All You Need To Know About the Alpha Roll



Alpha Roll is an old school technique used to discipline a dog. If a dog misbehaves, he is flipped onto his back ( or sometimes onto his side) and held in that position by his chest or sometimes throat. The theory behind this is supposed to be that the dog understands that you are the pack leader and calms down.



Rudolph Schenkel, an animal behaviourist published a paper in 1947 titled “Expression Studies on Wolves”. This paper was based on Schenkel’s short term study of captive wolves during the 1930s and 1940s. This study was done in Switzerland in the Basle zoological garden. The idea of an Alpha wolf comes from here. In 1976, The Monks of New Skete published a book in which the “Alpha-wolf Roll-over” (now shortened to “Alpha Roll”) was popularized. Monks reviewed the early observations of the captive wolf study done in 1940s and concluded that alpha roll could be used as a technique to show one’s authority over a dog.


First of all, the alpha roll technique was designed based on two things:

  1. Alpha wolf(study of captive wolves in 1940s): The wolves involved in this study were unrelated and upto 10 wolves were kept in a small area of 10*20 meters of floor space. Due to the smaller area and no where to go, there were constant conflicts among these wolves. They had to keep on fighting to be on the top position in the hierarchy. This is usually not the case with the wolves staying in the wild.
  2. Submissive Roll-over: The submissive wolves do a roll over in front of an alpha wolf. Although this observation is true, the roll over is voluntary and not forced by the stronger wolves .

Although the Monks of New Skete in their book “How to be your dog’s best friend” popularized the Alpha roll, they recanted and strongly discouraged the use of alpha roll in the second edition of their book in 2002.

Another problem with this alpha roll theory is that wolves have evolved for thousands of years to become the domestic dogs that live with us today. Even though the domestic dog has descended from the wolf, they don’t have much in common with their ancestors anymore. So even if the pack theory was applicable to the wolves, it is not to the domestic dog of today.

The pack theory(based on a study on captive wolves) that the wolves have to fight for their place in the hierarchy does not even apply to the wolves in the wild, so it seems too far fetched that it applies to today’s dog.


When a roll over is not a voluntary act and if you do it to your dog, it can be considered by your dog as an act of aggression. The dog may get really stressed at this point and may feel that you are trying to threaten him. Since there is no way for your dog to escape from that situation, he may become overwhelmed and some dogs can even develop fear based aggression. It is also said that the alpha roll was done in extreme cases where there was an intention to kill between the wolves. Needless to say that this will have an adverse effect on your relationship with your dog. He will not be able to trust you anymore. Many owners get bit while performing alpha rolls. Some dogs may not react aggressively to the rolls, however the dog-human relationship is definitely affected by the alpha roll.


Ultimately, our dogs know that we are not dogs, so the presumption that they would even consider us a part of their canine pack is so far fetched. So let us try to be humans instead of trying to be dogs in a pack of dogs. If you think about it, humans did not pet wolves by trying to be aggressive with them. The relationship between humans and wolves was mutually rewarding and so it got us to where we are with dogs today.

We want our dogs to respect us and not be scared of us. It is important to remember that respect comes out of mutual trust. Thanks to the scientific studies, there are so many positive reinforcement techniques available to us today which help the dog learn new things while strengthening the bond between the dogs and humans. So let us try to make this world a better place by using positive techniques for our canine companions as well!

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