If your dog bites you when you try to pick them up, you’re not alone. This is a common (albeit unwanted) response that many dog owners receive when they go to pick their pet up for various reasons. It may happen when you’re trying to leave a dog park, when you need to help a small or injured dog onto the bed or couch, or when you simply want to cuddle and pet Fido or Fluffy in your lap.
In the following article, we’ll go over why your dog tries to bite you when you pick them up and how to curb and ideally stop this behavior. We’ll also answer a few other related questions to help you better understand and train a dog when they simply do not like being picked up (and let you know it).
Why does my dog bite me when I pick him up?
There’s actually a simple answer to this question. Your dog bites you, or tries to bite you, when you pick them up because they don’t like it!
Try putting yourself in their “shoes”. Imagine someone much larger than you coming up to you from behind where you can’t see them and grabbing you around the waist and picking you up off the ground. That would be a surprise, wouldn’t it!
You probably wouldn’t like it.
Understanding this point is important because it allows us to be more compassionate about a persnickety dog that bites or growls when you pick them up.
Of course, we want to get to a place where you can pick your dog up regularly without receiving bite marks and wounds. Getting picked up shouldn’t be an awful and devastating experience. Fixing this behavior is for your own good and the good of your pet. You should be able to pick up your dog when you need to — especially if it’s a small breed that will regularly need help doing things like getting in and out of cars or getting up onto the bed to sleep at night.
Before we dive into how to condition your dog to like being picked up (or at least not to hate it), let’s go over why this behavior might be occurring in your pet in the first place.
Why won’t my dog let me pick him up?
There are numerous reasons why a dog may not let you pick them up. Here are a few to consider first:
Negative past experiences
If your dog had other owners or was at a pound or shelter for a long time before you became their parent, they may have had a negative experience with being lifted. They may have been abused or handled roughly.
Discomfort or pain
If a dog is in discomfort or pain, they’re not going to want to be lifted. Injury would be more likely if your dog has started doing it suddenly and if it has been showing other signs of having an injury such as limping. It could also be the case that you have been picking it up in a painful manner which would be more likely if you have been picking it up aggressively.
Fear and anxiety
Some dogs actually have a fear of heights. Others are simply scared about being lifted because it’s never happened to them before, and they don’t feel secure.
Not knowing what’s happening
If you surprise a dog and try to lift them up from behind without them seeing you, they are inevitably going to be scared and may nip at you, growl, or attempt to run away.
Why does my dog bark when I pick him up?
We know that some dogs will bite or nip when they are picked up. Other dogs will exhibit similar unpleasant behaviors, such as barking.
Barking in dogs is not something you should immediately become upset about. After all, barking is speech for dogs. They have to bark sometimes! And they should.
Again, however, there are times to bark and times not to bark. You don’t want your dog yapping every time you go to pick them up, especially if you do so, or want to do so, regularly. So, why do they do it?
Plainly stated, your dog’s probably barking when you pick them up because, again, they don’t want to be picked up. Perhaps they’re playing and having fun on the ground — maybe with other dogs. If you take them away from this exciting activity, they’re bound to be upset about it.
Another reason is that they may be in pain or discomfort. We discussed this earlier when we talked about biting dogs. If your dog is feeling nauseous or has a stomachache, for example, they don’t want to be grabbed around the stomach area. If they have an injured limb or a broken rib, the same rings true. Any injury or sickness will make your dog reticent to being held or touched.
Consider also that dogs are usually not used to being lifted into the air, and they may find the experience scary. This is especially true if you tend to try to lift your small dog up with just one hand or if you grab them roughly or quickly. We will go over techniques for how to appropriately pick up a dog later on in this article.
Finally, some dogs will growl when they are picked up because other dogs are around. They may have been enjoying playing with those other dogs and don’t want to leave the experience. Or, they may not like the idea of their stomach being exposed to the other dogs when you lift them up.
How do you pick up a dog without biting?
If you have a dog that bites when you try to pick them up, fixing this behavior all comes down to training. You can certainly send your dog off to a trainer or have a trainer come to you to fix this issue. But it is actually better to do the training yourself. After all, you’re the one who is going to be picking up your dog, so it should be you who is teaching the behavior that you want to stick.
First, consider how you have been going about picking your dog up so far. Do you handle them roughly? Do you use two hands? How quickly do you take them off the ground? Do you let them know that you’re going to pick them up before you do so?
These are all important questions to ask, and yes, they do make a difference! Some pet owners may think: “Why do I have to make all of these considerations for my pet — they’re just an animal?”
