I’m little and adorable and I might bite you. Because you pick me up and sweep me into the air when I least expect it and it scares me and I hate it and no matter what I do I can’t seem to stop 2-legs from doing it to me all the time like some monster out of a horror movie. What else am I going to do to protect myself? Call my lawyer?
Okay, I, the writer here, could never be described as little, my husband occasionally tells me that I am adorable, but, well, he’s my husband, and I have never bitten anyone in my life. Nor have I threatened to. (No promises about the future.)
But surely that’s not a bad approximation of what tens of thousands of little dogs are wanting to tell us.
A good friend of mine told me that her Papillon puppy morphed from outgoing to fearful because so many people snatched the adorable fuzz ball up into the air before she could stop them.
It is possible to be any cuter? Just asking.
And I get it, truly I do. We are programmed to go all weak-kneed and oxytocin-crazed when presented with something so adorable. Otherwise few children would make it past the age of three. But there are consequences, some of them serious. Duffy, Hsu and Serpell did a landmark study in 2008 that found Dachshunds, Chihuahuas, Cockers, Beagles and Jack Russell Terriers had the highest percentage of aggression of 30 breeds directed toward humans.
Of course, that was 12 years ago, and has nothing to do with the extent of the injury that was caused (or even is there was a bite, for that matter). I will admit to actually laughing once in my office when a 10 pound dog charged at me, teeth bared. I’d just said good bye to a client with an aggressive Husky who spent the entire hour staring at me like a serial killer in a bad movie. I knew the little dog could hurt me, but it was easy to fend her off and it’s difficult to take a tiny dog seriously sometimes.
This dog is listed as “angry” from the photo service, but I’d bet the farm that it’s frightened.
And there lies the problem. Bites from small dogs can be medical emergencies and need to be taken seriously, but being growled at by a tiny, fluffy ball of adorableness is just not the same as being growled at by a massive, muscled-up whatever dog.
But what is it like to be a tiny dog, to be 10-12-18 inches high in a world of monsters, and never know when you are going to be snatched off of the earth like a mouse in the talons of a Red-tailed Hawk? Serpell has argued, eloquently I think, that many small dogs are on defense all the time. Surely being frightened and on alert at every moment is a recipe for any one to be defensively aggressive.
What of the millions of dogs who would never use their teeth on us, but who live in fear of being picked up? Our Tootsie had the lowest probability of being aggressive of any dog I’ve ever had or worked with. I can’t imagine what would have caused her to even growl at a human. But we worked hard to teach her that it was okay to be picked up, and tried to do it as carefully and gently as possible.
Here’s my wish for little dogs: That the general public learns that snatching tiny dogs (or puppies of any breed) up into the air can be frightening. That if they are picked, it up it is done gently and with their knowledge it is about to happen. (How about a cue, “Up and Away!” that lets dogs know what is about to happen.)
I’d love to hear your take on this. Have you had a small dog that others couldn’t resist picking up? Struggled not to pick one up yourself (we are human after all)? I’m all ears, just like the Papillon in the photo above.
Meanwhile, back on the farm: We’ve gone solar! Using more renewable energy was one of my goals for 2020, and I am thrilled that we will now have 100% of our electrical needs met with solar power. The good people at All Sky Energy did the installation, which took five days and required the best husband in the world to take down 5 sections of fence and repair them over the next few days.
A few surprises: The first is the size. It felt humongous at first. Gigantic. I have suggested to Jim that we open up a factory, because it feels like we could power one now. I have since learned that most people have the same reaction: We all see the panels either up on roofs or from far away, and have no real sense of their size. But after just a few days I’ve gotten used to it, and I smile every time I see it.
Maggie and Skip are helping out here to give you a sense of scale:
This is All Sky co-owner and hard worker Keith on the edging machine that cuts a two foot deep channel for the cable.
One of the many fences my poor husband had to cut and then repair to get the trenching machine through.
And so, we are connected to the sun in a whole new way. It feels wonderful–I am grateful that we are able to do a small something to help our poor planet, and the people and animals who live on it.
I have two toy dogs, and taught both of them to accept being picked up by always asking them first. Sometimes I have to insist; usually I let them decide, and they accede by standing with one hind back positioned to make it easy to slip a hand underneath, and hopping up as they are lifted. Most people are courteous enough to ask before trying to lift them and I always refuse – only once do I remember a woman sweeping Sophy up before I could say anything. I said she preferred to greet with all four paws on the ground; “But look, she’s fine!” said this complete stranger, oblivious to the expression of utter outrage on my dog’s face. Sophy was too polite to even grumble, but took care to stay out of grabbing reach of strangers for some time afterwards.
