Alpha roll

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

The alpha roll is an outdated and controversial dog training technique. The theory behind the training method is to teach the dog that the trainer is the pack leader (or alpha animal). Misbehaving dogs are pinned on their back and held in that position, sometimes by the throat.


The alpha roll was first popularized by the Monks of New Skete, in the 1978 book "How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend",[1] however, in the 2002 second edition of the book, the monks recanted and strongly discouraged the technique, describing it as "too risky and demanding for the average dog owner."[2] Although the 1978 book is widely regarded as a classic in dog training literature and highly recommended for people trying to better understand their dog, the alpha roll is now highly controversial among animal behaviorists because the theory of canine dominance has since been questioned. In the original context, the alpha roll was meant to be used only in the most serious cases.[3]

The theory behind the alpha roll is based on a research study of captive wolves kept in an area too small for their numbers and composed of members that wouldn't be found together in a wild pack. These conditions resulted in increased numbers of conflicts that scientists today know are not typical of wolves living in the wild.[4] Behaviors seen in wolves (specifically the alpha roll) living in atypical social groups and crowded conditions do not translate to domestic dog training, especially because using the technique can be harmful to both the handler and the dog.[5]


It has been argued by some that a dog will only forcibly flip another onto its back during a serious fight where the intent may be to kill the opponent.[6]

The name "alpha roll" is considered to be a misnomer by some wolf researchers because the practice when used as a behavioral correction bears little relation to the natural behavior shown by wild wolves. David Mech refers to this behavior as "pinning", a dominance behavior.[7]

While "alpha rolling" can appear to be effective in the short term, there are serious questions about the safety of implementing this technique, as well as potential long-term negative behavioral effects of doing so[8]. It seems like this technique can cause more harm than good.

Contemporary use[edit]

The use of the "alpha roll" is currently viewed unfavorably by the science-based training community as an outdated technique.[9] In addition, the same scientist, David Mech, who pioneered the theory of "alpha" behavior has since debunked his own theory. [10]

Position statements on dominance released by AVSAB[3] question the science behind training techniques that rely on dominance theory. They recommend the alpha roll should never be used by inexperienced trainers, and never to correct undesired behavior caused by the dog's failure to understand a command. Used in a controlled way and coupled with praise and rewards when the dog changes its behavior appropriately, it may have positive effect, but there is disagreement about its long-term effectiveness and safety. A 2009 study[citation needed] by the 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. The study also examined the development of hierarchy in domestic dogs and found that no definitive hierarchical structure developed within the group, leading study authors to question the alpha role in this group.[11]


  1. ^ The Monks of New Skete (1978). How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend. Little, Brown & Company. ISBN 0-316-60491-7.
  2. ^ The Monks of New Skete (2002). How To Be Your Dog's Best Friend (2 ed.). Little, Brown & Company. ISBN 0-316-61000-3. In the original edition of this book, we recommended a technique we termed "the alpha-wolf rollover"...We no longer recommend this technique and strongly discourage its use to our clients.... The conditions in which it might be used effectively are simply too risky and demanding for the average dog owner; there are other ways of dealing with problem behavior that are much safer and, in the long run, just as effective.
  3. ^ a b American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. "Position statement on the use of dominance theory in behavior modification of Animals" (PDF). American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. Archived from the original on 16 December 2011. Retrieved 2 July 2016.
  4. ^ Adam Miklosi (2007). Dog Behavior, Evolution and Cognition. Oxford University Press. pp. 83–93. ISBN 978-0-19-295852-5.
  5. ^ Yin, S. "New study finds popular "Alpha Dog" training techniques can cause more harm than good". Archived from the original on 15 August 2011. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  6. ^ Wilde, N. (2001). "Leadership vs. Dominance". Retrieved 8 October 2007.
  7. ^ Mech, L.D. (1999). "Alpha status, dominance, and division of labor in wolf packs". Canadian Journal of Zoology. 77: 1196–1203. doi:10.1139/z99-099.
  8. ^ "New Study Finds Popular "Alpha Dog" Training Techniques Can Cause More Harm than Good". Dr. Sophia Yin. 9 March 2009. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  9. ^ Cameron, Ross (27 September 2016). "Guys, We Need to Talk About Behaviorists". CCPDT. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  10. ^ eduweb (15 February 2008), "Alpha" Wolf?, retrieved 22 February 2019
  11. ^ Bradshaw, John W.S.; Blackwell, Emily J.; Casey, Rachel A. "Dominance in domestic dogs—useful construct or bad habit?". Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research. 4 (3): 135–144. doi:10.1016/j.jveb.2008.08.004.