Monday, December 8, 2008

Training Rant - Alpha Roll or Omega Roll?

In one of the comment threads I mentioned that I'd post a blog entry about why I don't think that Cesar using the "Alpha Roll" is good - regardless of what "Zone" they are in. Cesar is not the only trainer that uses the "Alpha Roll", but he is probably the most popular one. This blog is not about Cesar, but about the Alpha Roll (or as I call it, the Omega Roll). Because Cesar has become such an idol, I have used his training methods simply as an example.

Before I begin, I will reiterate my opinion of Cesar Millan. I have watched his show and read the books that he has published. I have investigated and come to my own conclusion. While I like and agree with many of Cesar's theories about dogs I do NOT agree with his "hands-on" approach to things. By 'hands-on' I mean him tapping the dogs with his hand or foot (note - I have chickens and we teach the dogs no touch without smacking them at all, let alone hitting so hard that the whole body moves), rolling the dogs and also hanging them by their collars. Each of the three linked videos above are less than 1 minute long with no audio.

Please note that this is a highly controversial topic and usually brings people to an argumentative state rather quickly. (Sounds like it's just an interesting topic to me!) The topic today is the Alpha Roll. Or as I like to call it - the Omega Roll. I will explain this in a bit. First I will describe what the Alpha Roll is very quickly:

The Alpha Roll is when a dog handler takes the dog and forcefully lies him on his side.

Yes, there are a lot more graphic ways to describe it such as "flipping" or "hurling", but I'm trying to be politically correct. It is called the "Alpha Roll" because you are supposed to be showing your dog that you are the "dominant" dog, commonly referred to as the "leader of the pack".

Some people do this quite forcefully as you will note in this video of a popular dog trainer (Cesar) where he picks the dog up and puts him quite hard on the ground (yes, it's carpeted, but how about you have one of your family members do this to you with the same force and let me know how fast the breath comes out of your lungs and how long it takes you to regain it, k?) You will also note that this same trainer gets bitten at the end of the video.

So that's how to do it ... what's so wrong? Well, please take some time to read the articles I will link to. You will note that I've provided you with articles to read about this topic. This is because I don't have the certifications that these authors do (psychology, etc) so really, my opinion is simply that of a person (much like Cesar, eh?). You may lose your dog's respect and it will likely make the problem worse.

Alpha Roll or Alpha Role? Explains where this technique came from and comments on research that has since disproven the effectiveness of the "Alpha Roll".

This article explains that using force to train your dog can result in these things happening:
  • The dog will never attain the beautiful rapport gained from training with a friend- ly, affectionate owner.
  • Intimidating tactics cause timidness and a dislike of training.
  • Methods that cause friction between you and your dog can make an otherwise friendly fellow become aggressive towards people and other dogs. Aggression in dogs has increased since compulsive Alpha - wolf concepts of training - became popular.
And finally, this is the last article for everyone to read. It is called Being the Alpha Dog and it details many ways to be the Alpha or Leader of the Pack without using force.

Your dog is not trying to take over the world (not my coin-phrase, but a true one all the same!). He just needs some guidance from you and he needs you to act like a leader (without brute force!). Yes, this includes shelter dogs, rescue dogs, reactive dogs, agressive or shy dogs and also dogs that enter that popular "Red Zone".

Feel free to comment on anything I have posted (including Cesar if you wish).

I said that I would explain why I call the Alpha Roll the Omega Roll. Well, I'm not going to spell it out for you, but Alpha comes first in the Greek Alphabet ... Omega comes last. Get it?


GoLightly said...