It’s not just the lifting, but looming. Poppy hated being loomed over, and still much prefers to greet people who crouch down than those who bend over.
I truly feel for little dogs because too often no one bothers to train them or teach them how to safely interact with their world. I love the idea of their being a cue to prepare them to be picked up. Personally I’m a total sucker for the giants and can’t imagine living with a dog that’s the same size or smaller than my cats but due to my therapy dog work I’ve ended up hanging out with a lot of little dogs some of whom I’ve needed to lift. I always try to let them know what to expect and give them time to object.
Little dogs must be so terrified when they aren’t given any tools to safely navigate their world. We had a slightly comical bad experience with one a few weeks ago. D’Artagnan was out for his walk around the neighborhood when there was a sudden burst of barking from behind a fence. He was moving to the other side of the street to give the other dog more space when the little Chihuahua mix came charging out through a gap in the fence, leapt up, and chomped onto D’Artagnan’s ruff. Fortunately, D’Artagnan was mostly just puzzled about why this little thing had come to swing on his ruff. The home owners came out and collected the little guy, they were dog sitting him and didn’t realize he was small enough to fit through their fence and no real harm was done. The idea that an eight pound dog thought attacking a 103 lb dog would keep him safe was comical and tragic in equal measure. The little guy looked pretty silly dangling in the air with his teeth in D’Artagnan’s fur but the fact that he felt compelled to attack a dog more than 10 times his size to protect himself and his territory. I’m so glad D’Artagnan is calm and easy-going or that could have ended very badly.
A cue! Why didn’t I think of that??
It’ll work on cats, too, I’ll bet. My daughter taught our cat to tolerate and then love being picked up and cuddled by following the guidelines Karen Pryor laid out for taming llamas in _Don’t Shoot the Dog_. I now have two new senior cats, and I want to use the same method. I’m definitely going to add a cue to it.
MJ Moss says
As a “home visit” trainer, I have seen many very small dogs who dislike being held by the children for whom they were acquired. In part, I believe, because the kid’s small hands and weak arms trigger a reflexive intense grip that adds real hurt to the lift. I recommend that the adults have the child seated on a low chair or pillow amd that the dog be allowed to access the child. I was once fold, ” we got the pup for them to cuddle.” I barely resisted telling them to buy a big stuffed toy. Sigh. I have used the Fa Wray/ King Kong analogy, but most now don’t recognize it. Penalty of being an old dog trainer– lol.
Sabena Lund says
Thanks heaps for this blog Patricia. I have a cavoodle pup, and have had in the back of my mind that she mustn’t like just being picked up without notice. I’m always gentle, but I hadn’t gone to the next step, to let her know what to expect – will certainly teach her a phrase to let her know that she is about to be picked up. I’ll also talk to the dog trainer about how to ask the pup as much as possible about lifting her (as per Frances’ comments), more choice and control would be excellent.
And yes Frances, annoying how most people still want to pat little pup on the head with their big hands, which she hates – I try to get in first to ask them to scratch her chin or pat her body.
Robin Espinosa says
Two years ago I began working as a dog Walker for an 11 year old, 8 pound, Yorkie/Chihuahua mix named Jasmine. She never barked or growled, but she was quick, very, very, quick and impossible to catch. It didn’t take long to recognize she suffered from the situation described in your article today.
It took time, which is always worth it in a situation like this, but we now have a wonderful agreement. I call her over, she runs to me excitedly, and I ask, “are you ready?” and with the offer of her head into my hands, I then k on her answer is, “yes”. She knows what to expect, and I give her that respect she deserves. If at any time she hesitates, I wait. It usually only takes another moment or two, and I ask again and she is typically ready. I have yet to encounter a day where she refuses more than once.
By the way, I am 6′ tall and about 220 pounds with a rather booming deep voice. I can be intimidating to most dogs let alone the tiniest that roam our planet. This has always been something I take great care to be aware of when working with any dog. Once they get to know me, as with many people, they learn I am respectful of their space and very gentle.
Thank you for a lovely article!
Julie H. says
Hate to admit it, but when we were kids we used to pick up my cousin’s Chihuahua by the front legs, holding his legs like drumsticks. I don’t know how we didn’t hurt him! He must have had the most incredible muscles to support himself. Amazing that he never bit us.
As a trainer now I also run across some larger dogs that have odd handling issues apparently because people (usually kids) roughly picked them up when they were puppies.
