The Alpha Roll technique of dealing with aggressive behavior in dogs has been a staple in dog training for many years. However, the technique of alpha rolling your dog has lost favor among amateur and professional dog trainers. Trainers now consider the technique dangerous for both dog owners and their dogs.
There are alternatives to the alpha roll that can be just as effective. Dog owners and trainers alike should employ one of these alternative techniques to the alpha roll.
- Interrupt the unwanted behavior
- Remove yourself from the situation
- Schedule alternative activities that break the cycle of behaviors
- Use your voice to control the situation
- Change the stimulation. Go for a walk!
- Don’t work too long. Keep training short
- Keep the training fun. Dogs love to play
- Substitute for a more acceptable behavior
- Employee a clicker, especially with younger dogs
- Go to school. Find an obedience class for you and your dog
Interrupt the Behavior – Break the Cycle
Just stop. Don’t interact, don’t initiate any contact. Just interrupt the behavior. If you interact, you are reinforcing the bad behavior. If the dog is seeking attention, you only encourage the behavior when you give that attention. If the dog’s behavior is aggressive, you risk escalating the aggression.
Don’t think that breaking your interaction with the dog will be a submissive reaction. What you are doing is establishing control. Once the behavior has subsided and things have calmed down, you can return and continue training.
Isolation May Help – Removing Yourself from the Situation
It may also help to add a bit of isolation with the interruption. Put your dog in another room or a crate. Covering the crate may help. The idea is to break the interaction completely. When the dog calms down, reward good behavior with a treat or attention.
The object is to establish an understanding that bad behavior equates with being segregated from all other interactions and contact until you invite your dog back into the larger environment. In some cases, this technique can be useful in training on impulse control.
Alternate the Activities – Everyone, including your Dog, Likes a Change
Sometimes highly physical activities can lead to overly aggressive behaviors. This response to stimulation is especially true of younger dogs. In these instances, structuring your pet’s day so that strenuous and exciting activities are spaced with downtime such as
- chew toys
- crate time.
This may take some work. The technique is successful, even with younger dogs. Training using a schedule provides your dog with regularity and stability. The dog will understand that some behaviors are more acceptable during certain times of the day than others.
The Power of NO! – It’s all in the Voice
Some trainers are quite successful with the power of no. A sharply spoken word, firm but not aggressive, is sufficient to let the dog know that something is amiss. If you have ever littered pups and watched a mother dog coral a litter of pups, you should know the power of a sharp bark on an errant puppy.
The secret to this technique is in the voice. It should be commanding, stern, but not angry. If your immediate response is angry, you may well get anger back from your pup. A calm, stern, and commanding voice will be heard and understood much better than an angry scream.
Take A Walk – Keep Things Interesting
Sometimes a little diversion is just what is needed. Refocusing your dog’s attention and interest to something else can help quell aggressive or unwanted behaviors. At the first sign of the behavior, snap on the leash and head outside of a brisk walk. A change of scenery and location may be what you both need.
Dogs thrive on environmental stimulation. Moving from the current location to an activity that changes the location and provides different stimuli can often calm aggressive or unwanted behavior. Encourage better behaviors by rewarding your dog’s changed attitude.
Keep Training Sessions Short – Time is Not on Your Side
Never try to do too much for too long. Long training sessions are hard and trying for the trainer. Imagine what they must be like for your dog. Short sessions with easily repeatable successful actions are much better than long sessions with multiple tasks and goals.
Strive for success rather than for duration. A shorter, less intense lesson with lots of success is better than long sessions. Don’t expect too much from your dog in the way of attention span. They get easily bored and want to move on to something new and interesting.
Make it Fun – Play is Much More Effective
Dogs work and respond to what they enjoy. Even working dogs do what they do because they enjoy the activity. If the activity is not fun, the dog will quickly lose interest. The training you choose to substitute for the alpha role should be chosen to keep your dog’s interest.
If aggressive behavior is more about movement and activity than anger or fear, substitute activities that allow the dog to move actively in a manner that is not aggressive or unwanted. IF anger or fear is behind the behavior, an activity that substitutes movement and play can supplant the unwanted behaviors.
Substitution Techniques – Making a Change by Making a Change
In some instances, aggressive or unwanted behavior couples with a location. You may get a growl or other aggressive behavior when you attempt to move your pet off his or her favorite place on the couch. The dog may not be aggressive but has learned that a growl will often keep their comfortable spot.
Substitution techniques provide an alternative. A more comfortable cushion may substitute for the couch. Encouraging a change and then rewarding the successful acceptance of that change can alter a pet’s behavior favorably.
Using a clicker in combination with rewards can be very effective at changing a dog’s behaviors. Eventually, the dog learns that the clicker sound means that they have done something right and a treat will soon follow. Using the clicker as a signal for good behavior encourages those behaviors.
Eventually, you eliminate food rewards as good behaviors become more accepted and understood. Click training is a positive system and encourages good behaviors.
Find an Obedience Class – Going to School is Good for Both of You
Obedience training is not about gaining dominance over your pet. Formal obedience training is more about communication with your dog. Obedience training helps foster trust between you and your dog. Part of any good obedience training is the exposure your dog will get from new situations and experiences.
Find an Obedience school with a positive environment where the focus is on having fun and learning at the same time. Remember, obedience training is not about forcing your dog into behaviors. It is about learning to communicate with your dog and gaining trust and understanding.
Why the Alpha Roll Shouldn’t Be Used?
The alpha roll technique first came to popularity during the late 1970s. A book titled “How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend” was published by the Monks of New Skete and relied heavily on the alpha technique. However, by the 2002 edition of this book, the alpha roll had disappeared from the recommended techniques.
Many people still consider the book a classic in dog training. More and more professional and amateur dog trainers shy away from the alpha roll technique in favor of alternative methods. The whole concept, based on a theory of dominance, has since been disproven and largely considered outdated.
In practice, the alpha roll is dangerous for several reasons.
- It exposes the trainer to being bitten in the face if not properly executed.
- The alpha roll can lower the dogs trust in the trainer or owner
- In some cases, the alpha roll technique has worsened aggressive behaviors
You and Your Dog – A Partnership
You and your dog have formed a partnership that will last many long and happy years. Making your relationship one of trust and understanding is the best way to foster behaviors and actions that are appropriate. There is nothing alpha or dominant in your relationship with your pet. Using one of the alternate methods of training and avoiding such techniques as the alpha roll will keep you and your pet much happier.