Why Is My Dog Growling When I Pick Him Up?

Updated on March 15, 2018
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinary hospital assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dog growling and biting when picked up.
Dog growling and biting when picked up. | Source

Does Your Dog Growl When Being Picked Up?

If your dog is growling when he is being picked up, you may be wondering what may be triggering this behavior. There are several possibilities, but before going into depth on them, let's first see what your dog is trying to communicate and let's debunk some common myths. Behavioral problems often stem from a lack of clear inter-species communication and all that is needed is to better understand what our dogs are trying to say.

First and foremost, it's a common myth that dogs that growl when being picked up are trying to be dominant. This is far from true. Many people still believe that their puppy or small dog is growling to say something like: "I am trying to rule this house and exert my power over you, so get your hands off of me or I will bite you!" I have heard people make such claims even over a 12-week old puppy! To make things worse, vets, groomers or old-school trainers are often contributing to the problem, telling owners of these puppies to put the pup in its place and perform a scruff shake or an alpha roll! The scruff shake consists of grabbing the pup by the loose skin of the neck (scruff) and giving a shake; whereas, the alpha roll, consists of an outdated technique where the puppy is pinned down until it "submits." Both techniques are harmful and the end result is a puppy who is misunderstood and only learns to mistrust his owners!

If you are seriously thinking you are dealing with a dominant puppy or dog, I ask you to re-think it over and look what important associations have to says. Reading the Position Statement on the Use of Dominance Theory in Behavior Modification of Animals by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior is a good starting point. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers also offers a nice read and clearly claims:

"Dogs that use aggression to "get what they want" are not displaying dominance, but rather anxiety-based behaviors, which will only increase if they are faced with verbal and/or physical threats from their human owners."

The ASPCA claims:

"Techniques like alpha rolls, scruff shakes and other violent maneuvers frighten many dogs and can trigger defensive aggression. These techniques aren’t just unpleasant for dogs and dangerous for pet parents to administer. They’re also irrelevant to most behavior problems, and they can erode the bond between dog and pet parent."

So, if the puppy or dog isn't growling and trying to bite out of dominance, then why is he growling and trying to bite in the first place? Let's look at an example. You are in middle school and a kid is teasing you. You tell the kid to stop it or you will tell the teacher about his behavior. The kid stops teasing you. Next time, another kid tries to tease you, you use the same technique, only that this time it doesn't work. The kid blocks your pathway, so you cannot go tell the teacher, so you're forced to use plan B. In this case, you push him out of your way. This works to help you make a point and the kid leaves you alone for the rest of the day.

Something similar happens to dogs. Your puppy lets you know he doesn't like it when you pick him up, so he may try at first to hide or squirm away when he sees you looming down to get him. When you get a hold of him, he'll emit a growl. If you respect the growl, you'll likely let him down the moment you hear him, but if the growl goes unheeded, he'll also have to resort to plan B, which is trying to bite. When this starts working, he'll use this strategy more and more as the growling is getting him out of a bad situation.

It may be tempting to want to try punishing the dog for his growling or biting behavior but this worsens things even more. First off, growling should never be suppressed in dogs as this in the long term will result in a dog who may bite without warning. How would you feel if you are uncomfortable being at the dentist, and the dentist would you strap you up, force you to endure the procedure and even slap you in the face for not staying still? Most likely you would lose trust in the dentist and never want to go there again. Dogs who growl and bite when being picked up are trying to communicate something, are we listening? In the next paragraphs, we will see some common causes for a puppy or small dog to resent being picked up.

How to Stop Unwanted Behavior: The Positive Interrupter

Reasons Why Your Dog Growls When Being Picked Up

So, your dog growls when being picked up and you're wondering what can be done to stop this behavior. The most important question at this point is why is your dog growling when picked up in the first place? Until dogs can talk, you may never know exactly what triggered this behavior, but we can certainly make some assumptions that may even be accurate. Whether you own an adult small dog or a puppy, the following list offers some possible causes for this behavior:

Health Issue/Pain

If your dog has always been fine being picked up, but now suddenly he seems to resent it and growls, it may be you are dealing with an underlying health problem. It could be Rover hurt his front legs somehow or he has some pain somewhere that causes him to be a bit grumpy when being touched certain ways. A vet check-up is always a must when you notice changes in your dog's behavior and cannot find a plausible explanation for it. Once health issues have been carefully ruled out by your vet, you can then consider a behavior issue.

Lack of Handling

All puppies should be accustomed to being handled through positive associations. These positive experiences will pave the path to pleasant vet visits, grooming appointments and dog owners benefit as well as this paves the path to cooperation when being touched and picked up. These positive handling sessions should start at the breeder's home when the pups are still with their mother and litter mates. A breeder gets the young pups used to being touched and handled, and then it's up to the owner to continue these handling exercises during the critical socialization period.

Puppies and dogs who aren't accustomed to being handled and picked up will have a tense, rigid body and may growl and even attempt to bite when they're being touched and lifted. After all, consider that that lack of control when he's off the ground can be a scary experience for dogs not used to it!

