One school of thought on discipline is that if your Shiba is getting all uppity, a good way to show him his place is to flip him on his back and pin him there. While this may seem good in theory – put the dog off-balance, forcibly remind him that you’re the boss, dammit and don’t you forget it – there are many problems with this approach, especially with dominant or fearful dogs. Many “Alpha roll” advocates also sport decorative scars on their arms and hands.
The Alpha roll is a controversial training technique that has been panned by many, including the Monks of New Skete, who at first advocated it. They removed it from subsequent editions of their famous dog training book How to be Your Dog’s Best Friend, citing that it was too easily abused.
There are studies that indicate that the Alpha roll is more of a ritualistic behaviour and it is initiated by the submissive dog rather than being forced by the dominant dog. It is also theorized that the only reason that an alpha animal would forcibly flip and pin a subordinate was if it was planning to kill it. (Now all those scars seem to make sense… it would be if a parent lunged at their child, flipped Junior on his back and brandished a dagger aimed at his throat. I’d bite someone doing that, too.)
The Alpha roll, like many other training techniques, has its place in modifying your dog’s behaviour. However, an Alpha roll that works has more to do with Nothing in Life is Free than with immediate discipline. Don’t use an Alpha roll for discipline and you and your puppy will be a lot happier and can skip into the sunset together.
The Alpha roll that works is the one you start as soon as your puppy enters the home. When you introduce submissive postures as part of daily life, there is a lot less resistance to them. Your puppy should be accustomed to being put into all sorts of positions and the handling of all body parts. By getting your puppy to voluntarily assume a submissive position, you are setting the groundwork for taking the Alpha position in his life with him barely knowing you’re doing it.
How do you get your Shiba started on Alpha roll work? BRIBES! Cheese! Sausage! Treats! Stuff that puppy’s gob full of hamburger. Shibas are small enough that you can flip him on his back without too much effort. Before he erupts into outrage, fill his face with something he thinks is awesome. Try this around dinner time, when your puppy is already hungry.
- Make teaching the Down command a priority.
- Randomly approach your puppy when he is lying quietly and pop a treat in his mouth.
- Once your puppy starts associating food with a submissive posture, start doing it randomly with food.
- Teach a command to go with the submissive posture.
- NEVER associate the Alpha roll with discipline. It should always be a FUN activity.
- Be VERY careful when dealing with a rescue or a dog that you don’t know well – you don’t know what’s going on in that furry little head.
- If your dog initiates the Alpha roll with you, throw him a PARTY. Break out the filet mignon.
What I did with Tierce was feed him as many meals as possible kibble by kibble while he was cradled in my arms on his back. Pretty soon, being rolled on his back meant dinnertime. For Tierce, food trumps dignity every time. More importantly, his protests at being put in a submissive position gradually faded away AND his overall attitude got better.
The Alpha roll is not a disciplinary technique. It is a lifestyle technique; one that should be practiced in non disciplinary circumstances in order to accustom your puppy to the submissive position in a positive way.