I had one client whose newly adopted small dog would bite when someone tried to pick her up . . . unless she asked to be picked up by putting her paws on their leg or lap. I told them to just teach her a cue to do that when they wanted to pick her up. Talk about a dog teaching humans about consent!
Congratulations on the solar panels! What a great way to utilize clean energy. I only have large dogs, but have a friend who is a dog trainer by profession. She got a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel specifically for use as a neutral dog when she administers the CGC or TDI therapy dog evaluations. She blogged almost daily for the first 6 months that she had the Cav. She talked in the voice of the dog about things like how many new people he met, how many new places he went and how he felt safe because everyone who picked him up was instructed to support all four paws while the dog was away from the ground. Her blogs were a cute and effective way to get her point across about picking up small dogs gently and correctly.
Carolyn M Henry says
In my opinion it goes beyond being picked up with the little guys – the bent over approach bothers them greatly as well. I have Dachshunds and one was so beautiful as to stop traffic a few times (boy did my ego sparkle, lol) and people would hone in on him with some sort of radar, bend over and walk over to him without so much as a glance at me. This dog was horribly fearful and I became pretty good at seeing the human focus and and start of the bend and he and I would exit stage left. I found it met with less resistance/complaining if I told people he was in training (people do like to help) than he was fearful or they’d come back with “don’t worry, dogs love me,” etc as they continue to approach. My other Dachs (not fearful but curious as to what is wrong with humans) will see the approach and the belly hits the ground usually before I can intervene though I am able to stop the airlift. I pick up my guys all of the time and do a slide of one hand between their front legs (they back away if not into it at the moment which is fine most of the time) and then slide the other hand under their rear. With the Littles I think we just have to be more diligent in protecting them from those who simply don’t know better…I don’t think those same people would bend over and walk over to someone’s toddler and pick him/her up but seem to think it’s ok with little bundles of adorable cuteness overload.
Marie Conyers says
Thanks for this! So important, especially for kids and puppies. I teach an “up” cue to let the dog know I’m planning to pick him up. For families, I often teach a hand target for the kids to get the dog/pup to come to them, to prevent chasing and grabbing. The other thing I feel strongly about Is not letting people pet a dog when it’s being held by the owner (or other person). I have a 6 pound toy poodle, and if I”m holding him when someone approaches, I put him on the floor and let him decide if he wants to say hello. Letting strangers pet him when he’s being held takes away all his choice and only gives him the option to growl or snap if he doesn’t want to be petted.
After a very bad experience with an aggressive puppy (who had to be put down at 9 months because of his ferocious biting,) we got a female Westie puppy (Lola,) in April. I was very nervous. A few days after we got her, I picked her up and she gave me the worst, most guttural growl that belied her 3.1 pound self! I put her down and looked at my husband with wide eyes. AGAIN? It happened several times over the next week or so, and I knew we needed help.
Enter Dog’s Best Friend and Chelse Wagner!! She had helped us with our previous (aggressive) puppy, and I knew she would be able to help us this time. Due to Covid, we had a video visit. She asked a lot of questions, gave me many suggestions, and by the end of the visit, we realized that Lola just doesn’t like being picked up! It was as simple as that! LOL!!
Fast-forward to today, Lola is a happy-go-lucky, crazy puppy who is a delight. She still is not a fan of being picked up, but she tolerates it. (We don’t do it very often, but sometimes there is no alternative. But now, we get – at most – a wee little “grrrrr.”) I realized after speaking with Chelse that dogs, like people, have their own likes and dislikes. And that’s only fair, right?
Charlotte Kasner says
Thank you, thank you, thank you.
I can’t wait to share this with my clients.
I hated being picked up as a child for all the reasons stated above (+vertigo). Most of all, I still have vivid memories of feeling totally out of control and physically uncomfortable because of the tightness of the grip.
I am no lightweight, but the last time it happened to me was in a work situation (pre-dog business days). I was producing, designing and performing in a professional play and some of the cast were from the agency that I had set up and run. One of the latter decided to prove how macho he was one day in rehearsal in addition to hitting on me and just came from behind, lifted me up and held me to the ceiling.
I was no where near as angry as I should have been.
So yes, I hear it for all the little dogs and puppies out there.
Charlotte: Although no small fry, I too have been picked up by men who thought it was amusing. To them. I should have bitten them.
Nana911: First, Chelse rocks! I honestly think she’s the best in the Midwest, and you can take that to the bank. Secondly, congratulations to you for doing everything right and being such a great advocate and supporter of your dog. Kudos.
