mention. In addition we of course go to regular training classes. She has turned into a friendly confident dog and is a pleasure to have.

  29. Pingback: Alpha Rolls - Dog Forum

  30. To the people who claim that this is a good idea for puppies, just not adult dogs… Of course the dog becomes compliant — you are instilling it with fear and you are many times its size. The puppy may not bite you, but when they’re long gone out of your breeder hands and a reactive mess as adults, they *will* bite someone else when put in a stressful enough situation.

    • I believe some are saying they lay the newborn pups on their backs for TNT runs, and they continue this as the puppy grows. They aren’t using the position as a response to u wanted behavior, but just using it as a socialization process. Many problems with dogs is a result of the person who allowed the breeding. They don’t take the time nor have the knowledge to do what should be done to help the pups become healthy, adjusted, socialized adult family members. Rubbing their feet, handling their mouths, etc, as tiny pups will help them become accustomed to a bet handling them in the same manner.

      For those saying they successfully used this roll with their pup does not equate to it being a good and Roanoke method. Great, successful adults have com from horrific childhood homes, but that doesn’t mean we should raise children in abusive, drug addicted, homes. A broken clock is correct twice a day..,,

  31. good post. Alpha Rolls = terrible training tactic.
    When we had puppies, we had a family come to us who had to put their pup (from another breeder) down due to alpha roll damage. The alpha roll was suggested by their breeder.
    We educated this family for several sessions and finally saw they were to be a good home. They, indeed, were a GREAT home. Unfortunately the first breeder gave them poor advice and the pup paid the ultimate price. Today, our (their) pup is happy, healthy and living a fantastic life with a wonderful family.

  32. Pingback: Leadership 101 | Paws Abilities

  33. Thank you for another great post. People need to know that force and fear are not needed to train any animal. Because they are not needed, morally they should not be used.

  34. These comments stem from a warped picture and humanitarian hogwash. Yes, most dogs are not wolves, but they are NOT human either. The dog already bit, the timing to correct the dog properly (before the bite) passed, You cannot correct a behavior problem using positive reinforcement. A redirect with reward is actually encouraging and REWARDING the unwanted behavior. I challenge ANY of the people here to prove yourself. All I see is emotionally driven statements geared to support a all positive mindset. EVERY DOG IS DIFFERENT, LET ME SAY THAT AGAIN… EVERY DOG IS DIFFERENT. If you treat/train every dog as if they are nothing more than cute teddy bears, your going to end up in trouble. Period! If you have NEVER seen a domestic dog pin another dog, it clearly shows your inexperience as you most definitely have not been around enough dogs. Do ALL dogs need to be pinned? NO, but that is no excuse to attempt to eliminate the method all together. AGAIN INEXPERIENCE!
    Bad timing, wrong dog for the method, Not matching the right methods with the right dog, that is the critique of a true professional in this field in this instance. Bleeding heart propaganda comes from anything but a true professional dog trainer.

    Millions of dogs end up in a kill shelter because of the all positive movement. They paid for the ignorance of these so called trainers with their lives.. LITERALLY. <<< There is is an emotional but factual statement just in case you do not understand anything that is not emotionally driven.

    I will refer you to 2 different articles that make my point. One I wrote and one from Ivan Balabanov (WORLD CHAMPION DOG TRAINER).

    I hope this gives you all some clear reality in the modern day cluded world of dog training.

