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Establishing Dominance


The alpha roll was repopularized in the book 'How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend' by the Monks of New Skete which came out in the late 70's or early 80's. Before that it faded in and out of popularity and use.

I'm told that in the latest edition of this book the alpha roll is no longer included as a training tool.

To perform the roll you're supposed to grab the dog by the excess skin around his neck, force him backwards into a sit and then roll him to one side. Some trainers advocate rolling him all the way onto his back. The idea is that you're simulating something that dogs do to one another when the dominant dog is displaying his dominance to the submissive dog.

But it's just not so. If you watch some dogs at play, for example at a dog park or the zoo, or watch the Discovery Channel. Use a Video Camera (or record the TV) so you can play it back several times. You'll see what at first looks like an alpha roll but when you examine if carefully it's not even close. When dogs do this, the dominant dog doesn't force the submissive dog to do anything. It's the submissive dog who's doing all the work. The dominant dog puts his foot up on the submissive dog's shoulder or back and the submissive dog rolls himself under the dominant dog.

And so when you do the alpha roll thing you're doing something that's completely foreign to the dog, rather than something he's familiar with. You're showing him that you're bigger and stronger than him, but he already knows that. It's the action of a bully, not a fair and just leader.

Real dogs in the real world don't do anything like this. When a submissive dog rolls himself under the dominant dog it's because he's showing submission. This isn't a case of the dominant dog showing dominance. He's already done that merely by placing his foot on the other dog's shoulder or back and that's the reason that the submissive dog has gone down.

And so the alpha roll as dogs do it, isn't a display of dominance; it's one of submission, where the submissive dog is doing the work. It starts with the dominant dog putting a foot up but the rolling portion, the part that the alpha roll is simulating, is done by the submissive dog. The alpha dog is only present by virtue of his personality, he's not rolling the other dog at all.

If you do this to the right dog (wrong dog) he'll eat you for your trouble. And since the closest thing to bite is your face, that's where you'll get it. It's hard to give an out command when the dog is holding you by the face!

Since 1979 I've been training some of the most dominant, most aggressive, most fearless dogs on the planet. I've never found the alpha roll necessary. I've done it once or twice when I was new and someone told me that I should. It didn't have the desired effect and after thinking about it and talking about it to the right folks, I discarded it.

Domesticated dogs only rarely submissively pee to other dogs, especially members of their own pack. That's reserved almost exclusively for their humans who, without realizing it put the dog into an overly submissive position and the dog has no choice. Some dogs, ones who are extremely low in the pack pecking order, such as the omega dog may show submissive urination every time that a dominant dog (that's every other dog in the pack) approaches, but that's still a rare display.

Your height already provides a cue to the dog that you're dominant. There are some trainers who will tell you to never let your dog stand over you but I think that you need to permit this once in a while. Some trainers tell you to NEVER allow it. But if you think about what I do and how it gets done, training and working police service dogs, you'll realize that it's good to, once in a while get on the ground with your dog and play with him as dogs play together.

Let me paint a picture for you. Imagine the type of handler who's been trained that he has to alpha roll his dog once a week to remain in the alpha position. Also imagine that he's been trained never to let his dog be on top of him. The handler gets into a fight, and like most fights it winds up on the ground. He calls his dog for assistance and as the dog runs to the scene he sees the alpha dog on the ground, someplace he's never seen him. He remembers that this alpha dog has been rolling him every week since they've been together and maintaining his alpha position with brute force. He sees this alpha dog fighting with a complete stranger, someone who's never hurt him or done anything to him before. Do you think it's possible that he'll think that NOW is a good time to challenge the alpha dog and to try to the top of the pack? Could be!

Wouldn't it be better if that dog had been lead by a fair and just pack leader who didn't use physical force to maintain his position? Since the #2 dog has rights that the #3 or #4 doesn't, wouldn't it be better if the dog thought of himself as the #2 dog in the pack not just as any subordinate animal.

If you alpha roll your dog consistently he may become afraid of you. That's not a good relationship, particularly if you want the dog to work protection for you. He'll do it but you might find him "attached" to you occasionally. I think that the best relationship between the handler and the dog is one of mutual trust and respect. A dog that's rolled won't trust the handler, he'll fear him. This may not show up in the form of the dog cowering from the handler, except in extreme circumstances. But there other, much more subtle ways it shows up.

Want to be an Alpha? Begin by acting like one. Stand up tall and act like a leader. Notice that most dogs are submissive to a good trainer just by him walking onto the field. That's because he knows how to stand, carry himself and talk as a leader. He hasn't alpha rolled your dog. He hasn't kicked your dog's butt, but your dog knows, at a glance, who the alpha is. Use a normal voice. When adult dogs play with other adult dogs they use a certain tone of voice (bark). When puppies play with adults or other puppies pitched they use a high pitched yip. If you use a high pitched voice when playing with or praising your adult dog how do you think he thinks of you? As a mature adult capable of leading him? Or as an immature pack member? Now I'm not saying that he'll immediately become alpha if you praise or talk to him in a high pitched voice but I am saying that you're sending a mixed message to him. One that can put some doubts in his mind as to your exact position in the pack.

