I have wondered for a long time why dogs will paddle their feet when they’re picked up. They don’t only do this when water is involved, I’ve seen them do it when no water is anywhere in sight. I guess I always thought it was the anticipation of having all four paws either on the ground or in the water. It just seems like they’re so excited to get going, that they should make a “vrooooom” sound as soon as you set them down. Of course at this point, I’m usually picturing Road Runner style legs going full hilt.
The Doggy Air Paddle
Dogs will do this air paddle for a variety of reasons. Often it’s because their humans aren’t picking them up properly. When they’re picked up around the middle, with their legs dangling, it feels very unnatural to them.
It helps to pick them up from the side and pin their back legs to you with your arm, supporting the front of their body with both hands. For big dogs you use a bear hug approach. Facing your dog’s side, wrap your arms completely around both the back and front legs. Hug your arms together and lift, so doggy is sitting on your arm.
If this air paddle is met with a positive response from the beginning, then the dog will continue to do it. They will associate that response with good behavior and will think that it pleases their human. Some people are fine with that, others aren’t. It all depends on the human and the dog.
In some instances the air paddle is a little more frantic and due to fright. Dogs are used to being on the ground on all fours. Being unexpectedly lifted into the air has them completely out of their element.
I was a little disappointed that they don’t do this out of excitement to get going. In some small dogs and most young dogs, the air paddle is more like a reflex. Even though I like to think it’s still so, dogs don’t actually think they’re swimming before they reach the water.