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The "Alpha Roll"


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I am curious to hear opinions on the alpha roll. Does anybody use this technique for corrections? I know that some people have recommended it in previous posts. I only use it in extreme circumstances, when Bailey has done something terribly unacceptable. Probably only have done it 3 times and he is almost 1.5 years old. In my last post I was warned against this technique and did some reading on the cons. Bailey does not try to resist or bite me. It does not cause him to become more aggressive. Nor do I feel that I am scaring him with the threat of death as some of the articles stated that I am doing. I'm glad that Cholla1 pointed this issue out to me, now I am curious to hear some other opinions.

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Here is one opinion:






Note: The information in the following article came from an interview with Dr. Ian Dunbar, who spent nine years studying the social behavior of dogs during the study mentioned below. In an earlier version of this article, Dr. L. David Mech was credited with the 30-year study. This was a mistake. The researcher who conducted the study was Dr. Frank Beach. An effort has been made to correct this error. However, if you know of a place where the original article was published, please notify the editor and request a correction.

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 unrepresentative -- 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 hell -- psychologically 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

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Thanks for posting that! I did read that one but then couldn't find it again. I am not disagreeing with you Cholla1-nor am I getting defensive. (Not that you said I am ) I am just curious to hear some other opinions. I am now reading "The Dog Listener" by Jan Fennell and I really like her techniques about how to establish pack order. Has anyone read this?


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?
My only gripe about the article is that I have seen many dogs playing and they DO flip each other on their backs and go for the neck in play. Now is that having some horrible effect on the dogs because it was the threat of death? I really don't think so. Bailey and our husky do this to each other often in play.


Nor do I teach with fear. I establish pack order by walking out the door first, ignoring bad behavior like jumping until Bailey figures out that it isn't getting him anywhere (which only took about 3 days), etc.

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Another opinion:

"How to Speak Dog", by Stanley Coren, pg. 240, middle paragraph.


Too long to retype as slow as I am and scanning it doesn't bring it small enough to read without losing clear focus.

Someone that can type faster can copy it here, maybe.

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I dont see what is bad about the alpha roll, its in no way a death thread, its just putting the dog in a submissive posture. thats a dogs nature to show there belly, there most vunarble area to the alpha. my dogs do that without my help if I am working with a dominant puppy I will gently roll them on there back, just to teach them that they will never be the alpha, I see nothing wrong with it, the adult dogs will do it to puppys as well, same reason. it certainly has not had any ill effects on them. its not something I would do when they have done something bad though. there are many cruel methods of training, and the alpha roll is not one of them inless its misused. i have read about much worse then that believe me.

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Thank you Cholla for posting that so I didn't have to write out the truth about alpha rolls.


Border-collie-crazy: Don't confuse dog play with dog aggression or dominance. Realize the big differences here are that each time the dog rolls on it's back it is VOLUNTARY!!!!!!!!!! When you "alpha roll" as dog for misbehavior you are forcing it to submit. That is not voluntary.


The "resources" that Cholla's post mentions are the same thing as the Nothing In Life Is Free rules(NILIF).


I do not alpha roll any dog, I see no reason to & I feel it is a technique established by people who didn't really understand the nature of a dog submitting to another one. I think any one willing to force a dog on it's back better be willing to get bit. I am not saying the dog WILL bite you, but if it does what are you going to do? How will you handle it if it bites out of fear? If it bites out of dominance?


In the dog world, fighting/biting are the last resort to establishing the pack order. Dogs use eye contact, posturing, shoulder bumps during play, and several other things to establish the pack order. When these things fail to work, neither dog submits, then the fight can break out. Remember that bite wounds in the wild (where our dogs innate behavior started), mean infection, pain, and possible death. It's a last resort for two dogs that can't fix an issue between them.


Now.....Baileys Mom, there is more going on in your household than you've posted. Maybe it just hasn't been seen, but I promise you Bailey didn't just wake up one day and decise to snap at your bfriends face. Bailey has been able to push him around prior to this, or Bailey is afraid of him and snaps out of fear. Only you can figure out which of these is the reason for the snapping.


I didn't post about the snapping because you made it clear that the bfriend shows little interest in caring for the dogs. If he showed interest in taking over their care, then I suggest he use the NILIF program to establish his roll in the family.


HKM's Mom

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Disclaimer: The following rant is not directed at anyone who has posted in this thread.


What strikes me about this discussion -- which comes up over and over again -- is that it is like people who drive a Dodge K-Car asking whether they should install a racing suspension.


