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How To Carry Dogs + 4 Don’ts When Picking Up Dogs

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Picking up your dog should be a simple task, right?

Unfortunately, I see dog owners with the best intentions that pick their dog up the wrong way.

Not only is that uncomfortable for your dog, but it can also cause injuries to you or the dog (especially if you have a large or giant breed).

What To Avoid When Picking Up Dogs

There are a couple of mistakes you can easily avoid with the right knowledge. If you built a strong bond with your dog, you should work on maintaining that relationship of trust.

1. Don’t Lift Your Dog Up By Their Collar

To prevent damage to the trachea, you should avoid cutting off your dog’s air supply.

In case your dog’s swimming and you’re trying to pull him out of a pool or out of a dangerous situation in the ocean, get your dog an appropriate harness.

I’ve seen it happen and in emergencies, it might be okay to apply pressure on the collar to pull your dog upwards or keep him from slipping away, but you should never carry your dog by the collar just for fun.

2. Don’t Carry Your Dog By Their Scruff

This one happens due to people trying to emulate the mother dog.

However, mothers know how much pressure to apply and only use this technique to carry their youngsters until a certain age.

Don’t try to carry your dog by their scruff because it might cause injuries to your dog.

The older they become, the less likely they are to tolerate being carried that way.

3. Don’t Pick Your Dog By The Tail

A lot of dogs will get extremely uncomfortable if you even grab and hold their tail for too long and you shouldn’t try to use the tail to stop a dog’s movement, not to mention trying to pick them up by the tail.

Dog tails are communication tools, not convenient handles.

4. Don’t Lift Your Dog By His Underarms (or Legs)

Especially children tend to carry small dogs by their underarms.

Not only is this straining their muscles and ligaments, but it can also cause them to be afraid of being lifted since it’s not unlikely that kids (or even adults) may drop the dog or he slips away.

Lifting a puppy by his underarms is often used as a temperament test when choosing the right puppy from a reputable breeder.

Teach your children how to carry dogs properly and your pooch will be happy to comply.

Best Way To Pick Up Small Dogs

Slide your strong arm under your dog’s chest between the front paws and wrap the other hand around the belly on the rear end so that your dog is between your arm and body.

If your dog faces your right, it’s easiest to use your right hand as the dominant one under your dog’s chest to avoid crossing arms.

If your dog faces your left, it’s easiest to use your left hand as the dominant one under your dog’s chest to avoid crossing arms.

You may also want to think about introducing a command right before you lift the dog.

This helps to take the surprise element out for small dogs as the sudden change in height might be frightening to them otherwise.

To do this, you can just say your chosen cue every time you’re about to pick your dog up.

A big mistake that I see time and time again is that owners of small breeds tend to pick their dogs up far too often.

If the small dog is reactive, picking him up might even reinforce the negative behavior.

On the other hand, we have the overly cautious owners of small dogs that pick them up whenever they feel something threatening is coming which includes large dogs, trucks, groups of people, or whatever.

Give your dog the chance to walk. Just because you can carry them doesn’t mean that you should.

In cases where your dog refuses to walk, it might be especially tempting to pick them up but just give in and instead teach your dog to walk properly.

Reserve picking your small dog up for truly dangerous situations.

How To Carry a Large Dog

Put one arm behind the dog’s back legs and the other arm around his chest to lift your large dog.

Generally, most large dogs do not like to be picked up.

However, sometimes it may be necessary due to an injury and/or when you need to transport your dog by car and he has no command or doesn’t want to jump inside the car.

Similarly, knowing how to pick up a large dog comes in handy when you have to carry your large dog upstairs.

It goes without saying that you should be careful not to drop your dog and desensitize with lots of treats and praise in order for them to associate being picked up with a positive experience.

How To Carry a Dog On Your Shoulders

Personally, I have a different technique to carry my nearly 100-pound Rottweiler than the one outlined above for large dogs.

Place your hand behind your dog’s back legs under the paws and the other hand around the chest (not in front of the chest this time, but behind the front legs) and lift your dog.

Once he’s airborne, you can just sling the front paws over your shoulder and support the back paws.

Here’s a little picture of our Rottweiler puppy with around 6 months and slightly under 70 pounds.

Rottweiler being carried over the shoulder withs support below the back paws.
Photo by Pawleaks

How To Lift a Dog With a Towel

If your dog’s truly giant, you may want to enlist the help of a family member or friend. One can carry the front while the other person carries the backside.

You can also place your dog on a towel with a down command and then proceed to lift him with the towel at the front and rear.

It’s an easy and relatively safe way to transport giant breeds or dogs that are in pain.

Be cautious if your dog doesn’t like the wobbly feeling of being carried on a towel and make sure your equipment is strong enough.

I’d recommend using a yoga mat if you have one with a soft upper side but anti-slip protection underneath. This way, you can safely lower your dog again.

How To Pick Up a Dog That Bites

In case your dog feels uncomfortable when being picked up, you should consider putting on a muzzle if the situation is urgent.

If it’s not urgent and you just want to train your dog to tolerate being picked up then you can start to slowly desensitize your dog. Learn to spot warning signals like growling and understand that you have to take baby steps.

Touch your dog in the same way as you would when you pick him up but immediately let go of him and treat him for that if he reacts positively.

You can proceed to simulate taking him off the ground with a little bit of pressure and treat him again. You can also use toys if your dog’s more into that as a reward.

Similar to small dogs, you can introduce a command with dogs that hate being picked up so they know what to expect.

How To Lift a Dog With Arthritis

If you’re trying to lift a dog with arthritis, it’s important to keep the dog level.

To successfully carry an injured/arthritic dog, you can use the method with the towel explained above.

If that’s not an option, try to combine the method for carrying small dogs and carry them over your shoulder.

Wrap your dominant arm under your dog’s chest behind the front paws and wrap your other arm around your dog’s belly so that your dog is between your arm and body.

This will probably only work well with medium-sized dogs and you may need tools like a dog stretcher to carry giant breed dogs.

Slowly introduce your dog to the stretcher and make sure he feels safe on it.

Let me know how you carry your dogs in the comments!

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Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.

J dodd

Wednesday 7th of April 2021

Today I saw a man lifting his 6months old lab puppy by the scruff of her neck and she was airborne for a few seconds then he pulled her collet and she looked very uncomfortable he says he was training her surely this is not right should I report him to the rspca


Wednesday 7th of April 2021

While mothers do carry their puppies like that when they're young, it's definitely no "training method" for a 6m old puppy. Unfortunately, the RSPCA, animal control, local authorities or whatnot can't do much if it's not actual neglect and you have a burden of proof. You could try to talk to him and if you find other no-gos, try going to the authorities.