Alpha Roll at Blog Paws

Alpha Roll at Blog Paws
This is not the dog I'm writing about, this is what an alpha roll looks like

I cringed at Blog Paws 2012. Hundreds of pet bloggers converged on Salt Lake City, June 21-23.

I was walking down a hallway with my digital recorder to interview Paris Parmenter, of and author of "Barkonomics" when a little Pomeranian bolted to the end of the leash and gave me a sort of half-hearted bark. The dog's owner instantly  squated down, and gently rolled over the dog and held the dog in place on the dog's back.

Gentle roll or not - it's what's referred to an alpha roll, rolling the dog on his (or her) back. She held the dog there as I also squated, and then sat on the ground attempting to engage her in conversation.

I couldn't help it.

I asked why she was rolling her dog over, as she continuing to hold the dog (who was not struggling).

She responded that this way the dog would learn not to protect her.

I suggested that the truth is that her dog is not trying to protect her but instead fearful (explaining the mildly aggressive response). I asked who offered this misinformation to her, and she said "my dog trainer." I tried to tell her this thinking was very cutting edge around 1940. Today, most enlightened professionals have long lost those views and techniques.

When she finally (after about a minute) she let go of her dog, I asked for a treat.

Her dog came up to me, and sat when asked, for the yummy. Still hesitant about me, the pup was happy to visit with Paris. I suggested, that he dog is more likely "concerned" about men. And the owner, said "yes."

I think the owner knew the dog is fearful, but also apparently believed her trainer. I suggested that rolling the dog over might make her dog more fearful, and might eventually even cause mistrust in her and certainly there's no real helpful message being communicated having anything to do with protecting her. I suggested that if 100 strangers - especially men - offered a yummy tidbit, and she continues to take her dog places where she can set her pup up for positive experiences, eventually her (moderately) fearful dog will 'get over it.'

I don't believe she bought what I said....and probably just thought I was being rude and nosy. And I kind of was - but then this was at Blog Paws, an educational conference of pet bloggers....I realize the same thing might have occurred at a dog trainer conference. Obviously, some trainers are still espousing these antiquated theories. I was later told that a colleague, certified dog behavior consultant, had a similar conversation with this dog's owner. Maybe by the both of us independently speaking to her with some logic - we made some sort of impact, I'm not so sure.

My guess is that this trainer believes alpha rolls demonstrate our dominance. Of course, that is ridiculous - while offering dogs consistent direction is a good thing, we are not dogs....and dogs know that. There is no reason to even attempt to be "dominant" over dogs. The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has a great paper on the topic of dominance.

I don't mean to call anyone out with a blog (In fact, clearly this individual owner cared greatly about her dog). My hope is others will understand, and if you think about it logically - it makes sense...rolling a dog over never communicates the message intended unless your message is to actually be adversarial.


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  • I'm so glad you're helping to put this myth in mothballs! With wolves, the alpha does not force a subordinate wolf into rolling over ... the lower-ranked wolf flips himself over in submission. The alpha roll can trigger an aggressive response in dogs, as it can be frightening for them. Especially when working with fearful dogs, it can make fear much worse.

    Plus, it's just lousy communication. I was once called in on an aggression case in which a Jack Russell Terrier was attacking other dogs in the family. The owners were alpha rolling him, and the attacks were getting worse. When I got there, the terrier launched at another dog, ripped his ear, ran to the owner, and flipped upside down. The owners had not taught him to stop fighting, they had taught him to flip upside down when he was finished! It was not their fault -- they had been taught this by a trainer. Hopefully with you continuing to get the word out, folks will realize there are positive ways to address these issues that don't include alpha rolls on the menu.

  • Thank you Teoti for chiming in....By the way, Teoti is a past president of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, quite qualified to chime in!

  • I don't know any trainers who do an "alpha roll," and I know a lot of trainers! I have had a couple clients who tried to do it, and as I explain it, the dog will typically just get up more frustrated. And of course the obvious, which is they can get bit

    I do teach dogs "settle" by calmly positioning them on their side, once they already know "down," this is a useful one for things like examining your dogs body, or just having them "settle" so they're down comfortably for a while.

    However, I think it's easy to disagree that you should be "dominant" over your dog, because in the sense of "the dog deferring to you," and control over resources, than yes you should be dominant. Without the emotional connotations, dominant just means predominant or more powerful. We impose our own rules upon dogs from day one. As my dad used to say, "This isn't a democracy." We all want to be the dogs leader- How we get there is the difference.

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    Let's hope the owner of the dog blogs about cats.

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