Unless and until you know how to administer a correction, the alpha roll will be no more and no less effective than a 12-minute lecture on why the angels don't like it when your dog snaps at the kids' heels.


Most of the time, a well-timed and milder correction will take the place of snatching the hell out of a dog. I own or look after a total of 14 Border collies, and I probably use something that might be called an alpha roll about once every other year. You can bet your socks that it is effective.


Short of physical harm from exerting too much force on the dog, I don't know what actual harm can come from a severe physical correction *assuming* that the dog has been taught right from wrong and that a correction is not a new thing to him. I see lots of pet dogs that have never had a correction, and of course the alpha roll would freak such a dog out.


What I find with our dogs is that when I snatch them up bald headed they will go out of their way to get back in my good graces. Far from responding with fear, they generally respond with more respect.

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Bill, as you can read here, this is what I said before about it in another thread, that started this discussion.


I think that it is wrong to tell most people to use it.


That it seemed to work for you I am not surprised, but tell me, if you are really mad at a dog at another time and use any other correction, even a growl and menacing posture only, would your offending dog not also be sheepish, pun intended, for a while and mind his step just as well?

Is it the "alpha roll" that your dog responded to as much as the fact that it was a stern correction?

Just wondering...


---"Olivia, my post was not to say that we need to train with cookies and all positive methods, something that may sound good to some but is really not possible, because positive alone doesn't exist, if nothing else.


This was not a situation where a very small puppy needed restrain, for what I understand.

That would have been a completely different situation.


What I meant to say is that to put a dog on it's back and hold it there, done as a quick dominant training aid in a specific situation by an experienced dog person and to the right dog for the right offense is something that can't be recommended to the general public and expect it to work as intended most of the time.


That is why it has been discourged. It tends to promote escalating aggression, if not done right and most people don't and cause the dog to resist and many times get away with it, unintentionally teaching it that it needs to resist and that it can get away with it if it does so.


Why is it not recomended anymore?

Because it would presume that the owner does know when and how to apply it and if the situation with their own dog is getting to the point of needing such, that owner has already missed the required experience to have handled their dog in a manner that it would not even have tought to do whatever it did that needed an "alpha roll".


Best to tell people to go to a NILIF program, to reduce the dog's position in the "pack", than to agressively try to dominate a dog physically that already thinks it has given rights to assert itself.


The best defense is not always an offense, is prevention.


The dog should be corrected with voice but I would not recommend that an owner gets it's hands on on a dog that is growling or biting.


He needs a change in management so it is not again in a position to feel the need to have a say in how his people interact. "---

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I find that a verbal expression of my displeasure, occasionally accompanied by the chucking of a set of keys or a can with rocks in it somewhere in the general vicinity of the dogs, generates all the attention, contrition, etc. that I need.


But I play it up big time when I do it, so they really know they've been bad, I'm mad and it had better not happen again.


I need to do this maybe once every six months or so.


Cheers, MR

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I know I will probably be reamed but there are times that an "alpha" is needed. I do not recommend this to anyone and I was taught the correct way and when to use it. Only one of my dogs will ever get it and that is my australian cattledog. 90% of the time she is great, listens well on and off leash, does flyball, plays with the other dogs in the house nicely.


About once a year, for whatever reason I will give a command, she won't listen, I will enforce the command (gently) and she will turn on me and try to bite me. In this instance she gets her butt rolled and that solves the problem for a year or so. And yes I have discussed the situation with experts (vets, behavior specialists, other acd owners). The consensus was that she is being stubborn and that since there is nothing in particular that sets her off, they suggest continuing with what I do.


Do I think this is the best way to handle it no but does it work, yes...


You can ask anyone that has met my acd, you would never know her and I have these bouts. It has not effected her mind a bit. Would I recommend someone do an "alpha" NO.


I do recommend that people roll their puppies and get them use to being on their backs since you never know what might need to be done, like vet trips and such.

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Bill wrote:


"What strikes me about this discussion -- which comes up over and over again -- is that it is like people who drive a Dodge K-Car asking whether they should install a racing suspension."




I find this incredibly funny as my first car was a 1980 Dodge Aries K car. Looked like a box and sounded like one too (picture a little kid in a cardboard box making "car noises").


Knowing very little about the alpha roll, this statement tells me not to do it.



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I think there are two major problems with 99.9% of the applications for the "alpha roll."


