A number of dog owners prescribe to the notion that dogs should only interact with their environment through displays of dominance and submission. This viewpoint, made popular by Cesar Milan, seeks to provide pet owners with a way to control disobedient dogs by suggesting the owner should act “alpha” in every way. The “alpha” mentality arises from the idea that dogs are descended from wolves. In the wild, each member in a wolf pack is dominant or submissive to every other constituent of the hierarchy. If an individual wolf oversteps his boundaries, he is physically corrected by the alpha. In the canine world, the owner should therefore theoretically display total dominance so as to assert his or her authority as “pack leader.” Per Cesar Milan, if a dog displays inappropriate behaviors, such as barking or lunging at another dog during a walk, corrective physical actions must be taken immediately.
For the modern dog owner, corrections are recommended to be doled out in the form of a prong collar, electronic collar, or, the alpha roll. Each remedial measure is met with a degree of disgust among the Humane Society, ASPCA, and the majority of dog trainers; however, the alpha roll is regarded as most dangerous, as it can lead to injury both to human and dog. Here, the dog owner is taught to forcibly push the dog onto the ground and roll him onto his side, making the dog submit. The idea is that this maneuver will cause the dog to understand not only that his original actions were wrong, but also that he should only act when the alpha gives permission.
The problem with this theory is that over time, dogs have evolved so far from their wolf mentality that instead, forcible corrections can do more harm than good. Will your dog learn the lesson not to repeat bad behavior? Maybe. At best, he will have thought you were playing a game when you forced him to the ground, and at worst, he may become scared and lash out, resulting in a trip to the ER for antibiotics to treat a dog bite. In between best and worst case scenarios irreparable damage to a dog’s psychological state can be done. Dogs have three inherent fear-based responses: flight, fight, and submission, typically in that order. To reach full submission in your dog, he first must exhaust his desire to get away from you or fight you while you are holding him to the ground.
A second main problem with the alpha roll is that the behaviors a dog is typically being reprimanded for (i.e. protective tendencies) are ones that manifest out of fear. A poorly socialized dog or one who suffers from the inability to cope with new experiences will lash out aggressively. In the majority of cases, aggression is a fear-based behavior. By physically punishing your dog for being afraid, you are creating more fear, which perpetuates a cycle that is hard to break. Instead, working on proper socialization technique and providing positive reinforcement can provide a dog a greater sense of security, thus breaking bad habits.
It is extremely frustrating seeing owners at dog parks roll their dog. I see this numerous times on my walks with the dogs. Spread the word to family and friends, some people just don’t know they are doing any harm and think they are doing the right thing by being the ‘alpha’.