Marie Connors: “Up.” Of course! So much simpler than my three word idea. Perfect!
Carolyn M Henry: Oh yes yes yes, you are so right. The looming! Nerve wracking for even large dogs, rigth?
Julie H: Brilliant solutions are often so simple, but so hard for many of us to come up with. Good work!
Robin: Love the “ready” cue! I use it for picking up feet. So easy to let dogs know what to expect, and yet, not natural for us to do.
S: Now I know how to teach llamas to let me pick them up. Ha! Just being silly.
Kat: Please convey my love and respect to Sir D’Artagnan for his impressive forbearance. “Comical and tragic” indeed if your boy wasn’t such a gentlemen.
Frances: Yes yes to the looming! And I must say that there were times I actually did swoop Tootsie up without any warning. There were times she was about to get herself into trouble and I admit I snatching her up like a raptor. Luckily we’d done enough work before hand that it didn’t seem to phase her.
Honey Loring says
I say, “Be on the lookout so you can prevent kids and stupid adults from ruining your little dog.”
My dogs mean so much to me that “polite” is not the modus operandi. My 11-pound maltese/poodle cross was introduced to a toddler when he was 3 months old and he did pre-school programs where the kids all sat around the edge of a rug. I gave everyone treats and he went around, on his own, to get these treats. No picking up. I have a little dog who loves kids and everyone else. He is the most social dog (with the personality of a politician seeking votes.) I am his protectore – first and foremost.
I do teach small dogs that hands coming towards them equal treats. And, I factor in a vocalization (starting soft and getting louder).
I also teach a I’m going to lift you up command. It may not always happen for a dog but it can at least lower the number of irritating the dog times from happening.
PS: Congrats on going solar.
Great post. So true! Add in the potential for a larger dog to inflict serious injury and the lives of many small dogs must be terrifying far too often. And welcome to the world of power generation! It is a good feeling to do something so concrete against climate change. We produce enough power to charge our electric car as well as meet all the rest of the electricity needs of our household. A small but significant step for future generations. Our panels were made in the USA, too.
Val M says
Ive always advocated for my littles.
I even brought them to work and the residents love them. All controlled holding. Me hovering to keep everyone safe. We did other activities with them like obedience, throwing a ball to chase. Grooming them. When they want to be held they ask to be held.
Im not sure why people think its ok to grab them up without permission.
Deborah Mason says
I am watching a puppy in our dog training club learn to be very, very social. Her mom takes her to work and to the trials (Agility). When she takes her adult dog onto the course, little Teaka is just so unhappy. She is learning that all mom’s friends are willing to comfort her. Being short, her mom is teaching her to stand up to ask to be picked up, especially when in the X-pen. She is so comfortable with many people picking her up, holding her, loving on her. Such a lucky little girl.
Barb Stanek says
So agree about small dogs.
Love the solar!
I wish more people could see them as ‘someone’ rather than ‘something’. The dog is usually sending pretty clear signals about it’s preferences. Sadly, and too often, we’re just not listening.
M dog is 25 lbs so not really tiny, but I tried to get him used to being picked up instead of jumping to high surfaces. I use “up” and wait for him to get ready; he raises his left paw to tell me he is. He was, however, an adorably tiny, fluffy puppy, and those same people caused huge problems for us. I was able to keep them from picking him up by body blocking them, but they ran toward him screaming and squealing arms out. He quickly decided that he likes people who give him his time to figure them out for a minute first. Once he realizes they won’t grab or reach, he’s content to visit. So much for my hope of doing therapy dog work. Experience with the general public can make or break your puppy raising plan even if you are alert..
Heidi Jankowski says
Yes, I had a cairn who was adopted through rescue, and he never liked to be handled or touched. He was placed in a home at 6 weeks old with small children, so I believe he had been mishandled as a tiny puppy — squeezed too tightly etc. He came to me at 10 mos, and that fear of being handled stayed with him his entire life. We worked through it, and he had a great life, but we just didn’t do a lot of petting or touching with him. Whenever I took my three cairns out and about, people always reached to touch him — never the other two. He had a beautiful coat, and people were drawn to him. I taught him to get behind me when people approached. If people asked to touch my dogs, I always pointed to the two out front and said, “These guys would love you to pet them, but not him.” And people always tried to win him over anyway. I had to be his voice and tell them “to leave him alone.” I was a TDAA agility judge, and the only dog who ever came after me was a chihuahua. I was standing too near the opening of the tunnel, and when she ran out, she turned toward me instead of her handler, and grabbed my ankle. EVER since that episode, I am actually afraid of chihauhaus.
