Author Topic: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll  (Read 2507 times)

Offline BabsT

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Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« on: May 16, 2006, 11:24:45 am »
The original alpha/dominance model was born out of short-term studies of wolf packs done in the 1940s. These were the first studies of their kind. These studies were a good start, but later research has essentially disproved most of the findings. There were three major flaws in these studies:
These were short-term studies, so the researchers concentrated on the most obvious, overt parts of wolf life, such as hunting. The studies are therefore unrepresentati ve -- drawing conclusions about "wolf behavior" based on about 1% of wolf life.
The studies observed what are now known to be ritualistic displays and misinterpreted them. Unfortunately, this is where the bulk of the "dominance model" comes from, and though the information has been soundly disproved, it still thrives in the dog training mythos.

For example, alpha rolls. The early researchers saw this behavior and concluded that the higher-ranking wolf was forcibly rolling the subordinate to exert his dominance. Well, not exactly. This is actually an "appeasement ritual" instigated by the SUBORDINATE wolf. The subordinate offers his muzzle, and when the higher-ranking wolf "pins" it, the lower-ranking wolf voluntarily rolls and presents his belly. There is NO force. It is all entirely voluntary.

A wolf would flip another wolf against his will ONLY if he were planning to kill it. Can you imagine what a forced alpha roll does to the psyche of our dogs?
Finally, after the studies, the researchers made cavalier extrapolations from wolf-dog, dog-dog, and dog-human based on their "findings." Unfortunately, this nonsense still abounds.
So what's the truth? The truth is dogs aren't wolves. Honestly, when you take into account the number of generations past, saying "I want to learn how to interact with my dog so I'll learn from the wolves" makes about as much sense as saying, "I want to improve my parenting -- let's see how the chimps do it!"

Dr. Frank Beach performed a 30-year study on dogs at Yale and UC Berkeley. Nineteen years of the study was devoted to social behavior of a dog pack. (Not a wolf pack. A DOG pack.) Some of his findings:

Male dogs have a rigid hierarchy.
Female dogs have a hierarchy, but it's more variable.
When you mix the sexes, the rules get mixed up. Males try to follow their constitution, but the females have "amendments."
Young puppies have what's called "puppy license." Basically, that license to do most anything. Bitches are more tolerant of puppy license than males are.
The puppy license is revoked at approximately four months of age. At that time, the older middle-ranked dogs literally give the puppy h*ll -- psychologicall y torturing it until it offers all of the appropriate appeasement behaviors and takes its place at the bottom of the social hierarchy. The top-ranked dogs ignore the whole thing.
There is NO physical domination. Everything is accomplished through psychological harassment. It's all ritualistic.
A small minority of "alpha" dogs assumed their position by bullying and force. Those that did were quickly deposed. No one likes a dictator.
The vast majority of alpha dogs rule benevolently. They are confident in their position. They do not stoop to squabbling to prove their point. To do so would lower their status because...
Middle-ranked animals squabble. They are insecure in their positions and want to advance over other middle-ranked animals.
Low-ranked animals do not squabble. They know they would lose. They know their position, and they accept it.
"Alpha" does not mean physically dominant. It means "in control of resources." Many, many alpha dogs are too small or too physically frail to physically dominate. But they have earned the right to control the valued resources. An individual dog determines which resources he considers important. Thus an alpha dog may give up a prime sleeping place because he simply couldn't care less.
So what does this mean for the dog-human relationship?

Using physical force of any kind reduces your "rank." Only middle-ranked animals insecure in their place squabble.
To be "alpha," control the resources. I don't mean hokey stuff like not allowing dogs on beds or preceding them through doorways. I mean making resources contingent on behavior. Does the dog want to be fed. Great -- ask him to sit first. Does the dog want to go outside? Sit first. Dog want to greet people? Sit first. Want to play a game? Sit first. Or whatever. If you are proactive enough to control the things your dogs want, *you* are alpha by definition.
Train your dog. This is the dog-human equivalent of the "revoking of puppy license" phase in dog development. Children, women, elderly people, handicapped people -- all are capable of training a dog. Very few people are capable of physical domination.
Reward deferential behavior, rather than pushy behavior. I have two dogs. If one pushes in front of the other, the other gets the attention, the food, whatever the first dog wanted. The first dog to sit gets treated. Pulling on lead goes nowhere. Doors don't open until dogs are seated and I say they may go out. Reward pushy, and you get pushy.
Your job is to be a leader, not a boss, not a dictator. Leadership is a huge responsibility . Your job is to provide for all of your dog's needs... food, water, vet care, social needs, security, etc. If you fail to provide what your dog needs, your dog will try to satisfy those needs on his own.

