My last dog had IVDD, Intervertebral Disc Disease, a condition where the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spinal column either bulge or burst (herniate) into the spinal cord space. As she was too old for surgery, conservative treatment for IVDD was to do whatever we could do to keep pressure off of her neck and backbone. So we carried her around… a lot. We carried her anytime when we took her anywhere, even when we took her outside to go potty so that she wouldn’t have to take the stairs that lead from the deck to the yard. Picking her up became a habit. She was small and it was easy.
After she passed away, we adopted another adult dog of similar size. We continued our old habits by picking him up to take him out to potty and carrying him everywhere, even though he was perfectly willing and able to walk and get around. Because he was small, I’m sure his previous owner carried him at times, but overall, he is a very independent little guy. Despite that, we still carry him. I had an “aha” moment recently when I began to wonder what it must do to a dog, physically and psychologically, when we insist on picking them up and carrying them around rather than letting them go it on their own?
Limited Socialization with Other Dogs
My first thought is that carrying a dog would definitely crush his attempts at socialization with other dogs. A no-brainer, right? I mean, he’s up in my arms while other dogs are on the ground. He is unable to sniff and explore. If he were a puppy, not allowing him to socialize with other dogs would certainly hinder crucial development in that area. Fortunately, my dog is an adult. He already has been well socialized, but what kind of damage could I be doing to his need for socialization by not allowing him to “meet and greet” other canines? For that matter, could carrying him eventually eliminate his natural desire not only to socialize with other dogs, but to socialize with people and to interact with his world?
Suppressed Fight or Flight Response
What does my dog think of being “restrained”? I mean, he’s an animal. Holding him prevents him from being free to run, or to “escape” if need be. Animals have a “fight” or “flight” response that I have shut down by not allowing him to run. Surely this causes undue stress and anxiety for him, particularly if he feels threatened or senses danger. For instance, I have my dog in my arms, someone comes over to pet him and I feel him immediately tense up as he is approached by a stranger. Maybe he gets a bad feeling about that person but guess what, he can’t flee! He could bite if he wanted to, and that could happen. He could very easily develop some aggression issues caused by the hopelessness he feels to protect himself. Or, he could go the other direction and, over time, suppress that anxiety and begin to expect me to protect him. Not that that’s a bad thing, because of course I intend to protect him, but if he depends on me to keep him safe, then he has given up on a beautiful natural instinct that makes a dog a dog… the instinct to be strong and provide protection.
Technically, restricting his movement probably makes him uncomfortable. By holding him for long periods of time, I could unknowingly be putting more even stress on his back. It’s just unnatural. I’m guilty… I hold my dog towards his chest and stomach, allowing his legs to dangle. I thought I was doing right by supporting his middle. Then I did some research and discovered that it’s not good to allow the hind legs to hang without any support. It can cause increased stress on the lumbar spine. If we need to carry our dogs, it’s much better to create a foundation with our arms, supporting the back and legs so that they’re in a natural sitting or lying down position. Back supported; front legs in a natural position.
What am I doing to my dog’s confidence when I carry him? Does it somehow diminish his confidence, or does it give him delusions of grandeur? I mean, does he think that because he is elevated, that he has a higher ranking? I don’t know, but my guess is the latter – that it would weaken his confidence. He would become unsure of himself, having not been consistently exposed to things and not having the opportunity to learn and “do” for himself. Walking on his own could be a great boost to his confidence.
And… a biggie… If I carry him around a lot, he is not getting near the exercise that he could be getting. That’s not only bad for his weight, but for the proper functioning of all of his bodily systems. Walking helps alleviate arthritis and other joint issues. It strengthens his muscles. Walking may actually strengthen his spine so that he has a better chance of avoiding IVDD, the same disease suffered by his “predecessor”, which is a common disorder for his breed. The more he walks, the healthier he will be… That goes for all of us, right?
Of course, there are many times when picking up your small dog is preferable… Like you’re in a crowd of people, it’s safer for him if you pick him up to avoid him being stepped on. And of course, if the pavement is too hot (or too cold) , or if there is broken glass, or if he is sick or injured, or in some kind of danger, it’s a good idea to pick him up regardless of his size.
Creating bad habits
True confession… sometimes I fear I have created a little monster. Dogs quickly pick up on habits and my dog has gotten to the point of expecting me to pick him up and carry him. Regrettably, it’s almost like I have “trained” him to rely on me for transportation. At times, my now spoiled dog will insist that I come pick him up rather than him obeying a “come” command. For an example, it’s time for him to go outside and he doesn’t want to, for whatever reason. I just give up on getting him to come to me and walk over and pick him up. I acquiesce to his “brattiness”. The Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Trainers are going to be so upset with me when they read this!
Okay, so I’m turning over a new leaf… Starting now, I’m going to work with my dog to get him used to walking on his own again. I want him to be confident, secure, and self-reliant. I want him to be healthy, both physically and psychologically. I don’t want one of those nervous little ankle-biters that many celebrities carry around either in their arms or even in their purses. I hope it’s not too late for me to return my dog to his natural “all paws on deck” mentality. And it’s good to know our expert dog trainers are there to help!