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Imagine being suddenly lifted off off the ground with your feet hanging in the air. Is your first thought fear or excitement? Your reaction, much like your dog’s, likely depends on how you got picked up. From your dog’s perspective, feeling secure depends on whether they:
- got a cue before being picked up
- are supported in the right places (this depends on the size of your dog)
- have been counter-conditioned to enjoy being carried
From helping your dog in and out of the car to giving your dog a cuddle, it’s always important to cue your dog they’re about to be carried. A cue can be verbal, like “Ready?” or a physical cue like hovering your hands over their shoulders can help mentally prepare dogs for being carried. A cue can also decrease the likelihood of bites as it’s a method of asking for consent.
So let’s get started on how to pick up a dog comfortably and safely—for all parties involved! We dive into the best way to carry your dog by size, how to cue for consent, and what it means if your dog suddenly doesn’t want to be picked up.
How to Pick Up a Small Dog or Puppy
Small dogs are dogs who weigh less than 20 pounds. However the shape of your dog may also change how you need to support them. In general, small dogs love having support and stability before they get picked up.
To lift a small dog:
- Squat and get low next to the dog.
- Cue your movement with a verbal marker so the dog knows you’re doing to pick them up.
- Put one arm (preferably your dominant one) between the front legs and under the chest.
- Use your other hand to support their butt and back as you lift. Your hand can be under the dog’s abdomen.
- If carrying your dog, hold the dog close so they are cradled between your body and arms.
For dogs like Dachshunds or Corgis who are prone to back problems, be extra aware of how you are supporting their body. Dachshunds in particular are prone to herniated discs. To prevent harming a dog’s back, place your arm or hand under the butt, rather than under the stomach.
Long and small dogs will need to be picked up more often when approaching stairs or going on and off furniture. You can also get a cute dog ramp to help prevent injury.
Tips for picking up a puppy or tiny dog
These tiny little fluffballs of joy need to be handled just as safely as all dogs. It may be tempting to pick up a puppy with just the one hand, but when lifting your dog off the floor, you should still use two hands to ensure they are properly supported.
Once the dog is in your arms, then you can draw them close to your chest so they feel nicely supported and protected by one arm. If your puppy is extra wiggly, you may want to leash your puppy and keep them close until they calm down. Once they are still, then you may try to pick them up and use the leash to keep your puppy from licking your face.
Don’t forget to cue puppies! Use the same phrase before you pick a puppy up and then treat them while they’re in your arms. You can also use a treat to stop a puppy from licking your face.
Of course, some puppies grow much faster than others, so you may need to adapt your hold as they get bigger. (We dive into that below.) Read our guide to supporting your puppy for the first 30 days of their new home life.
How to Pick Up a Medium or Large Dog
The best way to pick up a medium-sized dog is to cradle them in your arms. A medium-sized dog can weigh anywhere from 20 to 60lbs. If your dog is over 40lbs, you’ll want to approach them like a large dog to avoid hurting your back. This means getting extra help!
To carry a medium-sized or large dog:
- Give your verbal cue to let them know you’re going to pick them up.
- Bend at your knees (not your back!) and wrap one arm around the front of your dog’s chest.
- Your other arm should go behind their hind-legs at the mid thigh and below the tail.
- If getting help, one person should carry the dog’s chest and head while the other scoops under the belly and butt. Count to make sure you’re lifting the dog at the same time.
- When lifting your dog, raise yourself with your legs first, not back.
You’ll definitely need to know your own strength when it comes to medium and large dogs. Since a medium dog can easily weigh over 40lbs, here is an example of breeds that require extra help. This may be an especially important factor if you’re considering what dog is best for you as a solo dog parent!
|Medium breeds for one person||Breeds that require two people|
|Collies||Bernese Mountain Dogs|
|Australian Shepherds||German Shepherds|
|Airedale Terriers||Alaskan Malamutes|
|Shiba Inu||Labrador Retriever|
How to Pick Up a Senior Dog with Arthritis or Hip Problems
Senior dogs and dogs with chronic conditions will need a little extra care and attention when it comes to picking them up. You want to pick up the dog without aggravating existing conditions, such as a sore back or hurt leg.
In general, the best way to pick up small dogs with chronic issues is in a carrier. Avoid picking them up from the front legs. For some hip and arthritis conditions, you may be able to pick up your dog with your arms supporting their chest and under their back. It’s best to check-in with your dog with a cue to see if they can handle being picked up.
Larger senior or hurt dogs, however, will need various tools to get into a car or up the stairs. A towel wrapped around the back legs or a lifter harness can be a useful tool. Pet ramps with gentle inclines can be a good option too, if your dog does not want to be carried. There are many useful tools for dogs with mobility problems that can help make moving around easier.
Pro-tip: Cues are especially important for senior dogs as they may be losing their sight or hearing. You may need to use a physical marker, like a tapping their shoulder or placing your hands around their chest, to let them know they’re being picked up.
What If My Dog Hates Being Picked Up?
Most dogs who are picked up when young will have no problem being picked up over time. However if your dog starts to act nervous or aggressive when you pick them up, then something more serious is going on. Here are possible reasons for why a dog may bite when you pick them up:
Your dog is in pain
If your dog is usually okay with being held, but has changed their behavior, they might be in pain. Even the nicest dogs will nip when they’re in pain.
Pain may be a result of:
- an injury
- stomach discomfort or illness
- a condition like arthritis or hip dysplasia
If this behavior continues, or comes also with other symptoms, be sure to contact your vet for advice and a check-up.
Your dog is anxious or surprised
Are you trying to pick up your dog in an unfamiliar environment? Is your dog unable to calm down and listen to you? Your dog might be feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
Treating anxiety in dogs requires a long-term approach, so don’t try any sudden movements right then. Instead, focus on trying to calm your down down by petting or taking them away from the environment. You can always cuddle them later!
Your dog is not socialized
Rescue and adopted dogs may have a bad history of being picked up or being touched. In this case, you’ll need to counter condition with treats.
Start by observing your dogs behavior and body language when it comes to pets. Then your notes to a certified behaviorist or professional dog trainer. A behaviorist will be able to help you train your dog to develop trust and recover from their history of neglect or abuse.
With the right training, rescue dogs can come right back out of their shell and make loyal, affectionate pets. It might just take a little extra time and love.
How to Transport a Dog with Injuries
There are also times when it better not to pick up your dog at all. This can include when your dog is injured, recovering from surgery, or is pregnant. In this case, call your vet before attempting to move your dog. Your vet will be able to recommend the best way to securely support your dog without worsening their injuries.
In emergency cases, you may need to find a stretcher or flat board that can support your dog’s weight. In these cases, please call the emergency clinic ahead of time so that vet techs can help safely transport your dog from your car to the clinic.
How Not to Pick Up a Dog
Now that you know how to safely pick up a dog, remember there are also ways not to pick up a dog. Avoid picking up a dog from one end only. Lifting a dog by their front or back legs only will strain their ligaments. Carrying a dog like Simba can also lead to negative associations with being picked up.
Never pick up a dog by their collar or scruff either! This is for mother dogs only.
When it comes to picking up your dog, remember that being carried is not natural to a dog’s disposition. Think about the entire process, from asking your dog for consent to supporting the right areas. Even the most cuddly dog might need space once in a while!
And don’t forget to think about your own safety. Avoid injuring your back, remember to bend at the knees before picking up your dog.