Nope, totally disagree:)
I did the roll only once, with puppy, after she'd attacked another puppy about her own age. I mean, she was doing the full-red-eyed, wanna kill ya head shake, ferocious death struggle typa deal.. I did it gently (so does Cesar. You think that bulldog felt anything? Nope). She submitted, never ever did it again, to any dog, anywhere, anytime. Timing, gentleness in everything physical you may do. You may run out of food one day, or your dog may not be hungry. That "Butch" dog is the one that had REPEATEDLY bitten and threatened his owners. He bit Cesar quite badly. The trick to any of it is to be calm, and not angry, when doing any form of discipline. When does he hang a dog by its' collar? That is a Koehler method, where you wait for the dog to black out. Honestly, work with some horses, (I have) and just try to do it with only sweetness & light. What would a Momma Dog do? She'd drop that puppy to the floor. Gently. Calmly, without any malice. It's people who ENJOY the alpha roll that are the problem.
That is the key.
In every single one of the videos you show, the dog has done something dangerously life threatening. The tap on the hunter dog, the Lab? Yes, the dog moves, in surprise. The dog HAD ALREADY KILLED a Chicken.
It was in full predator mode. This was the dog bought by Mr. Clueless owner himself, Marley's dad. Dogs need rules, boundaries and limitations. (Heard that before)
If they aren't made clear, TO THE DOG, you are in trouble. I would advise you to be cautious, and really be careful about working with this type of dog.
You are showing short clips, not the whole show. I still think you need to watch more of him. The dog he "hung" by her collar, had just totally, viciously attacked his other dogs. He waited for his other dogs to be out of harm's way, before he rolled that pitbull.
Anyway, thanks, I love a good disagreement:)
I'm one of the kindest people I know:)
The episodes you show are of tough, already proven nasty ass dogs. The Lab? Labs have been shown to be quite immune to pain, as I've mentioned. How else would you get the dogs' attention? Food? What if they aren't hungry? You can't depend on food rewards forever. Be careful. Keep your mind open. Watch more of Cesar:)
The bad-ass-dog OWNERS are 99.9% at FAULT, already.
Thanks DDF:)

Dog_geek said...

Thanks for posting this. I totally agree with you, both about your assessment of Cesar and about the Alpha Roll. Unfortunately, the best trainers and behaviorists are not TV celebrities, so the general TV-watching public isn't going to have the information they need to make an informed assessment.

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

Dog_Geek - I agree that the best trainers are the ones that are not on TV.

GoLightly - I think we're going to have to agree to disagree on this one.

I have worked with dogs like that. In each of those scenarios (the ones that attack the owners, other dogs and livestock) I have found ways to work with the dogs without such hands-on techniques - with success I might add. (My point with those videos was that I wanted to show that Cesar uses Hands-on training as there was a comment in an earlier thread that he doesn't)

The key? You MUST do basics before putting them in that situation. There are many, many exercises, etc that you use to prep the dogs for that scenario. I am NOT referring to "Sit, Stay" by the way. That is obedience - I am referring to soft skills.

Like I said - we will probably have to agree to disagree. :)

Cesar uses flooding to "teach" the dogs, which is why he is often in that situation where he feels he must use these techniques. Flooding has been proven to be a poor teaching technique.

GoLightly said...

Just curious.
What would you have done with that pit-bull that was in full "attack other dogs and kill them" mode?
That you work with dogs in shelters, means you're working with dogs outside of their "home turf". Dogs are very different, at home.
Juuust askin?

GoLightly said...

How? What was the technique?
Just askin?
I am curious, part of my nature:)
Can you really seriously control every single situation your dog comes across? Instantly, with out "any" hands?

DogsDeserveFreedom said...

GoLightly - I'll try to answer your questions individually otherwise I may miss something. I don't think I'll make a lot of friends on this one :)

Regarding the Pit - I would not have put the dog in that situation. I get dogs regularly that attack everything with 4 legs (sometimes ones that attack anything with 2!). You pull the dogs apart, yes. That does mean you need to touch the dogs, yes. However, you should not hang the dog by the collar until it calms down, nor should you Omega Roll. (IMHO) If the dog does react with agression, then you have NOT done your job as a trainer to properly prep them for this environment.

I begin work in the shelters, then they come live in my home. With my dogs (3), cats (3), cockatiels (5), and barn animals (horses, chickens, ducks, turkeys). The dogs are taught how to deal with each one individually (including dogs on and off leash) and then they are taught how to deal with multiples. They are also brought into town and taught how to deal with walks, pavement, barking dogs, weird people and anything else we may encounter. The last step for training is being able to deal with children playing at the park. (Note this is the LAST - this is when I know the dog will be able to deal with most things and we have developed some level of trust ... We have to be especially careful when children are involved)

You're right that dogs are different at home, but that Pit was not at home, so I'm not really sure what you are referring to with that? Could you explain why that would affect this scenario?

You can totally control every single thing your dog accesses. And with a dog that is dangerous or has attacked/bitten before, than you should.

