Chihuahua drama
September 15, 2019 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Our chihuahua is becoming increasingly harder to pick up, I’m reasonably certain there’s nothing physically wrong with him. What do we do?

He’s about seven years old, we adopted him four years ago. He’s a very sweet dog who is very bonded to me and my husband.

For the first couple years, he was fairly mellow about being handled. Over time, he became increasingly reticent to be handled by anyone other than us. He loves pets and scratches, but if someone besides me or my husband tried to pick him up he would emit a hideous shrieking noise akin to what you’d expect if you stuck his tail down a garbage disposal. This sucks for a few reasons- it’s a shame that people he otherwise likes and trusts like family and friends can’t hold him, and it makes trips to the vet a soap opera of epic proportions. That being said, I can accept that a dog who weighs maybe eight ponds will have firmer boundaries than bigger dogs and we just tried to honor that- especially because I was glad he would assert his boundaries by shrieking instead of snapping.

Only now he’s doing it to us sometimes too. I can usually tell when he’s at that point- if he’s already a little nervous with his tail between his legs it’s probable that he won’t let me pick him up, for instance. Today he did it three times to my husband on his walk. He was never really leash trained and our default if he becomes difficult on walks is to pick him up, walk a little bit, then put him back down. Now that’s a lot harder to do.

He also just seems to be gradually becoming more nervous and defensive in general. I know that training could probably help with this, but what kind? Assume we don’t have piles of money to spend on this where we live (in Brooklyn).

We just don’t really understand why he seems to be growing LESS confident with time instead of more confident. We have a very calm and chill home. He comes to work with us on occasion and has flown and taken the train with us several times, so while he doesn’t get to spend much time with other dogs, he’s not totally isolated and has had exposure to different people and situations.

What could be causing this? I am fairly certain this isn’t because of some injury he sustained.
posted by cakelite to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
and here’s the little dweeb
posted by cakelite at 11:05 AM on September 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Seven is not that old for a small breed dog, but he isn't young. Might be worth a vet visit to rule out arthritis, or some other physical cause. Dogs are incredibly good at hiding pain, but it can show in changes of behaviour. Also, have there been any changes in his life that might be making him more anxious? In my experience, older dogs ca get very set in a comfortable routine, and even changes that seem trivial to their humans, can be traumatic.
posted by Zumbador at 11:27 AM on September 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

what a sweetie! Such a pretty boy. ( sorry to suggest the last thing you probably want, another traumatic vet visit!)
posted by Zumbador at 11:33 AM on September 15, 2019

Not going to threadsit but:

Is there anything I could try over the counter for joint issues? He’s really tough at the vet. I’m not exaggerating that even the vet reaching out to touch him sets him off.

No real changes at home I can think of, big or small.
posted by cakelite at 11:34 AM on September 15, 2019

You can try GCS joint care powder or tablets. Made an enormous difference to my sister's dog. She swears by fish oil tablets too, but I think the science on that is wobbly. Any such solution will take time, though. The only thing that that really made a difference to my dog was prescription medication, prednisone, which is not something you want to play around with especially on the long term.
posted by Zumbador at 11:40 AM on September 15, 2019

If you’re not already giving him glucosamine-chondroitin, that’s a good supplement to try adding for his joints. I have a much older little dog and he’s noticeably more spry since I added it to his diet. You can get it inexpensively in the pet section at Trader Joe’s. Fish oil is also supposed to be good, it gives my dude diarrhea though so I can’t speak to it’s efficacy.
posted by nancynickerson at 11:43 AM on September 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Don't discount the possibility that he's totally faking everyone out to assert control.

If he's treat motivated, I would start by having everyone but you feed him every day and give him treats, till he's ok being picked up. It has to be the best treats....

Dogs tends to favor the giver of food and treats.
posted by answergrape at 11:44 AM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Final comment! Will definitely try a supplement because it’s worth a shot and he stretches a lot, which I was told can be an arthritis thing. However, he really is a spry little dog, he runs and jumps all the time (he does have steps to get on our bed).
posted by cakelite at 11:48 AM on September 15, 2019

You might to ask your vet about pre-treating with something like gabapentin before a vet visit. That’s what we do before she makes a call on my ancient creaky bitchy cat - and with the right pain meds my old lady kitty isn’t so bitchy anymore. Vets are also not legally allowed to suggest CBD treatment in NYC (which is what my vet says whoever she recommends it) but many vets swear by it and treat their own pets with it. CBD specifically intended for pets and from a reputable vet can be very helpful.

You can try dasuquin for joints. I gave it a go recently and unfortunately it caused diarrhea in my old lady cat so I had to stop it but it’s otc and you can try it out. You can get it from Chewy etc.
posted by rdnnyc at 12:06 PM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

That's a long time not to be leash trained. I don't think it's great that you pick him up frequently on his walks. Let him sniff at stuff, let him do his thing, is my not-professional opinion. You're really taking away his agency if you just pick him up when you don't like what he's doing. I could see this leading to shrieking and eventually biting when you pick him up so frequently. He is not confident because he doesn't really get to make his own decisions. I know he is a tiny boy but he is still a dog. Try to imagine how a larger dog would react to being picked up constantly, maybe. I am not saying you are a bad dog parent! Just offering one thing to consider.
posted by Glinn at 12:56 PM on September 15, 2019

Final comment I promise on my honor:

Would LOVE to know more about CBD and any personal recs!

