Mama dogs pick up their pups by the scruff of the neck, but your full-grown Labrador probably won’t appreciate the indignity of this gesture. What’s the right way to pick up a dog? And is there a time when you should or shouldn’t do it?
Why Mama Picks Up Dogs by Their Scruff
New moms instinctively know how to care for their litter. And it looks alarming, but you may see a mother dog picking up her small pups by the fur on the back of their necks. As an adult dog, she’s learned ‘bite inhibition’, which enables dogs to use their strong jaws to pick up fragile things. She won’t harm the pups, and she’ll also stop doing it when they begin to walk (and she can push them to where she wants them).
How NOT to Pick Up the Dog…
You may think that emulating the mom is a good idea. But once they reach a certain size, the pups will not be comfortable being lifted this way.
It may feel intuitive to pick up your dog like a child – with your hands beneath their ‘armpits’ – but this poses a risk to the ligaments in their front legs.
Kids sometimes take the same approach, pulling on the front legs to raise up the dog. Any of these methods can cause unseen injury and some dogs won’t make a murmur if they’re uncomfortable.
Of course, other dogs will express their discontent – wriggling, yapping and generally making the procedure difficult.
Whether they tell us or not, it’s our responsibility to take extra care when we need to move or handle our dogs.
Do You NEED to Pick Up the Dog?
If our dogs could talk, we think they’d tell us that walkies is their fave part of the day! Our dogs love their freedom to explore and roam, the way nature intended. Being lifted and restricted in a chest-lock is not their idea of a good time.
In practical terms, the main problem with picking up your dog is that you might drop them. It’s especially risky when they are a wriggly pup (and irresistible picking-up fodder) or when you have children who are longing to cuddle the dog. But dropping your dog can cause serious injury and long-term repercussions, like arthritis.
However, there are some occasions when you may need to pick up your dog:
- Dangerous objects on the floor. If your dog isn’t trained in recall or ‘leave it’ (which is a useful command) then you might need to pick them up to save them from walking over glass or right onto a snake.
- Tired puppies. Pups should only walk for short distances. If you’re lost or your walk becomes longer than expected, it’s actually a good idea to carry your puppy so that their legs aren’t overexerted.
- Other threats. It doesn’t happen often but you may occasionally need to pick up your dog because of another threat. This could be a dangerous dog, or a dog who has become aggressive and whose owner is not nearby. Don’t hesitate to pick up your dog if you can protect them from a fight injury. (However, don’t pick up your dog if they’re in a fight – you run the risk of being bitten yourself. It’s better to use an object to push the aggressor away or wait for your dog to become free.)
- At the vet clinic or groomer. You might need to put your dog onto a table or platform so that they can be examined, brushed or clipped. To prevent your dog from being stressed by this, practice at home – see our tips below.
Is it Really Wrong to Pick Up My Dog?
This depends on the dog, including their personality, size, and weight. Older and larger dogs should not be lifted because of the dropping risk. But smaller, sociable dogs can be carefully picked up, especially if they tolerate (or enjoy) it. For longer walks or city tours, you can even buy a dog-carrier so that your dog can safely accompany you.
Many dogs are very cuddly and affectionate. If your dog loves to be picked up and held, it’s not wrong. Maybe your dog likes to be held when they are worried or cold. As owners, we are entitled to pander to their whims occasionally.
Picking up a Dog: Best Practice
When you lift a dog, you’re looking to support their chest (where you’ll take most of the weight) and keep their back-end steady, so it doesn’t slip.
Lifting a smaller dog is about keeping them secure: slide your dominant arm between his front legs and under his chest and tuck his bottom under your other arm.
For a large dog, you can use a method which might be described as ‘scooping’. Stand with your dog in front of you, sideways on, and bend your knees as you pick them up. Your dominant arm goes around their back end, below their rump, and the other arm curves around their chest. This way, you can balance their weight against your chest and they feel safely supported.
Tips: Train your Dog to be Handled
You may need to lift your dog onto a table at the veterinarian. Or you may want to take your dog to be groomed. Maybe your dog likes to wander and you want to be sure that they can be approached and handled by a stranger.
Train your dog to be handled at home. Show them a brush or dog carrier and give them treats; progress to brushing their fur or teeth while you continue to give them treats. If they look away from the treats at the brush or carrier, stop and give them reassurance – you want your dog to trust you. You can practice lifting your dog and looking at their paws, for example, in a calm home setting.
The more you do this at home, the more comfortable they’ll feel when you need to handle them.