How to Pick up and Hold a Small Dog or Puppy Correctly
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Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
The Importance of Picking up Small Dogs and Puppies Safely
Knowing how to pick up small dogs or puppies properly is important. As a dog trainer and behavior consultant, I often stumble on cases of dogs who do not want to be picked up, or even worse, dogs who growl and even bite in the process.
Don't make the big mistake of grabbing dogs incorrectly, and most of all, don't forget about involving them in the learning process too!
Here's the thing: dogs can be hurt if they are picked up the wrong way. Sometimes, they are picked up correctly, but then they are dropped too high, assuming that the puppy or dog can just jump down. However, that's not always the case and there have been injuries caused this way.
Risks for Physical Injuries
There are many stories of puppies of small dogs being accidentally dropped, but often this happens because they are picked up incorrectly. Fortunately, more often than not, they just shake their fur and recover, but the potential for serious injury is often there.
Risks for Emotional Scars
Picking up dogs the wrong way may also lead to emotional problems. A small dog or puppy who doesn't feel supported may become frightened. A negative experience may lead to a dog who dreads being picked up, plays hard to catch, wiggles a lot, and in some cases, may even growl or attempt to bite when reached for or held in your arms.
I see too many videos of dogs being picked up the wrong way, roughly or with no conditioning involved and their body language denotes tension when you really want happy anticipation.
As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." So learn how to pick up your puppy correctly and create positive associations in the process.
Step 1: Learn How to Pick up Your Small Dog or Puppy Correctly
This section is dedicated to you, the dog owner, to learn how to pick up your companion correctly. This is how we were taught to pick up puppies and small dogs when I worked for a veterinary hospital when we had to place them on the examination table or carry them from their runs to the hospital area to prep them for surgery.
Please get familiar with the process first before trying to pick up your puppy or dog for the very first time, as you want your puppy or small dog to learn how it feels to being held too with some baby steps.
How to Pick up Your Dog Properly
- Bend down towards your puppy: Place your hand under your dog's chest area with your fingers protruding in the front of the chest area, and palm of the hand supporting the rear part of the chest, behind the dog's front legs.
- Lift your puppy slightly up.
- Help support your dog's back end with your forearm under the tail and your hand holding the back legs.
- Keep your dog close to your chest in an upright position.
You'll basically be supporting your puppy or dog's chest area with one hand, while you'll be supporting his back end with your other hand, keeping your forearm under the tail.
How to Place Your Dog Down Correctly
Just as it's important knowing how to pick up your dog correctly, it's important to know how to place him back on the ground. Do so by gently accompanying his legs until all four feet touch the ground.
Step 2: Conditioning Your Puppy to Being Picked up
This guide is for your puppy or small dog who is learning about the process of being picked up. It's meant to allow your puppy to get accustomed to the sensation of being picked up, lifted and placed into your arms. The goal is to take baby steps and create positive associations through desensitization and counterconditioning.
It basically combines the action of being picked up split into smaller components each being associated with something your puppy or small dog likes (tasty treats).
- Bend down towards your puppy and feed a treat. Then go back to standing position. Do this a few times. This is helpful because some small dogs and pups are uncomfortable when we loom over them. If your small dog or puppy pees when you loom over, you may be dealing with a case of dog submissive urination which needs to be tackled too.
- Next, bend down and place your hand under your small puppy's or dog's chest and feed a tasty treat while your hand is there. Once your dog finishes the treat, remove your hand. Repeat this several times, until your dog seems comfortable with this.
- Place your hand under your dog's chest again, and feed a tasty treat and lift your dog slightly off the floor. Once your dog finishes the treat, lower him down to the floor and remove the hand.
- Place your hand under your dog's chest again, and feed a tasty treat and lift your dog more off the floor. Once your dog finishes the treat, lower him down to the floor and remove the hand.
- Place your hand under your dog's chest again, and feed a tasty treat and lift your dog more off the floor and place your other arm under his back end to support him. Feed him an extra treat while he's up in your arms (or have a helper feed them). Once your dog finishes the treat, lower him down to the floor and remove your hand.
- Add duration. Place your hand under your dog's chest lift your dog off the floor and place your other arm under his back end to support him. Feed him an extra treat or two while he's up in your arms and walks around. Once your dog finishes the treats, lower him down to the floor and remove your hand.
- Add a verbal cue (I like to use "up-up-up!") that tells the dog that you are about to pick them up and do the whole chain of behaviors, praising and rewarding with treats as you walk around. Dogs like routines, they like knowing what is coming. If you alert your dog of your intent, he'll be more relaxed rather than being startled by you suddenly swooping him up from nowhere.