I didn’t say anywhere in my question that I don’t let my dog sniff things and follow his bliss on walks, we just sometimes need to pick him up if he flatly refuses to walk at. It probably happens less than half the time we walk him.
posted by cakelite at 1:02 PM on September 15, 2019

Our older dog Fletcher, who hates being picked up, absolutely loves this suitcase-style harness with the added lift support. We started using it about 5 years ago -- it's held up AMAZINGLY well, and he's been a really active dog. He doesn't mind us lifting him up in it at all. In fact, I'm pretty sure he thinks he can fly. It's a bit pricey, but it's super high-quality and wonderful, so I don't mind.

Bonus: now that he's blind, we can help him out when he needs it. And he looks awesome in it!
posted by nosila at 1:40 PM on September 15, 2019 [7 favorites]

High value treats (like a thinly sliced hot dog, some turkey from the deli counter, a little roast beef from the deli counter) are really helpful for us when we want to underscore the pleasantness of some occasion, i.e. getting one's toenails trimmed.

Maybe pick one of these, and every time he gets picked up, he gets a little bit of awesome?
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:45 PM on September 15, 2019

Have you had his vision checked recently? Or at all? I mean, fair if you haven't, it's not necessarily an intuitive issue with a younger dog. But if he can't see who's trying to pick him up and has been identifying you by smell, and then recently his sense of smell has started dimming with age, it would make sense for him to be less confident these days that you are you.

If this turns out to be a vision issue, you really will want to consult a professional trainer-- even one session would be very helpful. Blind and low-vision dogs can be happy, healthy, and well-trained, but they aren't Easy Mode for their humans, especially at the beginning.
posted by Rush-That-Speaks at 4:25 PM on September 15, 2019

Chances are he doesn't want to be picked up. Start working on leash training him, dogs are never too old to learn. Treat him like a dog, let him jump up on your lap if you want, earn his trust then every so slowly you can start training him to be picked up again.

Step one get him used to you reaching toward him without being picked up. Before he freaks out & get's scared while he's still calm about the reach give him a treat. At first you will be a ridiculous distance away but what you are trying to reward is calm behaviour.

Step two. Same thing only now you're touching him. Still not picking up just reinforcing that not screaming & being calm get's a yummy treat.

Step three. With two hands gently & carefully lift the dog up and immediately put them back down, slowly increasing the height. Then treat. Do not surprise the dog, do not swoop them up with one hand grabbing their ribs, do not loom over them. Little bones are delicate treat them as such.

Clicker training would make this much easier there are some great videos on clicker training on Youtube.

But seriously though, treat him like a dog, teach him to walk on a lead & stop carrying him will be the better solution. I have 2 small dogs (not Chihuahua small but easy to pick up). They hate being forced to do something they don't want to do, It's scary & makes them feel vulnerable. Yes it's easier for you but it's scaring the hell out of your dog, you missed his earlier signals that he didn't want to be picked up & now screaming is the only way to get you to listen so that's what he does.
posted by wwax at 5:22 PM on September 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

The brand of CBD I get from my vet is ElleVet and she told me the dosage etc.
posted by rdnnyc at 7:45 PM on September 15, 2019

I manage a Fear Free certified veterinary hospital with a specific focus on pain management. I am not a vet and this is not medical advice etc. I am also a dog trainer. But not your dog trainer.

You need a Fear Free certified vet, and this dog needs a vet visit. Trying an over the counter shotgun style approach to what could well be a serious issue that needs professional help is unlikely to be useful for you or the dog, and there is no over the counter supplement that is going to provide pain management or arthritis support that is anything like adequate for a dog with what could well be a significant pain issue (also, some products can be harmful, especially to a tiny dog). A Fear Free vet will have ways to help your dog with the visit. I understand that vet visits are fraught, there are many ways of dealing with this in a humane manner which helps make visits easier for you and the dog. Avoiding professional help is not appropriate, you just need to find a vet who can help in a humane way without scaring your dog further.

You may also need a pain management vet. It sounds like a physical issue that is progressing to a psychological one. Any good trainer/behaviorist is not going to treat a physical problem like a behavior problem.

Also while he does need to accept being picked up due to his size, he is still a dog and has four legs for a reason. Small dogs deserve to be treated with respect and dignity too, be sure you aren't just grabbing him up rather than having an appropriate way to let him know you are about to pick him up.
posted by biscotti at 6:14 AM on September 16, 2019 [3 favorites]

How is he with strangers in your home? If he's that bad at the vet's office, maybe a visit from a housecall vet?
posted by mollymayhem at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2019

What Biscotti said. On several occasions I've been much chagrined (and floored) when I've realized that one of my dogs has been hiding pain from me. They can be stoic little things.
posted by pixiecrinkle at 1:01 PM on September 16, 2019

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