“Alpha roll”

The “alpha roll” is a controversial dog training technique.  The theory behind this training method is to teach the dog that the handler is the pack leader.  Misbehaving dogs are minimally pinned on their back and held in that position, sometimes by the throat, and strikes to the dog’s head may occur.

Can the alpha roll get you in trouble?  Yes, especially if you are performing this technique, for example, within public view, and the event gets videotaped or photographed and later shared with the news media, animal rights activists, and people who are outraged by the perceived abuse to the dog.  And, not to say herein the method is correct or not, but you may be required to explain and justify this technique to those who do not understand and are genuinely concerned about the welfare of the recipient dog. 

Over the years, other training techniques and methods have been used, to include hanging, lynching, choking, swinging (“helicoptering”), and kicking the dogs.  These methods have been called abusive, ineffective, and outdated.  I have viewed the alpha roll and other controversial techniques over the years, but nothing recently.  I have been the recipient of an aggressive dog as a handler – and I used the basic alpha roll technique at least twice with my first dog as instructed by my trainer – but it was not effective. 

According to Gregg Tawney, police dog trainer and former K9 handler, training over the years has progressed and the use of the alpha roll was only used for extreme aggression by the dog toward the handler and not as a routine correction in dog training.  Most trainers realize that using a balanced approach to operant conditioning and developing a proper relationship with a dog is far more effective and humane then trying to train a dog through “dominance training.”  The modern approach is to train in such a way that the dog wants to perform the behavior through positive reinforcement and not through force.

The perceptions and any events related to animal abuse should be critically examined when reviewing your K9 training program with respect to the law enforcement environment today and all training methods being implemented within your program should be carefully considered to include a review of the techniques. 

If you have identified or been advised of any training technique that is considered to be controversial or potentially controversial, and your K9 trainer believes this technique(s) is justified and effective in the training of your police dog(s), including the alpha roll, I would recommend you get them to explain their reasoning minimally in writing and then file the response in a training file.  If you believe a technique is necessary and effective, you should use it – but it is imperative you understand the consequences of implementation related to public perception and potential allegations of abuse when compared to the desired result and any alternatives.

I spent a great deal of time researching this topic online and making personal inquiries and I would encourage you to do the same if it might be relevant and beneficial to you and your program.  You can also read a recent article by Gregg Tawney titled “The Alpha Roll and Handler Aggressive Police Dogs” by clicking here.

In closing, you should constantly be reviewing all facets of your K9 program from top to bottom as a handler or supervisor to ensure consistency when doing things right, improve when necessary, and avoid any trouble that may be lurking out there.

Take care, be safe, and make every day a training day….

Bill Lewis II

This “reason” was first posted on January 29, 2021.

“Trouble” isn’t always related to incidents or predicaments that directly result in lawsuits, claims or discipline. Often times, our actions or inactions that are missed, deliberately overlooked or downplayed may lead to nothing or can later lead to mistakes or bad incidents with minimal to serious repercussions.  A reason we get in trouble can be minor or simple at first glance – or even serious – but a combination of these factors can often have disastrous consequences.   

These “reasons” are provided periodically as a collection in-progress based on actual incidents and real attitudes as well as feedback received at HITS, the CNCA Training Institute, and the “Canine Liability 360” classes.  As Gordon Graham says, “We haven’t found new ways to get in trouble.” So, as the list progresses, you may or may not read something familiar to you that you have personally experienced or seen others encounter. If you encountered or heard about it, did you learn from it?