- Finally, give a treat every now and then when you place your dog on the floor so he associates this part too with tasty food. Being placed down can be scary too for a young pup and some may struggle with this portion a bit.
If at any time you notice your dog is struggling with any one of these steps, split them into smaller sub-steps and do not move to the next step until he is fully comfortable with the previous one. Below is a video on the conditioning process.
How Can You Tell Whether a Dog Likes or Dislikes Being Picked up?
Generally expect to see some happy anticipation such as leaning on your legs, standing up against you, or jumping on you repeatedly, and even barking for wanting to be picked up. Once you pick them up, they act relaxed without acting restless and the expression on their face looks happy.
Dogs who dislike being picked up may play hard to catch, try to nip hands as you lower them or hold your dog into your arms and will wiggle a lot in hopes of being placed back down. If your dog growls when being picked up, you may find this read helpful: help, my dog growls when being picked up.
Here's the thing: working on these cases by tackling the underlying emotions is important. If every time you pick up your dog, he growls and tries to bite, and you let go of him, he'll come to learn that his biting and growling got him out of the unpleasant situations. Hence, he'll growl and bite with more frequency upon being picked up, or even as you approach with the intent to pick him up.
These dogs require behavior modification through desensitization and counterconditioning under the guidance of a dog behavior professional.
Avoid These Mistakes!
Of course, just as there are right ways to picking up puppies and dogs, there are also wrong ways.When placing your puppy or dog in your arms you, therefore, want to avoid these mistakes:
- Avoid grabbing the dog from the front legs or armpits.
- Avoid lifting from the belly.
- Avoid lifting by the tail. I know handlers in dog shows lift some dogs by the tail but these are often dog breeds selectively bred to have a strongly built tail so their owners could pull them out of burrows when in danger.
- Avoid cradling your dog like a baby.
- Avoid dropping your dog to the floor even if from a low height.
- Do not pick up a puppy by the scruff of the neck.
- Don't allow your children to pick up your dog without first learning the correct way. Always provide guidance and remind them how to lower the puppy gently down until all four feet touch the floor. Supervise all interactions. Consider that young children may lack the manual dexterity to hold a small dog or puppy correctly, so keep this in mind to prevent accidental injuries.
- Avoid picking up your puppy and then doing something the puppy dreads such as being closed in a room by himself, clipping his nails or giving him a bath. With time, your puppy may play hard to catch because he knows something bad is about to happen. If you need to do these things, try picking him up, then feeding several treats, then walking around with him for some time first. The goal is to break a bit of the association. Also aim to make the activities he dreads more pleasant by creating positive associations with them as well (e.g when you close your puppy in a room give him a Kong stuffed with some tasty food or anything your dog loves).
Whoops! I Dropped My Small Dog or Puppy! Troublesome Signs to Watch For
It is always scary when we accidentally drop a puppy or small dog from our arms. Dropping from several feet can cause damage to fragile dogs such as fractures and head concussions. Many dog owners may, therefore, wonder what signs of trouble they need to look for in their companions after accidentally dropping them from their arms.
According to veterinarian Dr. Christian K, signs to watch for and that would require an immediate veterinary visit include the following:
- The dog showing signs of pain
- Staggering or an inability to walk normally
- Dragging the back legs
- Acting confused or 'spaced out"
- Having dilated pupils or pupils of different sizes, medical term, "anisocoria" (which can be suggestive of head trauma)
After in the incident, close monitoring is important Keep an eye on your dog for the next day or so. Make sure your puppy or dog eats, drinks, plays urinates and defecates normally. If you notice any of the signs or any other abnormalities, please play it safe and have your puppy or dog see the vet at your earliest convenience.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 16, 2020:
Picking up small dogs may seem like an easy task, but as with everything in life we want to make sure to do so with safety in mind and making sure the dog is also happy being picked up.
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 16, 2020:
You have some great dos and don't in this article. I don't have a small dog but I never gave much thought to picking one up. I appreciate all of your very good information.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 15, 2020:
I have learned of how to pick up a dog from this interesting hub. These tips are useful.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 14, 2020:
You always give such useful information for people to know, particularly first-time pet owners. Knowing how to pick up a small dog or puppy safely is essential.
Scruffing Cats and Dogs
What is a dog or cat’s scruff? The scruff is the loose skin present behind the animal’s neck. It serves many purposes for both the animal and its owner. Although not generally advised for humans due to the potential for injuring your pet, grasping an animal by the scruff of its neck promotes submissive behaviour in the animal. This is a natural behaviour that is learned by kittens and puppies during the neonatal period.
Scruffing is used by a mother to pick up her kittens/puppies. A mother cat picks up her kittens by the scruff of their neck to carry them from one place to another.
You may notice as the baby is lifted off the ground, it automatically becomes limp and the animal seems immobilized as it is being carried.