(1) People usually reach for this particular tool because they interpret their dog's behavior as "dominant" or "trying to be boss." While dogs are sometimes motivated by "dominance" or "trying to be boss," I think that this particular explanation for dog behavior applies in relatively few cases. From what I can tell, when people think their dog is "trying to be boss," it is most often the case that the dog is actually not trained and has no idea what appropriate behavior is. For example, a dog is never really taught a decent recall, and then his later "refusals" to come are interpreted as rebellion. The average dog owner is not able to correctly identify "dominant" behavior and therefore has no business trying to use "dominance" corrections to fix it.


(2) The "alpha roll" is based on a flawed understanding of how dogs or wolves actually interact with each other. Dogs pin each other in play all the time -- but they're not using the pin as a correction. As far as corrections go, if you watch a real top dog, he rarely if ever has to do more than give a meaningful look, a low growl, or an air snap to get his message across. The dogs who cause problems in social groups, and who get physical most often, are the ones who are underconfident and insecure about their social positions. I think that it is best for owners to not emulate the behavior of such dogs.


I honestly cannot think of a single case where an "alpha roll" would be the only or most appropriate response to undesirable behavior from a dog, assuming that a correction is justified in the first place.

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How about this one, Melanie:


The puppy that has been flying past you for weeks, snapping at your hamstrings while you're letting the other dogs out of their crates for their walks. He knows how to avoid the correction, and is willfully breaking a rule that he knows.


One day, you find your hands on him as he sails past. You put him on the ground and look straight into his eyes and say, "Don't you ever bite me again, you little son of a biscuit eater." You let him up, go for your walk, and by God, he doesn't.


He's not trying to be dominant. He's not being agressive, really. He's just excited and acting like a little terd, and he needs sorted. And sorted he gets.


It's not a monumental moment in his life, or in yours, but it takes the place of lots of little angry moments that stretched out as far as the eye could see until that fortunate moment when the stars aligned and your reflexes were fast enough, or you were lucky enough, to catch the little darling in the act.


Perhaps it would be possible to avoid this problem by letting the offender out last. Perhaps it should have been stopped earlier on, but it wasn't. Perhaps you should figure out a way to set up the situation so a less strident correction is called for. But here in the real world, the alpha roll or bald-headed snatch up works a charm.

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I accept your example, but I could live without your condescending attitude. I do live in the "real world," thanks very much, and I happen to do it with at least one dog who may very well have landed a serious bite on someone by now if he were in most other people's hands. I don't know what kind of pie-in-the-sky planet you think I live on, but if you think I don't spend a LOT of time thinking about training and control, and implementing training and control, you don't know anything about me at all.


I would still more or less never recommend an "alpha roll" to pretty much anyone, because I think maybe 1% of people out there are capable of applying something like that fairly, correctly, and without anger. I feel like the planet we both live on is big enough so that there is often more than one solution for a problem situation, and that we don't have to agree about this to be able to respect each other's opinions.


By the way, "turd" is spelled with a u.

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Um, my apologies to everyone else . . .


Mel, if you've sent me any e-mail since Monday I haven't gotten it. I'm not sure whether it's my mail or yours.


It's odd, I've worked intensively with dogs for nine years now and can't remember ever rolling one. Not that I'm against it, I guess I'm just more partial to the scruff lift though I can't remember the last time I had to use that either. Oh, yes I can, last year when my young male thought he was going to try moving up and picked a fight with my older male. I don't like that and so I informed him.


I tend to hold psychological sway over my guys - I own all the toys, the work, their freedom to go pee. I'm a nit-picker and am constantly on the lookout for the beginning glimmers of unsuitable behaviors. On the other hand, I give them plenty of freedom to make those mistakes. They quickly come to trust me when I say something is inappropriate. A simple "Ah!" will bring them to a standstill - well, except my two blockheads while they're on stock. :rolleyes:


Melanie, was that a smiley I saw in your post!?!



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I fail to see where Bill F. was condescending.


He offered a real-life example of a technique that has worked for him in the past with which Melanie disagrees. I know that in our "politically-correct, feel-good, everybody's opinion is valid" world that we're all supposed to phrase things just-so so we don't offend......... But in my world, disagreement does not equal condescention.


To me, correcting someone's spelling when the meaning was perfectly evident and the format was neither a scholarly paper nor a business document seems more condescending than offering a valid, well-placed dissenting example.



(Who recognizes that this post contains at least one run-on sentence)

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---"I fail to see where Bill F. was condescending.



I do too but then, Melanie knows him much more than I do and she may have detected that in him in a more subtle way that I would have.


By the same token, I think that Melanie was using levity with her spelling correction, as it is also possible that Bill did spell it so on purpose and that she was aware of it, making fun, not "picking" on Bill.


