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By Kathy Diamond Davis
Author and Trainer

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Alpha-Roll Training Can Cause Serious Problems

Q: I acquired an oversized Sheltie from the Humane Society 2 years ago. She was 1 1/2 years old at the time and I do not know her history at all. We have had to kennel her during the day since she will use the house as a potty if we are not home. While we are home, she does fine with this. My problem is not the house training, but recently--a couple months ago--Casey started getting nasty when we kennel her. She has always had a high strung attitude and has always barked at us and gone nuts when kenneling her, but recently she has started nipping us. She bit my daughters hand, did not break the skin, but the teethmarks were very pronounced. She has tried to bite me also and I have always been the alpha in the house as I am the one who cares for all our pets.

I have another Sheltie, who I have no problems with at all. I have been doing the alpha roll on her and my husband has done it also, of course she listens better to him, but they all like that male voice. The alpha roll seems to work, but we have to keep repeating it almost daily and I just don't know if she will ever "not" need it. Also, she goes nuts if someone comes to the door and I have to kennel her because I am afraid she will bite someone. What is your suggestion? I am at my wits end. I can't have a mean dog who may bite someone, especially my family. I am giving her one last chance, but I realize it is my responsibility to help her in this as well.

A: Oh, stop that alpha rollover! That is making her more and more defensive! Even the people who originally wrote that book and recommended that maneuver changed their position on it some years later, but unfortunately people keep teaching it, and doing it. It is extremely harmful to the relationship between dog and owner in many cases. The dogs in which it does no harm, didn't need it anyway!

You're going to need the right behavior specialist to help you out of this situation. I would not be at all sure it's a temperament problem on the part of the dog. Shelties are sensitive, they are typically submissive, and this handling would be drastically incorrect for such a dog.

Ask your veterinarian to recommend a local behavior specialist to work with you one-on-one. After a foundation in private lessons, it would also be good to take the dog to class, but you need more direct and more immediate help than class could provide.

There is so much knowledge out now about how to handle this type of dog, that you will hopefully be able to find someone good in your area. Besides a behavior specialist, you might get good help from someone who has bred, trained, and formally shown Shetland Sheepdogs over a long period of time. Someone who has kept up with the new knowledge in dog training.

If you continue on the present course with the dog, bad things are likely to continue to happen. Shelties are smart, willing, and extremely trainable, but they are easily overwhelmed. Even the most submissive dog, when pushed to an emotional state of survival mode, has no choice but to defend herself. Dogs are not "mean." There is something much more complicated going on here. The good news is that the right intervention can very likely prevent this dog from coming to a tragic end.


Q: Thank you for your reply. From the moment we brought Casey home, she has never shown a submissive side to her at all. She has always been the aggressive one. She does not cower when disciplined. By discipline, I do not mean beating, we have always been firm with her. I have always tried to train her with a pleasant voice when she is good and a firm one if she was bad. My husband was brought up with the firm belief of smack if bad, but I wouldn't let him because she is so dominant and I felt this would only make things worse--but this has backfired. She is getting worse and worse.

I would love to hire a trainer, but I cannot afford a trainer at this time. I have to do this on my own or find a new home for her. If she should bite someone, then she will be put down. I am trying to avoid that.

If there is something which I can try at home by myself, then I am willing to try it. She is a nice dog when she is one on one with either me or my husband--she likes him better. But, I have other dogs and I am not getting rid of them.

A: I really don't know what to suggest if you can't have in-person expert help for the dog. Sheltie rescue might be willing to take her. A contact person for them is listed through this site:

You could also try using the techniques in the book The Canine Good Citizen, by Jack and Wendy Volhard.

However, what this dog needs is so different from the handling she's getting, I just don't think you'll be able to change the handling enough without some expert coaching in person. You could try a regular obedience class. Through obedience clubs, they are taught by dedicated volunteers, and are very affordable. They don't advertise much, but you can find the club nearest you through the AKC Regional Breed Clubs link at

I just hate to hear of a dog being put to sleep when the alpha rollover has been repeatedly used, by two different people, and especially such a reactive breed as this. I can't help but feel that dog could have lived if it had been handled differently. I would urge you to see if Sheltie rescue can take her, so that her failure to adjust in your home won't wind up being her death sentence.

Date Published: 8/23/2002 6:02:00 PM


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Kathy Diamond Davis is the author of the book Therapy Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others.�Should the training articles available here or elsewhere not be effective, contact your veterinarian. Veterinarians not specializing in behavior can eliminate medical causes of behavior problems. If no medical cause is found, your veterinarian can refer you to a colleague who specializes in behavior or a local behaviorist.

Copyright 2002 - 2007 by Kathy Diamond Davis. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

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