The basic technique is to control the environment until your dog is capable of dealing with more. You do not allow things to interfere until the dog is ready and able to deal with those things. I don't take the dogs I work with to town immediately. The first thing we do is establish rules, boundaries and teach them how to interact with the resources we have at hand - our dogs/cats/birds /animals/people. Once you teach them that, then you begin working places where you can't control your environment (example - in town, parks, etc)

With a dog agressive dog (for example), I put that dog on leash and first teach the dog how to Heel-Sit with no dog stimuli and with food/clicker/toy rewards. Once he/she has that down, I bring my dogs into the picture. With voice commands I tell my dogs where to walk and where to lie down (think herding training). They Down-Stay (maybe 100ft away?) and the dog I'm working with learns to deal with it with food rewards (or toy depending on the dog). What you do is find out where the threshold is. Every dog has a threshold - you will notice that the Pit was fine until the other dog came too much in its space? That was its threshold at that time. Thresholds change as the dog learns and the environment changes.

We work closer and closer to my dogs until we can get right beside them without agression. My dogs seem to enjoy "working" the other dogs and I know what reaction my dogs will have so I control the situation. I ensure they are never put into danger.

As a dog owner you are in control.

You control when the dog goes in and out.
You control whether the dog is on leash in the house or not.
You control whether the dog is on leash outside the house or not.
You control what stimuli your dog meets by controling the animals and people around.
You control how much time the dog spends in the crate and how much time out.
You control when the dog is fed and how much.
You, the dog owner, are in control.

If you live in town and need to take your dog for walks and your dog can't deal with stimuli on walks, then drive out to an area you know there will be limited stimuli. I would go out to one of the County Forests. Maybe a snowmobile trail (in summer they are often abandoned most of the time). There won't be a lot of people/dogs/etc there and you can work on your basics.

There is no excuse for losing control of the environment. You, the owner, are in control and as such, should act like it. Problem is, most people get into the habit of blaming others for their mistakes (in many things - not only dog training).

You teach the dog what the right choices are then you give them the opportunity to make those choices (under supervision and with some guidance). Once I know that the dog is ok with my dogs (they do get used to each other), then the next stage begins - playing. It's all stages and steps. Most people just open the door and say "ok, be good, dog and don't tear my house apart, don't bark and don't attack my family, pets, friends".

(I hope I haven't rambled on too long for this one)

GoLightly said...

"You're right that dogs are different at home, but that Pit was not at home, so I'm not really sure what you are referring to with that? Could you explain why that would affect this scenario?"
That dog had been at Cesar's centre for some time, and been rehabbed. He was showing no dog aggession whatsoever. His owners showed up, and the dog immediately attacked the other dogs. That's where I think you're missing my point of hands on. He did not hang the dog, he removed the dogs mouth from the other dogs throats, until they'd cleared the area. He then made sure the two dogs were caged together for a few minutes, until all was again calm.

I am a totally responsible dog owner. I am speaking of people that get one of your dogs, and don't do their reading. Not everyone loves training and behaviour theory. They just want a dog.
"There is no excuse for losing control of the environment. You, the owner, are in control and as such, should act like it. Problem is, most people get into the habit of blaming others for their mistakes (in many things - not only dog training)."
Act like it. Yes, that is where people go wrong, all the time.
Calm, assertive behaviour. Dogs gravitate towards it.

Thanks DDF. Great answer. Kudos for the work you do. I understand what you're saying, I just hope you can understand what I'm trying to say.
AVERAGE dog owner. There are more of them, than there are of "us".

Let me give you one example to ponder. You have worked your dog-aggressive dog to the point where he is trustworthy with you, in ALMOST all situations. (There are always unforeseen circumstance popping up you know. eg. I was walking my dog off-leash in a park. Over the hill rushed a pit cross, who would have attacked my Rusty. She jumped into my arms. The owners came running over the hill, saying OH, thank goodness your dog is female. He would have KILLED your dog, if it was male).

You don't always know. If you can always control your environment, I want to know where you live, I'm moving there!! Anyway, your rehabbed dog goes to a new, average dog owner home. That dog then experiences what I experienced in the park. What do you think would have happened? New dog owner probably would have a coronary.
What would a momma dog do? Put her hands on. Or her mouth, of course...

Please don't take the Cesar videos out of the context of the show. That was one of the scariest episodes I ever watched. In the end, the OWNERS finally figured out what they needed to do. They, of course, had been the weak link.
Sorry, I'm rambling, again.
You sound like a hell of a good dog trainer. Kudos!

"Flooding has been proven to be a poor teaching technique."
by Jean Donaldson, no doubt. She frickin' HATES Cesar. He is way simpler to understand. Jean D. as I said, baffles ya with bull-crap.

Ok, one last example. Flooding happens, whether you want it to, or not. Thunderstorm terror, for example. Who controls that? Fireworks?
Ok, I must work.
Thanks again.