Negative Experiences

A dog maybe trained to tolerate or even enjoy being handled, but if something unpleasant happens when being picked up, the dog may then categorize being picked up as a negative event and react accordingly. For instance, let's say you are picking up a small dog and as you grab him from the front leg and lift him, he squeals in pain. It wasn't your intent to hurt the little guy, but it's often forgotten how delicate small dogs can be. If you often pick your dog up to do something unpleasant such as a nail trim this may be a factor too. It, therefore, shouldn't come as a surprise if next time, the dog will naturally be more reluctant to being picked up and may emit a small growl. Consider as well, that when dogs are restrained such as when they're being picked up, their flight option is taken away so all that's left is fight. For more on this read the fight or flight response in dogs.

Negative Consequences

If you are picking up your puppy or small dog to interrupt unwanted behaviors such as chewing your shoes and he growls and tries to bite you upon picking him up, you'll need to find better ways to interrupt unwanted behaviors. A positive interrupter may be a better option. See Kiko Pup's video on how to train this. In this case, your puppy likely doesn't like to be picked up because when you pick him up, you are putting an end to things your dog likes. And most likely when you do this, you are also mad, possibly rough and move in an assertive way that can be intimidating and triggers defensive behaviors.

And of course, there is the typical nipping and play growling that you see normally in young puppies. If you are not sure if your puppy is playing or being aggressive, have a force-free professional come take a look at the behavior and help you out. Young puppies need to learn the ABC' s of bite inhibition and handling exercises.

Make Your Dog Love Being Picked Up!

Dealing With Dogs Who Don't Like to Be Picked Up

As seen, dogs may have their own reasons for not liking to be picked up. Whether you are dealing with a puppy or an adult small dog, you likely want to know how you can make the whole picking up ordeal more pleasant. Following are some tips.

  • Always start with a veterinary exam to rule out any physical problems. Implementing behavior modification when there's an underlying medical problem will waste your time and money and will get you nowhere.
  • If you are picking your dog up when he's misbehaving, train how to interrupt unwanted behavior by using a positive interrupter-- see video above.
  • Recognize what part of picking up your dog doesn't like. Does he simply dislike being touched in certain areas? Does he freeze the moment he sees your intent in picking him up? Does he start squirming the moment he's lifted off the ground? Or does he particularly dislike it when he's up in your arms? Many times, dogs learn to dislike the whole sequence as they chain one behavior to another.
  • Desensitize and counter-condition your dog to being handled and picked up. Have a force-free professional show you how. Divide the exercises in small segments and go very slowly. If your dog dislikes being handled, create positive associations by touching him briefly and immediately giving a treat. Touch should become a cue that a treat is coming. Repeat several times until your dog appears more comfortable being touched. Afterward, start lifting him up very briefly and give a treat. Repeat several time, for several days and then lift him up and put him on your lap. Feed treat while on your lap. Then put him down and no more treats. Finally, hold him up and feed him tasty treats, and put him down and no more treats. If at any time in the process your dog seems uncomfortable, take a few steps back and go more slowly. With time, if you are consistent and persist, you may see a conditioned emotional response to being handled and picked up!
  • Learn how to pick up dogs the correct way. Start by approaching the dog from its side. Then, bend down and gently scoop him up cradling his bottom so it won't slip downwards. Support his spine by gently keeping one hand across his chest while the other holds the rear. Never pick up a dog from its forelegs!

As seen, these are gentle, force-free ways to help your puppy or dog learn how to better tolerate being handled and picked up. With these methods, trust is instilled and it paves the path to a bond between dog and owner. The goal is to transform a tense puppy into a puppy who looks forward to being touched and picked up.I originally wrote this up as a response to a Wikihow article showing how to alpha roll a tiny, poor puppy to show who is in "charge." Sadly, this article is still up and has been read 62,948 times! I hope this doesn't mean so many people are alpha rolling puppies.

Disclaimer: if your puppy or dog is showing aggression, please see your vet to rule out any medical problems and then consult with a force-free trainer/behavior consultant to ensure safety and the correct implementation of behavior modification.

Does your dog like to be picked up?

See results

Correct Pick Up Technique for Small Dogs

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

Questions & Answers

© 2014 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

Related

Popular

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      13 days ago from USA

      Try feeding the pup tasty treats as she is being picked up in step-by-step gradual fashion. Lower fingers in her direction, drop treats. Touch with fingers her body, drop treats. Put pressure with fingers on her body as if picking up, drop treats. Lift her a tiny bit and feed treats, lift a bit more, feed treats, lift on bed, feed treats, put on bed, no more treats. The treats happen only when she is being touched/lifted. If at any time she attempts to bite, you have gone too fast in the process. Go back a few steps until she's more comfortable.Wear gloves if she is hurting your fingers. Good luck!

    • profile image

      Teresa mcnutt 

      4 weeks ago

      Our puppy is very small we have to pick her up to put her on the bed she bites our pingers and runs a short distance we remove our hands she runs back same thing over and over same trying to put her down once on the bed she loves it we have tried walking away and comming back a short time later no luck what should we do

    • profile image

      G.Lo 

      3 months ago

      Thanks for the great information...

    • profile image

      3 years ago

      Excellent info well done...

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)