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— October 7, 2014 —

Stop carrying your dog!
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

A brief description of one way to NOT make your dog a codependent wreck.

I am currently working with two dogs that are kind of neurotic. They are both very insecure and both, coincidentally enough, are similar in breed (chihuahua-terrier mixes). I will leave out any identifying details so as not to embarrass the owners. They are working on improving this situation after all.

Both dogs are small terrier mixes and they could be brothers, right down to their behavior. They are both generally nervous, anxious and show some slight fear aggression. I say slight because they will bark and threaten a bite, but don’t actually follow through.

The other thing they both share is the need for physical contact. They HAVE to be in someone’s lap or they will shiver in fear. Now, I’ve discussed how genetics can cause fear and aggression in the past. I do believe genetics plays a large part in most fearful and aggressive dogs, these dogs included.

The thing about these guys is this. As soon as we start asking them to perform obedience behaviors, they stop being so fearful. This tells me there is hope for them.

Once we give them a task to focus on, their shivering stops. Of course it does return if we let them return to their normal mindset. If we pick them up and hold them for a bit, they shiver as soon as we put them back on the floor…until we give them something to do.

My theory is that both of these guys, being small dogs, were usually carried and held as young dogs. They were conditioned to always be in physical contact with their human. Being put down on the floor, when they should be on someone’s lap, is not normal to them. Additionally, they were never taught the normal coping skills that a dog needs to have to live in a human world. Since they may have been pre-disposed to nervousness, this tendency was exacerbated by the lack of exposure to well…life.

What to do about this is simple. We will train the dogs to do a job. Obedience training is a job for the dogs and this will fulfill their need for structure and guidance. Second, we will help the owners understand why their dogs need to learn a bit more independence, physically AND emotionally. Lastly, we will try to help the owners become consistent in how they handle their dogs. The dogs will need to adjust to the “new normal” and they will be better off for it.

I have had a number of cases like this in the past and I foresee a better life for these little guys. Once they learn to become more independent and confident, they will be allowed to go to more places. Their confidence will become a self-reinforcing cycle and they will certainly have a better quality of life…as will their humans.

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