Actually, animals are very similar to humans in many ways, and this is particularly true when it comes to dogs. Our dogs, like us, are sensitive creatures. You need to communicate with them, be gentle with them, and understand them in order to have good a relationship with them.
You can’t just assume trust. You have to earn it.
For this reason, make sure to start your training early. If you notice that your dog is biting, growling, or trying to run away when you pick them up, make plans to alter this behavior as soon as possible.
When it comes to techniques, you want to start by making yourself known. Don’t surprise your dog by simply grabbing them. Call out their name, and tell them you’ll be picking them up. Make sure they know you’re there.
Next, focus on being safe, secure, and gentle. Don’t be rough with your dog when you lift them.
To lift securely and gently, start by placing one hand under their ribs, right behind the front legs. Place the under other hand near their stomach, in front of their hind legs. Try to disperse their weight evenly between your two hands. Don’t put strain on their back.
Lastly, as you rise and lift them, go slowly and hug them close to your body so that they feel protected.
What to do about my dog growling when I pick him up?
Most people want to be able to pick their dogs up when they need to or want to. Even if you’re someone who wants to let their dog be mostly autonomous, you will need to pick your dog up at some point.
Perhaps they become injured and need your help. Maybe you will be at the veterinarian’s office and will need to get your dog onto the examination table. What if you have to help them into a car that’s high off the ground?
You want to be able to do all of these things without your pet growling, barking, or biting at you. Here are a few tips for improving your dog’s behavior when you go to pick them up.
Desensitize the Process
Desensitization is the process of making a behavior less upsetting and/or intimidating. For whatever reason, your dog has become sensitized to the process of being picked up: They don’t like it, and they don’t want it to happen.
What you need to do is to change this response into a positive one. Make it more pleasant and maybe even enjoyable for your dog.
When it comes to desensitizing the dog-lifting process, the first thing you should remember is that yelling, screaming, or jumping out of your skin should never be the first reactions you have when a dog doesn’t like being picked up.
Punishment is equally futile. All of these behaviors from you are simply going to make the behavior in your dog worse. If you continue to react negatively — even if they bite or growl at you when you lift them — they are going to start associate being picked up with your negative reactions or punishment.
This is exactly what you don’t want. And of course, you should never hit or physically abuse a pet — even if they’ve physically abused you first by biting or scratching you.
Your job is to make the experience as pleasant as possible. Start very slow. The process of desensitization may take a while — up to a few weeks or even months. You want to slowly get your pet used to being picked up in a gentle and kind way.
You can start with simple practice. After all, practice makes perfect. Whenever you have time, run through the following:
Kneel down to your dog’s level, and get their attention. Let them know you’re there. Tell them that you’re going to pick them up. It’s not silly to talk to a dog this way. They understand more than you think.
Begin by simply petting them and moving your pets to their stomach area. Gently touch and rub their stomach. This is where you will be lifting your dog, and this is the area that you want to desensitize for them. Offer a treat.
As you get more used to this, continue petting and rubbing their stomach and start to provide a little support. Don’t actually lift their paws off the ground, but do give a gentle small lift, then release, and move your hands to regular pets again. Offer a treat. Smile, and praise your dog all the while.
The next few times you practice lifting, do lift your pet slightly off the ground so that all four paws are raised just a few inches. Then, set them back down, and continue with pets, smiles, and praises. Offer a treat.
Continue with this routine, lifting them slightly higher each time. Finally, move to actually lifting them off the ground and holding them securely. Offer praises, smiles, pets, cuddles, and treats.
Why does my dog make noises when I pick him up?
If your dog makes a noise when you lift them up (such as a grunt, a sigh, or a sort of “murmur”), recognize that this actually isn’t very uncommon. These sounds may simply be those that occur in your pet when you put pressure on their abdomen. It’s probably just an exhalation of air out of their lungs, and it may simply come out as an audible sound.
If the sound is, for some reason, disturbing or upsetting to you, you can try a few things to fix it.
First, be gentler. You may be causing discomfort in your dog if you’re picking them up roughly or not paying attention to your holding technique. Change the way you pick them up, and this could fix or at least inhibit the sounds they produce when you lift them.
Next, make sure you’re not surprising your dog when you pick them up. We went over this when we were discussing the proper techniques for lifting a dog off the ground. Coming up behind them (especially if they’re hard of hearing, elderly, or injured) and abruptly lifting them can cause fear and anxiety, which may make them audibly grunt or whimper.
Let them know you’re there by coming around in front of them so that they can see you before you lift them. If they have trouble with their vision, make a sound or perform a large and quick movement to get their attention first, and then lift them.