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Why you shouldn't alpha roll your dog

When I ask “how do you correct your dog” on a consult, sometimes I hear, “I roll him on his back until he submits”. I hear this daily from owners with dogs who have aggression due to dominance or fear. In most cases, the owners have tried to correct aggression by “rolling” their dogs and think their dog is just a lost cause because they will get right back up and show aggression again. The old time theories were to “alpha roll” your dog into submission. If a person had a dominant dog, they were often told to roll that dog over onto their backs and hold them in that position until they stopped struggling. This, in theory, was to make a dog see you as a leader. Unfortunately, many trainers and owners paid the price for misinterpreting canine body language.

Too many people think a dog on their back is submitting when they are actually in a defensive position. If you watch two dogs fighting or “rough playing” until the end, you will understand why this is incorrect. A conflict usually involves two dogs, the “attacker” and the “challenger”. The “attacker” generally is on top and standing over the “challenger”. The “challenger” is usually on their backs, so they can use their paws to defend themselves and if the chance arises, they can inflict a fatal bite to the neck. The fight does not end with the “challenger” on their back; the “attacker” will not end it until that dog is lying on its side. A dog on their side has surrendered and admitted defeat.

I had the opportunity to meet a trainer early in my career who still had the scars on his face from an “alpha roll” gone wrong. He admitted in hindsight, he should not have attempted to “roll” this dog and put himself and the owners at risk. When you put a dog in a defensive position, they will try to fight you; it’s natural. In most cases, people receive multiple bites to the forearms upon releasing the dog and in some cases, the dog will get the chance to inflict a damaging bite to the face.

I try to explain to people that first; your dog should not fear you! Wrestling your dog to the ground and trying to overpower them is pointless and causes more damage psychologically. You simply cannot win a fight with a dog without getting hurt. A dog generally will not take on a challenge they cannot win and people should learn this too. Even the smallest dog can inflict damaging results with their teeth. Secondly, if you have to keep correcting, you’re obviously doing something wrong!

Every dog has a different personality, it does not matter what breed it is. If you try to “overpower” a fragile dog, you will make them a fear biter. If you try to “overpower” a dog that has a high fight drive, you will definitely get hurt and normally not just a small wound. Your best chance at helping your dog is to contact a professional that can “read” your dog and work with you to rehabilitate them and start a proper program.

Tara, Brandie, and the pack

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