You’ve got me thinking I should add a verbal cue when I pick up Kate-the-Keeshond to put her on the grooming table. There are plenty of contextual cues (me in the room, podcast or audio book on the phone, getting brushes out), but telling her what I’m about to do would just be polite.
At 30+ pounds she’s big enough that people don’t swoop her up at first sight; they just coo.
My chihuahua mix LOVES to be picked up by people. When I took him to class, we did the recall exercise where the instructor holds the dog while you run away and call your do’s name to get them to chase you. My guy was released and immediately spun around to try and get the instructor to pick him up. I wish I could take credit, but he was a rescue and came like that.
Felicia R Value says
I volunteered in rescue for years, and was with hundreds of dogs of every description. The only one that ever bit me (twice) was a toy poodle. It’s too bad how thoughtlessly people man-handle little dogs, and puppies. Thanks for writing about this.
Nancy R says
Congratulations on going solar. I recommend Tesla batteries if you don’t already have them as part of your system, it allows you to be self powered even at night. Here in the Bay Area I can be mostly off the grid except in winter or when the state is burning up as it has been for the last month and 1/2.
We have a Cavalier who is probably like your Maggie was. I cannot imagine Sammy being aggressive toward anyone or anything. She is the Ambassador of our neighborhood and feels the need to greet everyone she sees with her whole body wagging and a ready kiss if someone asks for one. She is small and has always “jumped” up on peoples legs so they can pet her. I gave up trying to break this habit because she sees so many people each day on our walks and I couldn’t “break them” of encouraging it.
She also is very polite when she meets other dogs and seems to know which ones to greet and which ones to just walk by.
She has been this way since we got her as a puppy. She is now almost 6 and honestly she is the sweetest little girl we have ever had or that I have every known. Don’t know if we just got the best one ever, or if she just knows that she is so well loved, so she loves back.
ANNA VERMEULEN says
I adopted a chihuahua mix that had aggression towards people. He was only 5 months old and had been returned two times already. People still try to pick him up because he is adorable and he hates it. However, he loves to jump into your arms or jump into laps. He just wants to make his own decision.
Pat: Oh those Cavaliers!
Brenda Neall says
Thank you for this, Patricia … our little man Tucker, an Aussie Terrier, has disliked being picked up from the get go. However, we had to when he was very little and too small to navigate stairs to his outside area. We had to work on calming him down when picking him up. Now I wish I had thought/known to put the picking up part of it on cue. These days he is now a bit of a muscled little tank and not exactly ‘picking up’ size any longer. However, it is necessary on occasion so we will keep this in mind.
Melanie Hawkes says
Congratulations on the solar panels! May you have many long sunny days ahead.
Watch Papillons greeting people: driven by their immense curiosity they happily approach the humans. But what you see after that is more like a series of “Touch and Go, Touch and Go, Touch and Go”.
If not totally intimidated Papillons usually hate to be fixed, not being able to move when aroused. I am Papillon breeder since the eighties (small scale). Had lots of dangerous situations with visitors seeking for a puppy. Surprised Papis may freeze for a second when snatched but even experienced dog people do not foresee the explosion of energy which may follow. Once I had a 2 m tall woman. She snatched the puppy against what I told her, standing. A second later the wiggling puppy jumped out of her hands: She got hold of the puppies hind leg in the air. There was the little dogs body hang dangling on one paw, 1,5 m over the ground. For the lady no harm was done…
The importance of training a controlled way to take the Papillons up is immense. I begin training with the 4 week old babies. Before I cue I teach them to step on my right under arm out of their own when I present them the arm in a special way. At first pure management followed by a reward. Like a Hot Zone Training when you reward the dog moving over a target accidentally. When they confidently place the front paws on my arm (on the ground) and stand and wait for the reward: next step is that I slowly introduce my other hand under their butt. Next that I lift it up just one centimeter. When they happily accept being lifted up, when they happily stand free on arm with my hand under their butt – it is time to introduce my cue which is “I take you up NOW”. And even that is not the end: I begin to work with distractions, different distractions! Because – be sure – the well known procedure done in the new environment of the new home or done on one of the first walks out there is different to what is taught in the safe puppy den of the breeder.
My puppies know their new owners pretty well before they leave my home. Be sure that I trained the humans as well so that they exactly know how to safely take up the pup. They are happy to practice!