Sometimes, over the internet, it is hard to be too particular about where others are coming from.


Melanie is not "in the field" of raising livestock and training dogs and because of that, no matter how much she may know, is sometimes dismissed a little too offhandedly by some.

They are the ones that are missing out, as she is very knowledgeable in her own way, more than most that may feel superior to her in that regard.


In this world, it pays to listen to all.

We never quit learning if we do listen and that learning is what makes living fun, I think.

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I probably shouldn't be stepping in the middle of this, but couldn't the difference in opinion simply be that Bill is a stockperson and his reactions, timeliness, and technique have been "honed" by his circumstances? In other words, I think Melanie is really pointing out that there is no comparison between what Bill is capable of doing (and doing correctly) when training or correcting a dog and what the *average pet owner* is capable of doing correctly when training or correcting a dog. Face it, Bill has the timing and correction down to be exactly what it needs to be to get the point across at the instant of transgression. The *average* pet owner isn't likely to be quite as adept, and therein lies the problem, IMO.


Just my two cents on the matter.



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I feel the "Alpha roll" carried out gently is a very effective reprimand for grevious bad behaviour ie biting people or fighting other dogs.


Personally I would never scruff/shake a dog, this does not mean I think it is wrong, just wrong for the dogs I have owned and my style of handling. We all know what works for us with our individual dogs and will reap what we sow. Advising a novice dog handler is tough, because they may misinterpret what we mean and hurt the dog. Basically I would suggest unless you are confident and comfortable with the roll, dont use it.


Personally I try and be a gentle firm leader and realise that if my dog is not doing what I want, it is my failing not his, I have to find another way to communicate what I expect from him. I use the alpha roll exclusively for some person or dog is going to get hurt and you will stop that behaviour this second.


In the few times I have used it with 2 out of 4 BC's I have owned, it had the desired effect. The biting stopped and the dogs resumed their usual confident happy demeanor within a few minutes.


I would not use the alpha roll on a submissive, fearful, sensitive dog ever.

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Sorry to have caused all the conflict by posting about this subject! :rolleyes:


The roll has worked for Bailey the past two times that I have used it (for those most grievious of offenses) and the offenses have never been repeated. I will find out if it worked this last time (for all who didn't read my last post Bailey snapped at my boyfriend's face and drew blood). To me that behavior called for the alpha roll (but for me I know that it works with Bailey). So that's why I chose that correction for that instance.


I wouldn't use it if the dog tried to resist. I could see where one migh get bitten. Bailey willingly lets me flip him and doesn't move a muscle once flipped. I can make eye contact and he doesn't try to turn his head. EDIT: He looks away first. Doesn't move his head but averts his eyes away from me.


Nor I am hurting him with all 106 lbs of me! I am always firm but gentle, even with the roll. I think what actually works for me about the roll is that he is 100% paying attention to me, and he can see and hear that I mean business.

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I'm not saying what I was taught was right. But the way I was taught the "alpha roll" was that the dog had to give to you for it to be effective....that is turn their head away and body should relax. If Bailey is not looking away from your eye contact I would take that as not giving to you.


But I certainly could be wrong


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Originally posted by BaileysMom:

Sorry to have caused all the conflict by posting about this subject! :rolleyes:


Aww dont worry about it, where there is passion there will be disagreements. We are all clearly passionate about our dogs and handling. I love reading everyones opinions even when they differ from my own.
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What I've learned over the years is not to be rigid in my approach in dealing with my own dogs or any dogs, that the way I interact with a dog depends on the individual. That being said, I've had the little shits (turds, terds) who needed precisely what Bill did to his pup and I have responded in kind. I've also had dogs that would not have done well with this correction.


Used appropriately, i.e., by someone who knows dogs, in the right circumstances, the alpha roll can & is effective. Obviously, Bill's methods have worked for him. A quickly, well-applied correction is worth it's weight in gold. Those methods, however, in the hands of the average joe blow pet owner, can be disastrous.


Applied incorrectly, alpha rolls often don't solve the behavior and instead create new problem behaviors, a lot of times worse than the original and the average dog owner usually has not thought beyond the result of an inappropriately applied correction. There's no follow through and so chalk one up for the dog.


I agree with Melanie, that this isn't advice to be dispensed to the average dog owner, who often is clueless about body language---dogs in general & often seek a quick fix solution.


There are other, more constructive ways for the average dog owner to achieve their goals---and since dog training has evolved beyond the g-d-awful "jerk 'em & string 'em up" mentality that was popular years ago, I would feel more comfortable to steer a dog owner to any one of a number of reputable sources.




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