How To Pick Up A Dog That Bites

Does your dog bite when you try to pick
them up?¹

There are dogs that like being picked up and being close to the owners, other dogs seem to be especially adverse to that behavior, but there might be some underlying issues you need to consider if your dog is being aggressive when you pick him up. 

In this article, we will discuss everything you need to know about this issue so you can have a better relationship with your dog and know what signals he’s giving you:

  • Why do dogs growl and bite when they are picked up?
  • What is the proper way to pick up a small dog?
  • What is the proper way to pick up a large dog?
  • In what situations do dogs commonly growl at owners?
  • How to train a dog not to bite you as you pick it up

3 reasons that dogs growl and bite when they are picked up?

1. Pain

Is your dog injured or in pain? ²

If your dog used to like getting picked up and it is just suddenly presenting aggressive behavior, pain is a reason to consider.

You have probably noticed that dogs usually growl and bite to show you that some area of their body is hurting when you touch it, so be careful to not automatically assume they just have a behavior problem when they do that.

Have a look at your pet and see if he is less energetic than usual, maybe he’s been vomiting or having diarrhea. Those are all signs that he has stomach pain and need to be taken to the vet or need to have a diet change. If he is not presenting those symptoms, the pain could still be coming from a recent bruise or muscle ache. 

2. Association

Your dog may also be associating the act of being picked up with bad things, for example, taking a shower, going to the vet, getting his nails trimmed, etc. In that case, he is just voicing his opinion about those activities and not about the act itself.

We will talk about training in a minute so spoiler alert, but if you want to avoid this association, you should be picking your dog up in other good scenarios. Whenever you’re taking him on a walk, just to pet him and put him on your lap, try to create pleasant memories for him that are associated with that act. 

3. Mishandling

This is perhaps the most common scenario, in which your dog is just complaining about the way you pick him up. It does take special care to pick up a pet appropriately, which we will discuss in further detail in the next chapters.

But for now, just remember that if you have a habit of bringing your dog up too quickly, that can be extremely unpleasant and disorientating for him. After a while, he will start to feel uncomfortable whenever he thinks you’re about to swing him up again because he knows it will be disagreeable.

What is the proper way to pick up a small dog?

Even though they are light, care should be
taken when picking up a small dog ³

If your small dog is complaining about being picked up, remember to follow these tips so you can support him better and make him more comfortable.

Even though small dogs are easier to carry and hold, a lot of people end up doing it like they’re a purse or a doll, which will cause your dog to snap at you after a while. 

The first thing you should do is place your dominant arm under your dog, with your hand on their chest. You can either place your arm in between his legs or not. Then, you can place your other hand on their back and bring them close to your chest.

If your dog is not small enough to be held like this, you can also put your dominant arm in his chest and gently place him under your arm, touching your rib cage. The key here is to keep the dog in a safe and stable position so they are comfortable.

Now, if you have been mishandling your dog for a while, it might take some time and practice to make them trust you again without snaping. Make sure you pamper them and pet them before anything else, but if they are already irritated the best thing to do is give it some time and try again later. 

What is the proper way to pick up a large dog?

This is where things get a little more complicated because if you want to pick up a large dog, you have to have the strength to hold it safely. If you are not sure you can do it, the best option is to improvise a stretch, like a firm and flat object, or a wood board (check for splinters beforehand).

Wouldn’t it be great if we could all do this? ⁴

But if you are confident you can hold the dog, start by placing one arm in their chest and the other underneath their back legs. In this position, the dog’s ribs should be close to your chest and their back legs should be tucked in by your hand. 

For an even bigger dog, you can place one arm in their chest and the other in their belly and then bring them closer to your body. Their position should be straight and firm so you can control their weight better.

It’s important to remember that a large dog rarely likes to be picked up, they don’t feel safe if they see you are struggling to support them. Ideally, you should have someone else’s help and only pick them up when it’s needed.

Top 3 reasons that dogs commonly growl at owners?

Now let’s talk about different situations where dogs will commonly growl and what they’re trying to tell you. There are many different reasons for growling, and understanding those scenarios are important if you want to have a better relationship with your pet.

1. Frustration

Dogs can’t tell you exactly what is upsetting them and growling is a way of communication when they are taking a bath, having their ears cleaned, or when they are being bothered while asleep. In those cases, your dog will normally growl out of frustration, because they are uncomfortable and want you to stop doing what you’re doing. 

2. Warning

This usually happens when you are trying to get a toy or food away from them, that deep growl is a warning for you to leave them alone. They don’t want to escalate the situation and are just asking you to stop and if you don’t, they might bite you.

3. Playful growl

Dogs also growl when they are playing, they usually mimic confrontation while playing so you shouldn’t take it as a sign of aggression. Those growls are usually higher pitched, your dog is trying to say “let’s keep playing”, so it’s more of an invitation than a warning. 

How to train a dog not to bite you as you pick it up

If you want to pick your dog up, make it
a pleasant experience! ⁵

As mentioned previously, the easiest way to teach your dog that being picked up is not bad is associating that with pleasant situations. Try to put them on your lap just to pet them, to put a collar for them to take a walk, or to feed them their favorite food. It will take some time, but your dog will get used to it.

However, there are other things you can do like keeping them distracted when doing something unpleasant. For example, if you’re giving them a bath, let them play with their favorite toy while doing it and talk to them with a high pitched voice. Also, make sure to give them treats and pamper them afterward.  

An important thing to keep in mind is that dogs are much more aggressive when they are stressed, so if you have noticed that your dog is growling more often lately, this might be the reason. Take them out as safely and as often as you can, but if you can’t go out, dedicate more time to them and play with them frequently. 

The most important thing to keep in mind is to never punish the growls! they are your dog’s way of communication and even if it bothers you, they are crucial to your pet. If you try to punish it, chances are, you will just escalate the situation and make your dog not trust you anymore. 


The main point to remember is that if you treat your pet with care, he will never actually want to hurt, so it is important to take his growls and bites with consideration. Learn how to look at those acts as a means of communication from your dog and see if you can do something to make their situation better. 

Think about their routine and see how you can make him more comfortable with situations that he hates and that will help with his aggression generally. Every dog is different, so there is also the possibility that yours doesn’t like to be carried at all, and in that case, you should avoid doing that to keep your best friend as happy as possible!

Photo Credits

¹ Photo by smerikal on Flickr

² Photo by Ayla Verschueren on Unsplash

³ Photo by Tamara Bellis on Unsplash

⁴ Photo by Jordan Koons on Unsplash

⁵ Photo by HarshLight on Flickr