Being accepted as the alpha doesn't mean that you're the biggest, baddest one in the pack. Anyone who teaches that really doesn't understand what it means to be alpha. In human packs, without the politics, often it's NOT the biggest or strongest one who leads. It's the one who exhibits "leadership qualities." In dog packs it's the same way.

Another part of being alpha has to do with food. In the wild the alpha leads the hunt. He decides which animal the pack will kill and when the eating will begin. Generally you provide the food for your dog so that helps him think of you as the alpha. I suggest that when you get a new dog you spend a couple of weeks hand feeding him. That establishes, even more than just putting down a food bowl, that you're providing his food. Don't let him crowd in and 'demand' the food. Make him stay at a respectful distance and wait for you to give it to him, one handful at a time.

Another way to be fair and just is to be fair with your correction level. The Ecollar is perfect for this because it allows you to dial in exactly the level of correction that your dog needs. Not too high and not too low. It's difficult for the average handler to consistently give the exact level of correction that a dog needs with a leash and conventional training collar.

Play is another way to get this but not the form of play that has the handler throwing a ball for his dog. Watch the Discovery Channel or spend a few hours at the zoo watching wild dogs play. They run, they bump shoulders, they throw hips into one another. Their interaction is quite physical.

Another way to establish dominance and one of my favorites is through yielding. I stole the concept from someone who stole it from horse trainers. Yielding is based on the idea that a submissive animal will move out of the way of a dominant animal. Almost ritualistically the dominant animal will force the submissive animal to give way, even if he doesn't need to. It's just a reminder.

To do this have the dog on leash and start walking into him. Going head to head is probably best, at first. Don't give any commands, just head towards him. When you get real close start quietly saying "move, move, move," Don't kick him and don't bump into him unless it's absolutely necessary. What you are trying to do is to force him to move by the power of your personality. When you do this make sure that you're looking like the alpha. Stand up straight, shoulders back, head erect. Don't stoop forward to look at your dog, that communicates to him that you're not an alpha. Some may need to practice this in front of a mirror before they try it with their dog.

As soon as he does move, step back and praise him lightly. Not enough to break his concentration, but enough so that he knows he got something right. You should see a relaxation of tension in the dog's body. Think of your forward motion as applying pressure. Pressure that the dog can relieve by moving away. At first just one or two steps will relieve the pressure, but as you progress he has to move more to gain relief.

As the training progresses you can approach from slightly off to one side, then directly to one side, then from the rear quarter and finally from the rear. When you start this have him move several times in a row. Once he's caught on you can go to about ten times a day.

This is so subtle that many people believe that it won't have any affect on the dog, particularly one who's very dominant. But it will have more and better effect than a dozen alpha rolls. And it will establish your position with VERY little chance of a handler challenge or an attack on the handler.

If you're going to do an alpha roll you'd better pick the dog you do this on carefully and you'd better make sure that you can kick his ass. You'd also better be ready for a trip to the ER, because sooner or later you're going to miss.

It's really too bad that some people are still caught up in using force all the time for all of their training. It's not necessary. It's hard on the dogs, and it's hard on the handler. AND most importantly it doesn't give a good a working relationship with the dog as more subtle, but still effective methods.
 

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"If you do this to the right dog (wrong dog) he'll eat you for your trouble."

Yep, Luther was that dog. After 2 days in our house, Luther learned that Mommy wasn't trying to muscle him, she was the one who bought the groceries, Mommy knew where the flatmeat was, Mommy had the cool toys, Mommy made dinner. Don't give Mommy a hard time, you won't get anything tasty and no one will play ball with you.

"If you're going to do an alpha roll you'd better pick the dog you do this on carefully and you'd better make sure that you can kick his ass. You'd also better be ready for a trip to the ER, because sooner or later you're going to miss. "

DDH was a doer, not a thinker. He tried to use force, not intellect to win over the dog. Some other machomen got it into his head that he should alpha roll the dog. Also that he should pin the dog on his hind legs up against the wall.

Guess what it got him? A forearm that was black and blue for months. Eventually he gave up on trying to muscle the dog and started listening to me - the dog respected him after he started dolling out the prosciutto for nice behavior.

Luther, what a beast that dog was when he was young!
 

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Yana moves out of my way every time, no exceptions, since she was a puppy. I haven't trained her to do that, it's just I never changed my path because the dog was on the way so she got an idea. Also she always waits 5 steps away for me to fix her food and then I have to call her to have her dinner. But she started going up on the couch (it's usually my place) when I'm not in the room, and when I enter the room she's off. My husband says that she tries to take my place but I doubt it.