In a recent article in the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) newsletter, Dr. Ray Coppinger -- a biology professor at Hampshire College, co-founder of the Livestock Guarding Dog Project, author of several books including Dogs : A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origin, Behavior, and Evolution; and an extremely well-respected member of the dog training community -- says in regards to the dominance model (and alpha rolling)...

"I cannot think of many learning situations where I want my learning dogs responding with fear and lack of motion. I never want my animals to be thinking social hierarchy. Once they do, they will be spending their time trying to figure out how to move up in the hierarchy."

That pretty much sums it up, don't you think?

Melissa Alexander
copyright 2001 Melissa C. Alexander
« Last Edit: May 16, 2006, 11:29:49 am by BabsT »
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Offline BabsT

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Re: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« Reply #1 on: May 16, 2006, 11:55:40 am »
Zero never gave me an issue really but he is in his teenage years now 18mths he tries to ignore me...but he will do whatever it is I ask

Chara did give me a run for my money and with the help of yelena my breeder things are smooth as pie...

but i have learned force gets you no where...and dogs seem to shut down once it is to that point
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Offline smsmith

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Re: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« Reply #2 on: May 16, 2006, 12:06:59 pm »
Excellent news!  No way I could force Einstein to do anything anyway.

So Babs, I'm curious.  Give me some of your tips for achieving leadership.  I'm pretty sure Einstein WANTS to do what I ask, but maybe I"m not asking properly.  For instance, if we're at a park, and I want him to come to me (or sit, or stay) -- he's easily distracted and only does it sporadically.  How do you reward yours?  I can't always have treats handy (and he's not that crazy about treats anyway).


Offline mixedupdog

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Re: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« Reply #3 on: May 17, 2006, 07:31:40 am »
What source is the reading from? I totally agree with its observations, I want to share them with some friends who still have this idea that it's essential to dominate your dog to get good behavior.  Unless I back it up with the source, they'll say "oh, it's another one of your nutty friends, THIS is a real expert.

Offline buckybizarro

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Re: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« Reply #4 on: May 17, 2006, 12:53:49 pm »
Yep. I found this out the hard way. We're sorting things out now. The dominance  model was hurting our relationship. Our problem had to do with respect and trust. It wasn't going to be solved by me pushing him around.

Humans provide leadership to their dogs, not dominance. If my dog wanted to, he could harm me. But he doesn't because he sees me as the intesgator of actions and the fount from which all good things flow! He knows which side his bread is buttered on. I correct him when he screws up (i.e. mouthing the kids), but he's a pretty good guy.

Offline Moni

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Re: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« Reply #5 on: May 17, 2006, 07:11:33 pm »
Thanks for posting that Babs.  I wish this article could get passed around to everyone in the dog world.  So many still believe in the "Alpha Roll".    :'(
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Re: Some interesting reading regarding the alpha roll
« Reply #6 on: May 17, 2006, 11:36:15 pm »
I did this alpha 'roll' thing with Pookie when he was young, it went over like a ton of bricks.  Really seriously pissed him off.  I still do a lot of things that I believe give him the message that I'm the boss, (like hand feeding) but I learned LONG ago (when I rolled and pinned him) that physically dominating him just scares him and pisses him off. 
The interesting thing is that sometimes he flinches as if I am going to hit him when I go to get sleep out of his eyes, or to pet him behind his ears.  I don't hit him!  This morning I went to get sleep out of his eyes and he flinched and dropped his ears down like he was scared.  WHAT THE HECK?  My amateur opinion is that he is a bit of a drama queen, since I don't hit him and have had him since he was 6 weeks old...I know he has never been hit by anyone.