This is a natural reflex of neonatal animals and helps facilitate the transporting process. When the kitten is released, the mother cat will lick her kitten to comfort it.
As the animal ages, it will continue to be submissive when held by the scruff. In general, dogs and cats should not be lifted primarily by the scruff of the neck because it is a dominant behaviour. They should be lifted with two hands to support the weight – i.e. one under the animal’s arms, and the other under the rump. Particularly, as the animal ages and gets larger, it should not be lifted off the ground using only its scruff because the heavy weight of the rest of the body will cause excess strain on the loose skin and may be painful. In adult animals, scruffing should be done gently for training or restraint purposes, and only by those that know what they are doing. It would be best to consult a trainer or your veterinarian for a demonstration.
Scruffing is used as a form of communication between animals and is an indication of dominance. For example, when two dogs are fighting, the dominant dog may grab the other by the scruff, telling the other dog that he is the dominant one. Dominance is also demonstrated by other behaviours as well, such as direct stares or mounting behaviour. Another example where scruffing is used as a form of communication would be when a mother dog disciplines her puppy when it is misbehaving. She will glare at the puppy, then scruff and shake for a quick moment to make it clear that the behaviour was inappropriate.
Scruffing can be used for dog training purposes, but again do not try to scruff a puppy without a demonstration from a professional. Essentially, you will be imitating what the dog’s mother would have done if the puppy misbehaved. This is done by scruffing the dog and shaking gently while saying “no” firmly. Maintain direct eye contact with the dog to convey the message that you are scolding him/her. From puppy-hood, the dog will understand the scruff and shake as a reprimand and will eventually learn to associate it with the verbal “no”. After a few times, just saying “no” with a direct glare should be enough to reprimand the dog. You must keep in mind that a mother dog or cat will NEVER hurt their puppy or kitten using this technique. So if you as the owner hurt the puppy or kitten by improperly using this technique, you can cause physical and/or psychological damage to your pet. The importance of timing the reprimand correctly must be emphasized. The reprimand must be done at the same time that the offending action is performed. For example, if a dog is caught in the act of urinating on the carpet, the owner can immediately intervene and reprimand him/her. If the dog is scolded after the deed is done, he/she will not associate the act of urination with the scolding. At best, the dog will associate the smell or sight of urination with you getting upset.
It should be emphasized that scruffing should be done gently to prevent injury to the animal by grabbing too tightly or shaking too vigorously. It should not be used as an attempt to gain dominance over an animal because this could lead to elevated aggression or fear. For example, a very submissive or fearful dog will not benefit from scruffing as a training tool because the dog will become even more fearful of the handler. Aggressive dogs may not even allow you to get close enough to scruff them. But if you are able to scruff them, do not assume that you are completely safe from their jaws. You may be surprised how well some determined animals can squirm and twist. Attempting to scruff a frustrated or aggressive animal will just serve to frustrate it more. Scruffing should be reserved for confident dogs that need minor disciplinary action or when first training a new puppy. Remember that you are trying to imitate what the puppy’s mother would have done. The mother would not physically abuse the dog or yell furiously at it. The dog will not understand what exactly you are angry about. Scruffing should be used as a disciplinary tool, not a form of punishment.
It may also be used to separate two pets which are fighting. Although you should not physically interfere with two animals that are in a brawl, there are moments when the two animals may pause momentarily between attacks. At those moments, you may be able to control one of them to stop the fight. For example, if two feline housemates are fighting and they separate momentarily, you may grasp the aggressor by its scruff and hold the cat down as the less dominant cat has an opportunity to flee the scene. While the cat is being scruffed, he/she will immediately relax into a more submissive position. You may further emphasize your point by saying “no” firmly. You are not only dissipating the fight, but you are disciplining the dominant cat and teaching it that fighting is an inappropriate behaviour. Once the aggressive cat has calmed down, you may release and talk to him/her gently. You may also stroke the cat at this time as a mother cat would after disciplining her kitten.
Scruffing is also seen during feline copulation, when the male grabs the female by the scruff. This is done to immobilize her while he mounts and to prevent her from running away as the mating process takes place.
Since scruffing promotes submissive behaviour in the animal, people can use this technique for animal restraint purposes. For example scruffing an animal during medical procedures, such as blood sampling, allows for more control of the animal’s head and less risk of people being bitten.
Scruffing has a quite a few purposes in the animal world. For us, it serves as a useful tool for discipline and restraint purposes. Care must be taken to avoid using it as an easy tool to acquire dominance, because it may lead to fear or increased aggression. As well, many other factors determine dominance in a hierarchy and scruffing is only one minor part.