And be sure that I did a secret training with my pups so that they are not all too overwhelmed when a known friend like the new owner feels the need to snatch them in emergency.
My way of training has another aspect which is important for me personally. When someone tries to take up a pup in a different way the dog feels that something is wrong. I have lots of neighbours /kids hanging over the garden fence and the pups love them. Of course I cannot avoid that someone tries to take up one of them. But those humans do it in an unknown way and the puppies do not feel comfortable with it. By the way: people who behave are rewarded by me! They may come into my garden, lay flat on the ground and have the puppies happily play on them. And of course I communicate why I ask them in! Because they do not snatch puppies.
Be sure that works!
Patricia Crandell says
The great thing about little dogs is that they are easier to protect. We body block anyone who wants to touch our little off the streets dog and don’t offer her as a sacrifice during a human social encounter. She doesn’t mind being picked up by us, but we watch her body language because she will nip when her ears are “broken”, when she is fearful. Normally they are pricked. I have rarely had problems handling my cats unless they were arthritic. They are used to me grabbing them and throwing them around. They are a lot more flexible and in a lot less danger from clunky humans. And if they don’t like it they have ten ways to make a sharp point.
Jenny Haskins says
I absolutely feel this!
I was (apparently) a cute child.
When I was three Mum took me to visit my older sister’s school, where I would eventually be going.
As I ran up the corridor the Infants Mistress swept me up and cuddled me.
I was appalled, and can still to this day remember the horror of it.
SO I “Kicked her in the stomach! ” So she put she down 🙂
Olive is the first dog we’ve ever had who weighs less than 35 pounds, and of course she is the only dog we’ve had that hates being picked up. She has never liked to be startled on the ground or mid-air. I remember one night many years ago, she was sitting on the floor with her back to me in her best slouching Buddha pose, and I rubbed her shoulder from behind. The scream she let out was horrific (I think terriers tend to be high-soprano screamers). The scream-of-the-startled we call it. I learned early on to give her a verbal cue such as “ready” or “here we go” and if she can’t see me, I say “Hi, Olive” so she knows I’m there. Picking her up when I was rehabbing her CCL tear was interesting; she didn’t mind it with a cue at first, then did not like it, then she tolerated it. I think in that case it became a matter of fear of pain (no matter how healed or careful we were) and/or impatience with not doing it herself. We now only pick her up when we absolutely need to and then with a calm hand under the belly and a “ready?” That may take a few attempts if she really isn’t ready.
Go solar! We had them installed at the house we just sold, and it was a delight to see the daily usage graphs (we’re nerds) and more delightful to get the $15 electric bill. We also had heat pumps installed, and geez, they are great in the summer! I call them cool pumps but they do a fine heating job, too. (FYI, many utilities allow you to donate your “extra” kilowatts to local nonprofits.) We’re about to have a new solar array put up in our new house and a whole-house heat/cool pump system and hot water heat pump. It’s a funny reversal to electric energy after years of anti-nukes and electric energy being the most expensive for the planet and the pocketbook. Now if they just make better sourced, less-expensive batteries.
I’ve trained dogs at the shelter and some of them were small dogs that had been returned for biting when being picked up. I taught them an “up” cue. I would then gently lift them and give them a really valued treat. Eventually we just used the cue and they were no longer biting. It really didn’t take very long at all. I explained this to the shelter and impressed on them to explain it to anyone who would be handling that dog. Worked really well.
MaryAnn Foley says
I’m living with a small Dog for the first time in my life, a 12 lb Chi/Jack X rescue. We normally pick her up only when she asks to be picked up, squat down and say “Puppy Up”. When she needs to be picked up on our terms (Vet, nail clipping etc) we do the same routine, squat/Puppy Up. Casual strangers and friends NEVER pick her up.
Melinda Jacobson says
I love this post! I love everything in it!
This is exactly the message I have for people with pet rabbits, you just said it better than I ever do. (and left out the part about being *prey animals* because that part doesn’t apply to dogs.)
It’s great to hear you went solar! Bravo! I wish we could. We plan to do the same whenever we get out of this high rise condo and into a building that we fully own.
Lastly, just wanted to say I recently read The Education of Will and loved it. I bought a copy for a friend. Beautiful book, and I cannot even begin to imagine the power of the experience of writing it, not to mention the experiences it describes. Thank you for a wonderful, heartfelt work.