One machoman also wanted us to alfa roll her when she was a pup, and even showed how on his own dog. Before I opened my mouth he grabbed his huge golden retriever male and flopped him on the ground on his back. The dog had his tale covering his stomach and looked so pitiful. I'm so glad my husband listened to me and not to that guy because I can only imagine what it would do to our poor Yana with her weak nerves and fear issues.
 

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I had always been raised to belive that you had to show your dog who is boss - physically if necessary. Old habits are hard to break, but when we got our new puppy I was determined that I wanted a more obedient, happy, and balanced companion. So, I've been working very hard to achieve this, and reading everything I can, taking multiple points of view into consideration, etc.

I have found with Kuno (now 7 months old) that he responds very well to leadership - not force. Following the NILIF guidelines and similar leadership habits has really been making a difference. As does praise. He loves to be rewarded (often just verbally) for having done the right thing.

I don't see any need to "roll" a dog as a dominance method.

Good article Lou.
 

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Anyone else have any comments? I'd like to show this thread to someone...
 

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I have a question.. and it is just something i have been rolling around in my head.... does dominance = (good) pack leader?
 

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Originally Posted By: lawhitedoes dominance = (good) pack leader?
Yes. The dominant individual in the relationship is the leader. The pack leader is the most dominant individual in the home.

HOW one goes about establishing that dominance however, is a big part in determining if they are a GOOD pack leader.
 

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this whole yielding thing has got me paying alot of attention and i realized something today..
if I walk toward kali she will yield, but (after i bumped my elbow when we were running stairs) i realized that I yield when we are on walks without even noticing it! No wonder she is confused! I am going to pay more attention to where I am in the future.
and all it took was this thread and slamming my elbow on a metal railing (ow)
 

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i have never tried to establish dominance over a dog. i think the pack leader comes naturally. we do everything for our dogs. they probably like they're place where ever that is. we bring them there food, we bathe them, we give them treats, we play with them. who's dominating who? i think people want to dominate a dog so they feel like they're in charge. coexisting is where it's at. i just got up to go to the bathroom, my dog is laying beside me. should i have made him move or step over him? i stepped over him. did i need to show dominance and make him move? when i'm standing in the doorway and he wants to come into the room he walks around me. i think through training and feeding you establish a place with your dog or your dog establishs it's on place. that making your dog sit and walking towards him to make him move. when i first read about it i tried it. i told him to sit, i backed up and walked towards him. he just sat there. i stepped over him and turned around and stepped over him to face him. i told him to sit, why should he move? something else i don't exercise NILIF. i give my dogs treats for no reason, i pet them just to be petting them. they don't have to do something for something. my dogs are well trained and socialized and i've never thought about establishing dominance and all is well. what's there to dominate when your dog is well trained and it does what you ask??
 

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i've never rolled a dog and i've never followed the NILIF and i've never tried to dominate a dog. i think through training and feeding, petting and treating it all comes together. maybe some dogs you need to dominate. i haven't found that to be true with GSD's. it's only natural that you're the leader. you do everything for your dog. just think wouldn't you be happy if some one brought you your food twice a day, take you to the play ground (dog park), take you to the toy store (pet store), walks in the woods, you're driven everywhere while you sit in the back of the car (chauffer driven), you stand there while some one bathes you and dry's you off, you get your teeth brushed for you (you don't have to raise a paw to do it), you can sleep on the sofa, the bed, or on your dog bed, how much did i miss? now i bet you do all of the above things plus. now who's dominating who?
 

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i do not think it is about dominating, as much as making your relationship clear to your dog. Kali has some issues with other dogs, in part because I did not live up to my role when she was young, and she is of the mind that it is her job to deal with strange dogs. In our case it is not about me being the boss, as much as me being consistent so she can feel comfortable and relaxed. It is just this last little bit that we are trying to get down, as in all other ways we have a great companionship. I do agree that some people do thing naturally, and you may not even realize how consistent and clear your body language is to your dog(s). Unfortunately, some of us are not naturals and have to learn to be consistent and clear in our communication.
 

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What makes a good boss? Is it someone that is a harsh task master, makes free use of disciplinary actions but never gives out Kudos or Attaboys, is the empathic type or the ‘Just get your work done’ type??

It all depends on the people the boss needs to boss!!

What makes a good Pack Leader? Someone who knows what each of their dogs NEED as far as leadership goes.
 

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You raised all the issues I wanted to post. We do so many things for our dogs and they know that. Beiong a so-called Alpha Leader is not a big deal. If we care for our dogs they know it immediately.
 

