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Tips on picking up your dog

August 18, 2022 | General


  • No matter your dog’s size, it’s important to pick him up the right way, which is something many well-meaning dog parents get wrong
  • Parts of the body that should never be used to lift a dog: legs, scruff of the neck, collar, tail
  • If your dog is very small, teaching a verbal “lift-off” cue will help her prepare to be picked up, which will lessen her anxiety
  • Ideally, large dogs should be lifted by a two-person team
  • When lifting a dog with a back problem, it’s important to always keep the back completely level

Chances are if you have a dog in the family, regardless of his or her size, there will be occasions when you’ll need to physically lift your canine companion in your arms. It could be as simple as lifting him into your vehicle to go for a ride, or it might be an extraordinary situation in which you must pick him up to prevent a fight or traumatic injury of some kind.

Picking up a small or even medium-sized dog seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many well-meaning people get it mostly wrong. And lifting a large or heavy dog is an even bigger challenge, especially if you’re not very large or strong yourself.

Before I explain how to pick up your dog the right way, though, let’s get the wrong ways out of the way!

3 Don’ts When Picking Up Your Dog

1.Don’t involve your dog’s legs — Your dog’s front and back limbs aren’t intended as suspension devices, nor can they be expected to support the full weight of her body if, heaven forbid, she’s lifted by them.

Children who don’t know better tend to lift by the front legs, whereas adults are more apt to put their hands under the armpits and lift as they would a child. Picking up a dog in this manner strains the muscles in the front legs and spine, which can result in torn ligaments and even a dislocated shoulder or elbow.

There’s also the risk of dropping the dog, and in older dogs with arthritis or degenerative joint disease, this type of lifting can be extremely painful.

2.Don’t “scruff” your dog — Yes, mother dogs carry their pups by the scruff of the neck in their first few weeks of life. However, this happens only for a very brief period and doesn’t continue as the puppies get larger.

“Scruffing” is an unnatural, uncomfortable, and even painful way for larger puppies and certainly adult dogs to be lifted or carried.

3.Don’t hold her collar or tail when picking your dog up — It should go without saying that pulling on a dog’s collar, especially while lifting her, can cut off her air supply and cause her to choke. It’s also a good way to do serious permanent damage to the very delicate organs located in her neck, including the throat, larynx, and trachea.

Just as your dog’s collar should never serve as a “handle” to lift her, neither should her tail. Damage caused by pulling your dog’s tail can affect the nerves and muscles that move the tail as well as those that control elimination.

Significant injury can cause the tail to hang limply, no longer move, or even affect your dog’s ability to urinate or defecate on her own.

If you regularly pick up your dog incorrectly but she never complains, it doesn’t mean she’s okay with it or that she, for some reason, can be picked differently from other dogs. Many pets will endure a great deal of discomfort and even pain without yelping or crying.

Chances are your dog is sending you a signal, but you don’t recognize it as a sign of distress, for example, yawning, lip licking, looking away, or struggling to get free. These are all signs of a dog who is at a minimum feeling anxious and may even be in pain.

The Right Way to Lift a Small or Medium-Size Dog

If your dog is less than 25 pounds, slide your dominant arm under his chest between his front legs, and tuck his back end between your arm and body as you lift him.

If your dog is in the 25- to 40-pound range, put your dominant arm behind his back legs, your other arm around his chest in front of the back legs, and hold him against your chest as you lift. This method will help him feel secure and comfortable as you pick him up and will also ensure you don’t accidently drop him.

For low-to-the-ground dogs and really tiny fellows, I recommend teaching a verbal “lift-off” cue. Small dogs are often startled to be suddenly lifted off the ground by a human.
If you put yourself in his place, imagining that at any moment you will lose the ground beneath your feet, you can see why it could be a stressful event. That’s why it’s good to train your dog with a verbal cue that signals you’re about to pick him up. Just make it a simple one-word signal.

To train your pet to the cue, put your hands on him, say the word, and apply just a bit of pressure without actually lifting him. This gives him time to understand he’s about to be lifted. When you know he’s aware you’re about to pick him up, go ahead and do so. Consistent use of the cue will help him learn to prepare for “lift off.”

How to Lift a Large Dog

The best way to lift a large dog is with two people, so depending on your size and health, I recommend getting help if your pet is over 40 pounds. One of you should lift from under your dog’s chest while the other lifts the abdomen and backend.

Dogs tend to struggle more, and risk being dropped when they aren’t properly supported while being picked up.

If your dog has an injured or sore back, get help if necessary, so that you can keep her back completely level as she’s lifted. One of my favorite techniques is the “dog taco wrap.” While your dog is lying on her dog bed, you simply fold the edges up and pick her up in the bed. You can also use a beach towel for this purpose with smaller dogs.

It’s best to pick up your dog when she’s relaxed, because it’s much easier to lose your grip on a bouncy or wiggly dog. If your dog won’t sit still and absolutely must be picked up, as a last resort, you can use a comforter or blanket to scoop her into your arms.

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