I'm going to make a huge assumption here - you're reading this blog because you are interested in how your dog really feels the world, and you want to make sure that you have the happiest dog possible. You have recognized that some traditional ways of looking at your dog don't quite add up, and you want to get closer to being able to experiencing the world the way that your dog experiences the world. In this relatively brief article, we are going to talk about why it's important to keep your dog's feet on the ground. In case I'm not being clear, what I mean is: don't pick your dog up unless it's absolutely necessary.
These days so many of us have dogs that have become the "babies" of our families. And if our dog is our baby, then why not pick it up, coddle it, nuzzle it - just like we would with a newborn baby? If our dog is small enough to comfortably be carried around in our arms, why not carry it around in our arms? Won't that make it easier for our dog to interact with the human world - on the human level?
Dogs feel more secure when their feet are on the ground. That means that it will be easier for a dog to relax when all four paws are on the ground. We've talked quite a bit about why it makes more sense to be the calm and assertive "moose" in your dog's life (instead of the alpha dog), and we've also talked about a the way your dog's emotional experience of the world is the chief determining factor in terms of their behavior. Well, all of that emotional energy, just like electricity, needs to "flow to ground". That's the way that we natural dog trainers think about it, anyway.
Whether your dog is in a state of flow (relaxed, playing, being social) or a state of overload (aggression, submissive urination, crazy exuberance) - that energy is ultimately going to the ground. However, by being on the ground (or floor), there's much less opportunity for the high charge that leads to overload to build up - just like how if you were to be "grounded" you would be much less likely to pick up a static charge as you walk around your house on a dry winter day.
In addition, being on the ground gives your dog a much better chance of being able to physically adjust in order to handle the energy of any situation. Dogs are constantly changing their position in response to their environment in order to self-regulate the way that they're feeling (trying to stay relaxed and in the flow). When a dog is in our arms, suddenly that dog has no recourse - which becomes problematic when the energy of the situation becomes too much for them to bear. Our lovely little pomeranian is much more likely to get aggressive when greeting a stranger from the confines of our grasp. Being on the ground, on the other hand, gives little Sparky the opportunity to greet the world on his terms.
MANY children are bitten in the face because they pick a cute little dog up off the ground. Not long ago, I was asked about whether or not a certain breed of terrier could be cured of aggression towards children. A child had walked her cute little dog to the bus stop, where it was picked up off the ground and swarmed by a group of children - ultimately biting one of them. Er...and this was the dog's problem? Even if it had remained on the ground it would have been tough for that dog to handle the situation (really - what were the parents thinking?), but it might have had a chance (best scenario: it would have gotten free and run back home).
We'll be taking advantage of the dog-feels-more-secure-on-the-ground dynamic when we talk about how to train the down/stay (which is coming - but still a ways away). When your dog is relaxed and in contact with the ground (e.g. in a relaxed-and-energized down/stay), adding more energy to the system will actually create more magnetic force between them and the earth - they'll be rooted in their place. This position of contact with the ground actually reassures our dogs, and the ability to be simultaneously relaxed and energized in the down-stay position gives your dog a strategy for dealing with high energy situations on their own, when you're not around.
Next time you see someone else pick up their dog, take a good look at how the dog is responding. Does the dog seem happy to be there? Does the dog seem more relaxed than they were when they were on the ground? Is the dog more social with their paws off the floor, or are they making all sorts of submissive gestures (roughly translated: please put me down).
If you want to have a relationship with your dog where you're fulfilling your dog's doggiest desires, then start tapping into your dog's prey instinct. Lucky for you - that's what this entire blog is about! Save the babying for the human babies in your life - and put all of that pampering energy into pampering yourself. What your dog really wants is a nice walk through the park, a rousing game of tug-of-war where they get to win, and the satisfaction of food in their belly after expending some effort to get it. And to interact with the world on their own terms, which means having their feet on the ground - so they can approach or move away, whatever seems most appropriate to them. Our dogs are always right, after all.