  35. I appreciated this post. My dad has always used this technique to “put the fear of god” into the dogs we had growing up. In hindsight, I think the reason it was effective is that is was used extremely rarely (once or twice in the lifetime of a dog) and only in specific highly important circumstances (going out into the busy highway that bordered our yard). The message the dogs got was this: something about that road caused my alpha to lose his ever-loving mind and become a murderous terrifying beast. I never want to go there again. The important detail was that once away from the road, my dad immediately transformed back into the gentle, kind, and patient leader he always was, so the dog associated the terrifying experience with the road, and not with him. It became a permanent boundary, never to be crossed, even with people. (My parents live in the country, so the dog could run and go for walks with us for a mile in three other directions.) This article helped me think about this (perfectly normal, to me) training technique in a new way. I understand why it worked in these unique circumstances, and why it’s not appropriate or advisable for most other dogs. Where I live now, I don’t need to induce a terror response to a certain location or event to keep my dog alive, and I certainly wouldn’t want to do alpha rolls in lots of different situations and make her think I am unpredictably violent when displeased! I’d already intuited from playing with my dog as a puppy that she really hated being put on her back, but this helps me better understand and articulate why I don’t do it anymore.

  36. Adam Bartlett

    Ahh dominance, one of the few subjects all people around animals love to discuss (or hate) yet almost never actually understand… It’s truly a pity!

    1st- I’m a service dog trainer (currently) & (formerly) specialized in behavioral issues/rehab & especially aggression in animals but mainly canines….

    When I 1st started dealing with animals my vet assured me (& the rest of the family), that we must dominate through force & enforced submission i.e. what we claim are alpha rolls…

    I can most really attest that technique will get you or someone else bit & most certainly will not resolve any behavioral issues, much less true disturbed behaviors! I received more then my fair share of severe bites before I gave up that foolishness!

    The simple truth is dogs are social hierarchy creatures that use a complex series of dominance/submissive behaviors & language that has almost nothing to do with such potentially dangerous, even deadly fads as enforced submission!

    This article is bang on describing the only circumstances an animal enforced a behavior like a dominance roll is as a final stage of a life/death struggle before finally killing the other…

    If the dominated animal surrenders wholly & unreservedly, they may escape immediate death but few animals are naturally submissive enough to avoid severe injury from a dominating animal that will not tolerate any deviation from 100% submission! Every animal no matter what degree of dominance knows these truths quite naturally & will do everything in their power to escape, including playing dead…

    I’ll tell you a quick story of a Wheaton & a Pitbull (2 breeds that I can’t recommend strongly enough should never live together); the Wheaton was nasty (aggressive/fear/dominance & psychotic), old dog & the pit was easy going generally but tolerated no aggression towards her or others…

    The Wheaton attacked said pit puppy mercilessly until pit had enough & basically said let’s have it out here & now! The Wheaton being crazy couldn’t back down (too much fear, aggression, etc & crazy) & the pit being a bit demanding (insisted on complete submission) started a fight that couldn’t end well!

    The pit’s 1st few efforts to settle things without injury didn’t get anywhere & the Wheaton kept returning for blood revenge; after a few rounds the pit started actually injuring! 1st, a couple punctures, then a few more, then she tore the Wheaton’s throat open (in such a way that she could of killed at any moment if she choose but didn’t)…

    By that point, the Wheaton finally backed down or so it seemed… Exactly as many dogs have done which is mistakenly taken for submission… a submissive doesn’t resume eye contact while a dominate playing dead will glance periodically looking for the best moment to strike!

    I went in to break it up since it appeared they were finally agreeing… That moment the pit released & looked away the Wheaton lunged up spreading blood everywhere) & tried to tear my face off… As a true dominant, she recognized my dominance over the pit & immediately tried to even things by taking me on (she always had a thing about me as I was the next lowest pack member)…

    By the time we managed to get her off me, several people had been severely bitten (by Wheaton) & the pit had almost killed the Wheaton… neither the Wheaton nor the pit could tolerate the severe dominance rupture that day caused & would just have to be isolated for the reminder of their lives…

    Dominance is far more complicated then we humans typically grasp! The most dominant dog I ever saw, never once used his teeth (or strength, etc) to secure his dominance! He had a simple way of patience, silliness, body language & 100% confidence to ensure he was always in control!

    I learned that communicating dominance has far more to do with body language & our actual typical behavior then any of those so called dominance tricks suggest. I can use my eyes alone (though other body parts help) to communicate my dominance & I almost never see any challenge to it!

