The Alpha Roll, A Dog Training Fail



Honestly, it sounds like bad sushi. In reality it’s simply bad dog training.

An alpha roll is dog-directed human aggression. It’s when a person tackles, knocks over, or picks up and slams a dog to the ground, pinning him there. Variations include the human showing his teeth, growling, and / or putting his face next to the dog’s. I was once instructed to bite my dog’s neck. She looked at my like I was an idiot, which I was.

Do not do this. Period.

It is dangerous to the dog. Depending on the force used it can strain joints and break bones. It is also dangerous to the person doing it. If you’re lucky the dog will simply think you’re stupid (as mine did back in the day). More than likely, though, your dog will try to defend himself. They do that with their teeth. Your arm and hands are good targets. If you go for the face-near-face version of the move, then it’s your face that could end up bloodied.

Plus, alpha rolls are ineffective. They do not teach your dog that what he just did was wrong. Anger-driven attacks are random and emotional. Effective punishment is consistent, immediate, and measured (Think: video games and red light cameras). Even the noblest attempts at punishment-based or balanced dog training have gaping holes and terrible side effects. At best alpha rolls teach your dog that you are weird. At worst they teach him that you are dangerous and unpredictable, not to be trusted.

Alpha rolls turn us into buffoons. Actually, it’s the trainers who convince us to do them that turn us into buffoons. Question the trainer who has you yell “baaaa” at your dog or pin him to the ground while growling. If it feels ridiculous to do those things, trust me, you look ridiculous doing them. Just don’t. And, if the trainer’s answer is that momma dogs discipline their puppies that way, fire them on the spot. Mamma dogs also eat their puppies’ poop. Case closed. You’re a human being. Not a dog.

What was your dog doing that led you to become a cartoon version of yourself and alpha roll him? Now ask yourself this: what should your dog have been doing instead? That’s real dog training.  Did the dog growl over a toy? Okay, not nice. Let’s teach him to bring the toy to you. I can show you how. It’s totally doable. No need to burden yourself with that dominant dog training nonsense. Just train. You’re smart enough, I promise. Is your dog ignoring you, running away from you, stealing things, eating poop (I think we covered that one), or generally being unruly? Leave the rolls on the sushi cart. Now. Train. Your. Dog.  What do you want him to do? Look at you? Run to you? Fetch your things? Quit the shit show and settle down? Those are all trainable tasks. You can do it with easy (yes easy) positive reinforcement methods.

I like my clients. I want you to look smart. I want you to discover how smart your dog is, too. More than anything I want you and your dog to have a happy, peaceful, and safe life together. Your dog deserves that. And you certainly do.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in the use of positive reinforcement techniques to help aggressive and fearful dogs. No actual sushi was harmed in the making of this blog.