An extra word on small dogs and small children. When my dogs were pups there were a number of small children around – neighbours’ children and visiting grandchildren – and of course tiny cute puppies were an absolute magnet. I always said they could talk to the pup if they sat down and let her come to them – and then made sure no grabbing ensued. Before long even the toddlers would plonk their bottoms down at the sight of a puppy, and the dogs would reward them with a polite greeting. So much safer for everyone – no fear of a puppy getting dropped, no chasing, and lots of opportunities for mutual learning! The dogs are now 11 years old, and still happily approach any small children who politely squat down.
Aww, thank you Melinda. Music to any author’s ears!
I’ve had small dogs for years, but it wasn’t until I adopted a sick and frightened Papillon that I learned (on my own) to give her cues for everything. To pick her up, it was “lift” (under chest and rear) and “tuck” (hand under chest, rear held up by eldow). She never came up and asked to be in my lap, but if I asked her to sit, and then reached my arms apart and asked, “You want some lovin’?” she’d gladly wait for me to come pick her up. I always used her cue words.
But I think the biggest help to her was our time rocking. Every evening, she’d cuddle up with me and snuggle while I tried to rock her to sleep. Se wasn’t fussing or wanting down. I think she was just truly afraid to completely relax. When I adopted her, she had a horrible ear infection and a cyst in her ear canal. While surgery helped her, I truly believe that rocking her like a baby stimulated her vestibular system and therefore her parasympathetic system. It allowed her trauma to dissipate at her own pace.
Allison Stoffel says
Great post, I really appreciate the content. I worked with a 10lb dog once with a bum leg that needed to be carried up stairs, into the car, on hard surfaces, etc. We taught it a “let’s go” command and taught him to actually present himself to be picked up. He ended up loving it and would jump up for you to catch as you reached down.
This is such an important message for clients and people out in the community. Cute and little isn’t an invitation to invade a dog’s space.
Kelly Schlesinger says
It is not just people that terrorize little dogs, it’s big dogs too. I have traveled to one particular state considered “dog friendly” with my own border collies and have had to fend off big dogs running loose. What surprised me was the hostility of the little dogs toward my leashed dogs. I then realized that they too had been targeted by big dogs and they had concluded that the best defense was a good offense. My own BC got the message quickly from the ferocious yorkie.
Fran Hobbs says
I hate anything unexpected being demanded of me. Let alone being launched into the air more than 10 times my height! Great blog to explain this all too often misplaced behaviour. I have a rescue Yorkie. So traumatised he was almost feral. I suspect the first year of his life was just this. Snatched up with no warning, thrown down if he growled. Slowly he is gaining confidence and trust. Now 4yrs (3 with me) yet he still turns aggressive when anyone gets too close. Putting on a collar, attending a wound, giving a bath. It os a slow process but cannot be rushed. We will get there. Thankyou for highlighting the situation. It can have horrendous consequences. Best avoided. Dogs need effective communication just like people if they are to be happy and stable.
Charlotte Kasner says
One of my clients walked straight not this question in a group class last night so I had the perfect opportunity to share.
Sure do wish I’d bitten when picked up!
Rebecca Rice says
Sorry I’m late to the party (had been traveling), but I have two small dogs, and haven’t had as much of an issue with public and them (I think at least partly because they aren’t “fluffy” nor are they as tiny as Chihuahuas), but have trained them to recognize that when I put my hands a certain way, and give my 1-2-3 Whee! command, it means they are going to be picked up and placed somewhere (generally a bed or couch), so they don’t mind it. The “1-2-3” allows them to prepare, and the “Whee” lasts as long as it takes to get them to where they are going. I have also taught them (and my cats) that, if they put their paws up on a surface on command, and I give my “1-2-3 UP” command, it means that I will scoop up their hind feet and lever them up into the opening. This is largely used at the car, to get them into the back section where the crates are. (To visualize, think of dog with front paws resting on rear bumper, then you are lifting the back legs up so that they can walk off your hands into the car.) I don’t know how I actually train that… it’s just something I do. And it wasn’t until I tried it with a stranger’s dog that I realized that most dogs don’t automatically know to keep their back legs stiff when I do that! Their back legs just folded up and they looked at me like I was crazy!