    More then anything I learned that we really need to understand animals’ better… The number 1 dominance problem I see is from free feeding! In pack environments dominance describes who eats 1st & when submissive eats! In the typical dysfunctional home, animals are typically fed 1st & will even hound/steal food from humans without 2nd thought!

    You combine that with allowing the animal to control where people go & who is allowed primary access (growls when moved on furniture), runs through doorways 1st (even shoving you out the way), etc…

    It’s no surprise that there’s confusion on the animals part about where leadership lays! My dogs are constantly looking to me to say where we go, what we do, when we eat (never before me), etc;

    I never have to do silly dominance rolls or abuse my animals, & I’m never disputed in my position in the pack, even with animals that have dominance issues…

    Typically just strong between & maintaining eye contact is enough to correct most confusion immediately… though I recommend caution! If you can’t recognize true aggression & you use a dominance play on a fearful/aggressive animal, you WILL more then likely be bite for your effort…

    A dangerous dog who’s challenging a human must be carefully respected &, yes, also corrected but that requires a skilled hand & responsible dedicated owners! I can disarm that dog by temporarily submitting & then establishing a healthy environment where the dog chooses to accept my place but ANY time you force a dog to give up, you either break the dog or get bite!

    In my decades experience I’ve learned some simple truths; the vast majority of dogs have no interest in being the alpha, it’s a role few do well with (the alpha I mentioned earlier is 1 example)!

    Typically they become aggressive, fearful, anxious, etc. because they are not meant to be leaders… However, almost every animal no matter how submissive will try to take on that role in absence of clear leadership! The solution is to fix yourself prior to dealing with the dog!

    In very rare cases with true dominance (& intolerance) aggression where the animal is truly dangerous & the last step prior to euthanasia (only with right owners & professional help); there can be a place to force dominance but even then I don’t roll the animal!

    In limited cases, I set up a dominance challenge & then quite literally fight the dog to the end of the fight but it’s important note that the extent is limited to elevating the dog off it’s front feet onto it’s hind legs (safely with harness, may require muzzle) & refusing to give a single inch until the dog backs down, at which point it’s rewarded & play is initiated…

    But those are cases where a dogs innate dominance struggle is not effected by fear/inept handling, is done under knowledgeable professionals care, is never intended to harm the dog (this is not hanging the dog by a collar & for dogs with bad joints you’ll need to actually support the dog’s weight)!

    It’s solely done to give a dominance struggle the chance to complete it’s course; if you are at this point where all other methods have failed, can physically win the fight & the alternative is euthanasia, then in those limited cases finishing the fight can have meaningful effects but isn’t a cureall!

    If you don’t fix the other problems, i.e. the ones that caused the issue in the 1st place, this won’t work & there’s a good chance someone will get hurt!

    Reality is true dominance aggression is really quite rare, think about it if dominance aggression was common in a pack environment then you would be hard pressed to maintain the pack & the animals would be seriously hurt, if not killed! Realistically in nearly every aggression case, it’s far more likely the animal is just terrified & trying to figure out how to survive!

    If an animal is facing it’s mortality, it will do whatever possible to preserve itself! If you are doing something that remarkably increases the amount of fear the animal is experiencing, you’ll see the animal lash out!

    It’s exactly why when the dichotomy of the pit dominating the Wheaton sufficiently to gain outward compliance & “playing dead” caused the Wheaton to go for the person she thought she was higher ranking then but that controlled the threat against her!

    In all likelihood if I hadn’t intervened at that moment, the Wheaton would likely have resumed the attack against the pit the moment the pit’s back turned in the foolish hope of killing the deadly threat before it returned; then the pit would of upped the anti again & likely killed Wheaton…

    All in all, there were no good solutions that day & the consequences extended far beyond it! People were badly hurt (which is inexcusable), the animals were forever physically & psychologically harmed (just as inexcusable) & neither could live together safely again in the future!