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Originally Posted By: Timber1You raised all the issues I wanted to post. We do so many things for our dogs and they know that. Beiong a so-called Alpha Leader is not a big deal. If we care for our dogs they know it immediately.
This "doggie do as you please" mentality may be successful in a single dog household but have you tried it in a multi dog one? Don't you end up with alot of dog fights?
 

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OK I think this is somewhat a matter of semantics... at least for me it is. The words "dominance" and "alpha" bring to mind many of the things that positive dog trainers associate with compulsion type training. However, providing a consistent and strong presence to your dog (which some people would describe as "dominant" or "alpha") is also a big part of both our relationship with our dogs and our training with them. We all know that dogs read body language very well, and that being consistent (in our schedules and in our training) with them makes them more comfortable. I think that many of the things discussed in this thread are focused on how our body language indicates to our dog that we are "on the job" for them and ready to take care of them beyond the feeding. For some dogs this is a very important part of the relationship and it is at the core of many dog-aggression problems. (For example.. think of the person with the dog-aggressive dog that tenses up every time they see a dog and the role this plays in maintaining and feeding the dog-aggression issue). This may be very important for breeds like the german shepherd which (as Suzanne Clothier says) "take notes". I have started using her method with Kali which focuses on your relationship with your dog and building trust with them, and I have become more aware at how consistent/inconsistent I am with Kali on our walks. Since I have started being more "present" on our walks and paying attention to her and what we are doing, she is calming down quicker when she is put in a stressful situation, and in some cases she does not respond at all. So NILIF etc are all ways to help you build your relationship with your dog and give them a "job" to do. So for me it is not about being "dominant" as much as making sure I am being a consistent and predictable companion to my dogs so they can feel confident in me.
 

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Great post Lorie. I haven't added my two cents because I was trying figure out how to word it. You did it much better than I would have.

I have trouble with the dominance/alpha verbiage. Sounds heavy handed to me. However, if I choose to say 'leadership' it can actually mean the same things and I feel better about it.

I am a positive style trainer. I use NILF and bits and peices of many other styles, except what I call strong arm styles.

I have always had a multi dog household (3 ) - no fights and all feed side by side, too. They know arguments are not allowed.

They have always been genorously rewarded by getting my time and attention - when it is their turn. They love to work with me and they know I don't like back talk.

Being a leader is all about consistency, fairness (and yes, dogs deserve for us to be fair) trust and fun. If you want to call it alpha, go for it.

We are just following different lanes to the same pasture.

BTW - I wish everyone would read Suzanne Clothier and Jan Fennell. Proof positive that you don't have to be the stongest to be the boss.
 
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As has been said many times before, it boils down to attitude. Yes, it is being a leader first and foremost. What a leader is however is what muddies the issue. Being a leader is not throwing your weight around. Being a leader is having your followers have absolute faith in you. Respect for who you are is what counts. Not what you are. Terms like "alpha" and "pack leader" are okay for many and I will not gainsay those who use them. I guess for me I prefer the term caregiver best because ultimately that is what earns you respect. When you care so much for dogs (and people) that their trust in you is without question then you can lead - providing of course that you have the skills to do so. But having the skills to lead is coincidentally a major part of the ability to give proper care.

My dogs do as they should and obey the commands they are given not because they must do so either by stimulus or threat. Nor do they do so in hope of any reward other than my praise. They perform as they do simply because pleasing me is their greatest goal in life. Does this build upon being a pack leader? Of course it does, but it is not the sum and end all of the relationship.
 

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here's what i mean by natural. establishing our place with our dogs is natural for all of us. we feed our dogs, we groom our dogs, we train our dogs. our dogs want for nothing. our dogs don't have to hunt, i don't think they worry about who's the leader nor do i think they want to challenge who's the leader. they don't need to. i think our dogs are happy in their place, why shouldn't they be? we do everything for our dogs. not a bad place to be. i strongly believe through feeding and training we establish who's who. i don't use the NILIF method, i lay on the floor and play with my dogs sometimes they're standing over me. my dogs have always listened. when we're out people are always saying how well trained my dogs are. i find having a Shepherd is a peice of cake. i think we read into it more than what's really going on. as far as body language i do what ever i want to do. i carry myself in any mannr i want and i do worry about what my dog is thinking. so far none of my dogs have had a problem with body language and if they did they didn't show it.
 

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And that works well with some dogs. Not others. Within the GSD breed there is a massive variance of temperament, especially in the United States. A GSD that can stare down a helper or the most dominant sheep is a dog that gets to hunt and is not inhibited and may not have a "you do everything for me, so kiss kiss I love you" mentality. Different dogs need different leadership, just like different dogs need different training methodology. I am not referring to compulsion or beating a dog into submission, but certain dogs do need strong fair leadership with clear cut rules while others need to be built up along the way.
 
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