Sunday, May 23, 2010

An alpha roll on video

This is video of Cooper and Walker, our two newest dogs on the K-9 Corrections program. I accidentally caught what is commonly referred to as an "alpha roll" on video. I say accidental because I wasn't expecting it. You can hear the handlers laughing in the background because they don't realize that what they are seeing isn't normal happy play. (while some dogs do roll each other in play sometimes look at how tense Cooper is when doing this) It is a great example of what an alpha roll really is however.

Notice how the larger stronger dog CHOOSES to submit and roll over, he is not physically forced to do so. If he didn't chose to submit to the body language of the other dog there would have been a fight instead. When people roll their dogs they are only physically forcing the dog into a body position, who knows what the dog is thinking. You cannot guarantee a dog is mentally submitting to the roll. (or giving up in some cases also known as learned helplessness when done repeatedly) Those that don't give up when let go may chose to bite. This can be because being forced to lay down in that position (physically forced) reads as an attack to many dogs. Dogs being a fight or flight animal only have two choices in that situation. If they are prevented from flight one of those choices is taken away from them. Guess what that leaves them?

The problem with using physical force to manage or intimidate your dog into behaving means you MUST be present 100% of the time for that to happen. Because it is management using suppression of behavior you don't want, not teaching them the behavior that you prefer. For the best long term results you shouldn't just stop behavior, you should change behavior. (sometimes that includes the need to change the emotion of events for your dog)

What dog owners also need to know is that "dominance" is a contextual relationship between dogs and not a set description of a dog. Many dogs that people label as dominant are really bullies. A true leader within a social group doesn't need to use any physical force to control the other dogs. A good leader is benevolent, not violent. Something we humans could stand to remember when dealing with dogs and other people, but I digress. Bullies tend to be insecure dogs in general. (sidenote: resource guarding is not about dominance)

Cooper is actually very interesting because some of his social cues seem slightly off. He vocalizes when he wants to play but it sounds more like a warning growl. He isn't showing pilo-erection (hackles raised) but he seems conflicted to me. I haven't seen him do any of the stress yawning but he is bowing and stretching instead. (also known as calming signals-see Turid Rugaas FMI) His handler reported that he nibbled gravy off his hand instead of licking it off. He hates the rain, refusing to move if it touches him, and he is more trustful of women then men upon meeting people. Oh and he tends to mark in new places. (who wants to adopt that?)

It is obvious he didn't have a great life where ever he was before coming to the shelter. He is improving and some of our goals with him include getting him to relax around people more and hopefully even learning how to play with toys. We are also going to teach him that when he growls at another dog the other dog will go away. (This means we will be teaching Walker to move away from Cooper when he growls.) This way when he plays in the future he will have some control over the interaction, hopefully with a socially appropriate dog, which should help him be more relaxed in that situation.

At this point I would like to see him go into a home with another dog because he does seem to be more relaxed with another dog around. (much like another former K-9 Corrections dog Grizz) This would also take the pressure off of him that being an only dog can bring. But it is early yet and I may change my mind based on his progress. I can see that he obviously really likes his handler so that is a great sign.

Wish us luck!


Never Say Never Greyhounds said...

Excellent video and explanation. You could cut that tension with a knife!

Mrs. Lazaro said...

Great post, Marie! I am saving this video to show to people who are confused about what an "alpha roll" really is in the dog world.

Can't wait to see and hear all about Cooper's progress, too!

Jen said...

fantastic post - really well thought out and stated. Awesome.

Great video too, what a great learning tool to capture on film! Between this and Jack's crazy tongue - you are getting lucky with that camera!