What is an Alpha Roll and Why it Should Never be Done
An example of a ''submissive roll''
Dogs are social animals that among each other follow a complex, yet fluid hierarchy; despite what you may have heard, they weren't put on earth to try to challenge and dominate humankind. While dogs derive from wolves, they are quite different entities. The first studies on wolf pack behavior were conducted by Shenkel but they involved wolves in captivity. David Mech was able to study wolves in a more natural setting which brought a whole different portrait of the behavior of wolves in the pack. Among the interesting body language and social interactions among wolves, the alpha roll in particular, seemed to grab a lot of attention.
The alpha roll is believed to be carried out by a higher ranking canine and consists of pinning a subordinate canine to the ground, rolling it on its back. Not many are aware of the fact that this is usually a method of last resort used quite sparingly and under some extreme circumstances. There is still much controversy on the subject with claims of wolves only using this method with the intent to kill the opponent dog and claims of wolves even never really resorting to such rolls.
In dogs, much more common than a dog forcefully pinning down another dog, are natural and spontaneous alpha rolls. In this case, a submissive dog will automatically and voluntarily roll on its back and show its stomach area up as a way to surrender and demonstrate submission towards another dog or person.
In a domestic setting, an alpha roll is accomplished by humans by forcibly pinning the dog on its back, with often the owner straddling the dog or staring it into submission. In some cases, the pinned dog is kept down until he stops struggling. While the alpha roll method was once recommended by various dog trainers (there's a chapter recommending this method in a book by the Monks of New Skete) to help owners establish leadership, nowadays, with the dominance myth debunked, many have fortunately come to realize how dangerous and outright wrong using an alpha roll may be.
In some circumstances, alpha rolls have exacerbated aggression in dogs, and in some cases dogs have resorted to bite the owner in the face, something the dog would not have resorted to if the alpha roll did not occur in the first place. The reason why dogs may react to alpha rolls in such a manner is because they often may react out of fear and defensiveness.
Alpha rolls may also cause the dog to lose trust in their handler. These dogs will learn to fear their owner, believing him or her to be unjust and quite unpredictable. The owner, therefore, is perceived as a bully, somebody who they no longer find pleasure training with. The bond between dog and owner may be really hurt as well.
While alpha rolling are used by people of television shows, dog owners should never attempt to alpha roll their dogs. This could turn into serious injury and may even turn fatal. There are several safer and more effective ways to train a dog using positive training methods which modern professional dog behaviorists and dog trainers may recommend.