I still remember when I first realized how small my dog was, and how different life was for her because of it. To put it in perspective, I describe her as “a sheet of paper tall by a sheet of paper long”. I was walking across a park, and my dog, who normally walks on a beautifully loose leash, was jerking and pulling and I finally turned around to see why. And that’s when I realized that the damp grass, that was slightly above ankle high on me, was chest high on her. And what I had thought was her jerking on the leash was really a result of her having to jump to force her way through the grass. So what was a casual stroll for me was like having to push through waist-to-chest high bushes for her. And that made me start really looking at the environment and what she had to deal with. Like the fact that the curbs in my neighborhood are around her shoulder height. Just imagine if every time you had to cross the street you had to jump down 4 feet, walk across the road, and then jump up 4 feet! So I keep that in mind when dealing with her, and look for curb cuts, etc.
And I still think it would be cool to have someone strap some GoPros to a giant, large, medium, and small dog and walk them along the same route to see how different things are for various size dogs. Of course, the problem there is finding a GoPro small enough for something like a Chi.
Thanks for the advice to little dog owners everywhere! Yes, we always teach our small dogs a cue about being picked up. Our current Papillon hates being picked up (she hates being touched, period), but tolerates it well enough when she’s prepared for it. She does this helpful little hop into my hands. And then spends the entire time she’s being held with “Yoda ears” (unhappy Pap ears!) Needless to say, we don’t pick her up unless it’s necessary. Thankfully, strangers have never swooped in to pick her up. I must live in a polite area, because nobody has ever done that to my adorable small dogs!
I agree with everyone about looming–that’s probably as scary as being picked up! A mini dachshund bit a friend of mine right in the face–the friend said that it was completely her fault because she was looming over the dog and she should have known better. Imagine a giant stranger looming and bending over you–blocking out the sun! No wonder the poor dog panicked.
Caroline P says
I am so glad you raised this problem, and it is a constant problem that often goes unaddressed because small dogs are cute and their ‘aggression’ is less noticeable.
I find small dogs have a bigger ‘personal space’ than bigger dogs, possibly because they need more space to look up and see our face and hands (and probably also to prevent being stepped on). Yet I’ve noticed in my classes when we practise greetings, people actually step in closer to a small dog than they do a large dog. And these are handlers that should know better. It is so easy to unwittingly loom over a small dog.
Until I got smaller dogs I did not appreciate how much more work it is to build a confident dog when the whole world looms over them. And then you have to teach them to put up with being picked up by strangers, and having so many more small kids and others racing up to the ‘cute dogs’. Not just people but their dogs too – they need to learn not to panic that the big ‘my dog is friendly’ dog that comes racing up isn’t going to bounce on them and squash them, and that other big dogs aren’t going to eat them! I’d never had a dog harmed by other dogs until I got small dogs, now I need to be on alert with other off lead dogs around.
Christie Vereide says
I grew up with medium and large dogs. I am grateful to one of the medium sized ones, Buffy, who taught me (without biting) that you DO NOT PICK UP DOGS EVER. That lesson was taught to me about 30 years ago and will stick with me forever. She was a great teacher.
“Yoda ears” describes unhappy papillons perfectly! Sophy gets travel sick with careless drivers, and her ears signal exactly how she is feeling – so much so that “Sophy’s ears are nearly flat!” is now enough to make my sister slow down and take corners with extreme care.
Gaius Gracchus says
There is a 10 year old chihuahua that was found emaciated and scared on the streets of Fresno, CA. The rescue agency says he does not like to be touched or held unless he initiates it himself. He does seem to want to be near people though, and is very sweet to his foster mom’s little blind older dog. He actually stands guard over her.
Apparently he will react very badly if you try to pet him. Snarling and snapping, etc. Luckily he has no teeth. Amazingly enough he is also house-trained.
We are thinking of rescuing him, but are not sure we are skilled enough to manage him. Some books we’ve read say that behavior should be handled by correcting him when he snaps and by asserting one’s leadership over the dog. However, our tendency would be to let him initiate contact with us and try not to do things that set him off and just recognize his limits.
No one else has wanted to adopt him (as you might imagine). We are thinking we’ll try – sure wish we had someone around here with Trisha’s experience! We will probably need to find an animal trainer to help out with this little guy.
Best best of luck Gaius, you are an angel to help this poor dog!
Thank you. That was very helpful because it made me think. My little Yorki can’t walk the stairs (osteoarthritis) and I always have to carry him. Down to go for walks and up back to the apartment, at least 3 to 4 times every day. I live on a street with heavy traffic, again I have to pick him up to cross the road. And to enter the train, and in the supermarket (yes, I take him in, I carry him in a bag on my back). His panic reaction when he sees another dog that is bigger than him doesn’t allow to leave him alone outside.
In the future I will warn him that I’m about to pick him up and I’ll be much more careful not to scare him. I never thought about this. Thanks.