How to Pick Up a French Bulldog Properly & Hold Them Safely
This week we published a new video on the French Bulldog Owner YouTube channel (subscribe for weekly updates) which showed you how to pick up a Frenchie. You can see that video below which also comes in handy if you want to know the best way to hold a French Bulldog.
The proper way to pick up a dog
Find the right points
It is rather simple once you learn how to pick up your dog, and by then your dog will know what to expect in the situation too. The steps you need to take to ensure that you’re safely picking up your dog are the following:
- Crouch down near the dog
- Put your main hand behind the dog’s back legs
- Put your other hand on its chest
- Start slowly lifting the dog up
- As you do, push its body against your chest
This way the dog won’t experience any pain and neither will your lower back. However, you can also use a dog carrier for smaller dogs, like the Alfie – Chico Reversible Pet Sling Carrier.
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Picking up your dog properly makes it feel comfortable
Give it a verbal sign
Another great way to ensure a stress-free experience is to give your dog a verbal sign that you’re going to pick it up. For some dogs, especially small ones, getting lifted can be an unexpected experience that causes them anxiety.
However, through enough repetition and experience, you can teach them when to expect to become airborne! Just choose a word to say before you start to lift so they know what is coming.
Lifting up a large dog
The steps previously listed were for dogs less than 40 pounds. For anything above that weight, we seriously recommend you to get someone’s help. Simply doing it alone won’t do the trick! So, don’t feel overconfident and reckless, get a friend to lift your dog’s abdomen and back end while you lift the dog’s chest. Note that the bigger they are, the more likely they are going to struggle against you, so keep an eye out and don’t risk dropping your dog.
Lifting an injured dog
Having to go through the pain of seeing your dog injured might be one of the cruelest experiences you can go through, especially if your dog broke a bone or something similar. But there is still hope you just need to move it to a safe place. What you’re supposed to do is get a large towel or any large fabric item, and push your dog safely bit by bit towards it. When done, fold the edges of the fabric over your friend and pull it up. Please take care to ensure that it’s a flat angle so you don’t put pressure on its upper or bottom part.
Feeding your puppy
“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food,” said Hippocrates, and in many respects, the same holds true for healthy dogs. Good quality food is particularly important for a growing puppy, and starting out on the right paw, so to speak, is absolutely crucial.
A balanced diet is a building block for good health, but so many of the dog foods in today’s market are not providing what your dog needs.
Take some time to research a quality puppy food and always feed a new puppy food with a balanced ratio of protein and fat to support rapid growth, such as Halo Holistic Puppy Food. Avoid food full of meat meal blends, preservatives, and fillers.
If you want a few additional suggestions, we’ve researched and reviewed the best dog food for Yorkies here.
When your pup first arrives, transition to new foods carefully, blending the old brand they were being fed previously and the new brand gradually for a few weeks until you have phased out the old food entirely. This will help your dog acclimate to the new taste and will prevent major digestive issues that could come from switching to a new food.
At a minimum, feed your Yorkie puppy three to four times a day on a consistent schedule. Many young puppies are light eaters and are prone to hypoglycemia, so they do best with free-feeding at this stage of their life. Our guide to how much to feed a Yorkie puppy and the included feeding schedule outline appropriate amounts in more detail.
For very nervous Yorkies, use mealtime as an opportunity to hand feed some kibble from their dish, building trust while also setting a good pattern that will prevent food aggression later in life.
Be careful about treats
Not showering your new puppy with loads of treats might be one of the hardest things you do this year. And that includes taxes and sticking to that 6 AM running schedule.
The reality is that dog obesity has become an epidemic in our country, and bad habits often start in puppyhood. 1 Establishing good habits early is going to help your puppy live their best life and avoid a host of health issues down the road.
For Yorkies in particular, giving appropriate amounts of healthy treats is important. Yorkies tend to suffer from hypoglycemia, pancreatitis, collapsed trachea, and several other health problems, all of which occur more frequently in overweight Yorkies.
Half the battle is simply limiting your puppy to a healthy number of treats. Yorkie puppies require only 175 to 200 calories per day, and adult Yorkies need even less. The calories in treats add up fast, so overfeeding your Yorkie is extremely easy to do.
The other half of the battle is finding healthy Yorkie treats with real nutrition. Many of the big-name brands are full of fillers and junk, which won’t help your pup stay healthy. Feed them treats with high quality, whole food ingredients that are as nutrient-rich and low-calorie as possible.
Try dividing full-size treats into bite-size chunks to help them stretch further during repetitive training sessions. Also, consider a healthy homemade treat like diced, dried sweet potatoes, which are low in calories and high in nutrition.
Regular checkups will help you keep an eye on your puppy’s weight, so be sure to consult with your vet if you have concerns about your puppy’s weight and calorie needs.