    It’s ironic that this whole fiasco started with our vet teaching us to use dangerous enforced dominating on a high risk dog with severe fear, anxiety, aggression issues (& I might add severely destructive breeding practices & a generally psychotic dog)…

    So yeah, if that doesn’t tell you why you are best to leave these issues to responsible professionals, I don’t know what will!

    BTW- I will not debate whether the Wheaton was crazy or the pit good/bad; they were both dogs in the wrong, unhealthy environment, acting as best they can! However I can definitely state the Wheaton was nuts, apart from the issue of bad handling, it was not sane, healthy or normal; & I have the professional/legal documents to prove it! Bad inbreeding aggressive, unstable dogs over multiple generations will do that & I certainly see the Wheaton us as much a victim as the rest of us!

    But there no doubt in my mind, some dogs are simply too dangerous, aggressive & unstable to be allowed to exist in our society… Sadly, it’s typically not the dog’s fault but the fact remains that animals like that can cause way too much harm to be allowed to just go about it’s psychotic or otherwise disturbed life! Realistically, if you aren’t a skilled professional, willing to turn your life upside down for the slim chance at rehab or work with competent rescue groups that will do the work; you & the animal’s well being would be better off if the animal was humanely euthanized!

    I’m sorry for the harsh words of reality but if that animal mauls a small child or other person, then I’ld be far sorrier! People need to respect that despite being loved, they are still animals with high potential for serious harm if allowed to continue on such paths!


    • This is all an incredible load of nonsense.

      You are talking about doing exactly what this article is against – seemingly without being aware of it.

      I’d suggest you do some more reading on this site, specifically about the dominance myth.

  37. Pingback: Dominanz | Chakanyuka

  38. I was never taught to do it but thought of it myself (at age 11), I am very grateful it has not backfired as my Spaniel x grew up. I would not use the method as a way of correcting her bad/aggressive behaviour, rather I would randomly roll her over and hold her down in the middle of a ruff and tumble play session before we continue playing. I am not sure why but she would not hurt me no matter what, I could say it worked for me, but I’m almost certain it was something else I did that established obedience and “packing order”, guess Ill never know what.

  39. Hi, I have a 2 year old Boston Terrier, very social and active pup, we only have one dog so I can surely say he is a spoiled baby that likes things done his way. What wonders me, everyone describes their pups getting aggressive or let’s say not too pleased by being put on the back but mine would come to me and ask me to do it to him coz it means the play time is, the belly is all open for rubs and kisses. Does this mean my dog shows that he feels secure around me and accepts me as a leader, because he is a stubborn little thing I must say

    • Chiara, yes your dog feels very secure around you if willingly rolls over for belly rubs. A dog on his back is the most vulnerable position they can be in. Belly rubs and treats are the ways to go.

  40. Hi to everyone! So I have a very well trained and truly loving 7 year old GSD. He has an amazing temperament and has always been socialized to people and other dogs as well. We recently got a 4 month old female husky pup who is also a sweetheart most of the time, however I have noticed her to display dominant behavior. Of course she loves to play with my GSD but I think he is getting burned out with the face and tail nibbling. Has anyone felt with this in the past or have any tips on how to get her to lay off of him a bit? I feel that my GSD is worried that he will get scolded for telling her to leave him alone. Thanks for the help!

  41. Years ago when it was all the rage I had a Labrador puppy at class just really for socialisation as Labs are so good, anyways I was told to roll him. He was a big puppy, I tried to roll him he rolled with me as well and we finished up in a heap on the floor laughing and barking. We weren’t invited back.

  42. At the dog park my dog is selectively aggressive. She will suddenly flip a dog on its back and mouth the dog. Scaring everyone involved. I stop it and she doesn’t bite the other dog or anyone. I don’t go to the dog park anymore. So far she hasn’t drawn blood from any dog or person. But what if the other dog is aggressive? Bad outcome

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