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How To Pick Up A Dog: Your Complete Guide To Picking Up Dogs All Shapes And Sizes

When it comes to how to pick up a dog or puppy, it’s amazing how often people do it the wrong way, or in a way that can hurt or injure the dog. From picking up dogs by the scruff of the neck, to not supporting the spine, there are plenty of wrong ways to lift dogs safely.

Of course when we invest in a good dog vest with a handle, we can use the handle to scoop our dog into the air in an emergency. You can see our articles on the different types of dog harnesses and on tactical dog harnesses for more information.

But supposing your dog is not wearing a harness that allows you to safely pick them, what then is the correct way? We look at how to pick up injured dogs, giant dogs, puppies, and dogs with delicate spines like Dachshunds.

If the dog is small, you can use your hands to support their hind end with one hand, and the chest with the other. Always use both hands or both arms to pick up a dog securely. 

how to pick up a small dog

So, when picking up a dog, it is important to use both hands so that you can provide a secure hold. It is better to pick up a dog from its chest rather than its back in order to minimize the chance of spinal injuries. Place one hand behind the front legs and one under its chest then raise the dog straight up and close to your chest for extra support. Make sure to support its hind quarters as well. Be gentle and use care to ensure your dog’s safety.

Here is a video that provides a good illustration of how to pick up a dog properly:

How to pick up a puppy?

When picking up a puppy, it is important to first make sure that they are comfortable in the environment. Let them explore and provide them with treats and toys to make them feel more secure. To pick up the puppy, support the back end of their body using one arm or hand, and their chest with the other. Keep their head up, and cradle them. Speak in a soothing voice, and don’t let them jump or squirm away.

What is the best way to pick up a heavy dog?

Picking up a large dog requires a little care. If the dog is used to being held, you can put one arm underneath their abdomen and the other around their chest, then hoist them up against your chest. If the dog isn’t used to being picked up, you must approach them in a calm and gentle manner and allow them to sniff your hand before attempting to pick them up. If the dog is comfortable, use both hands to support their chest and abdomen and lift up in one swift motion.

However, many heavy dogs are too heavy for just one person to pick up safely. These dogs usually need at least two people to carry them.

Two people can pick up a giant dog by lifting it as a team. One person should hold the dog’s rear end while the other person supports the front of the dog. Both people should lift the dog from underneath, making sure to keep its balance and take their time so that the dog is not startled.

Is there a wrong way to pick up a dog? What not to do

Is there a wrong way to pick up a dog? What not to do

There are plenty of wrong ways to pick up a dog or puppy. Here are some basic guidelines for what not to do when lifting and carrying dogs:

  • Do not pick up a dog by the scruff of their neck.
  • Do not pick up dog by their tails as this can damage their spines.
  • Do not pick up a dog by their front legs or back legs, as there is also no spinal support and it places stress on their joints.
  • Do not pick up a dog with just one hand or one arm. This is not secure and it can lead to dropping them.
  • Do not pick up a dog that you are unfamiliar with, and that the owner hasn’t given permission for you to pick up. This can lead to bites. If you have to pick a dog that seems to have runaway, take your time to establish if the dog is friendly and form a relationship with them before picking them up. If you are uncertain, rather call animal control for help.
  • Do not hold your dog upside on their back like baby, or upright as this can put a lot of pressure on their spine. 

How do you pick up a dog that does not want to be picked up?

Ideally, never pick up a dog that is not comfortable being picked up. Being suddenly confined and lifted can cause a reactive dog to bite or fight to get away and possibly injure themselves. We always want to take our time with a dog and use treats or other positive reinforcement to build trust and make them more comfortable with being handled. This can be a long process of desensitization.

However, if the situation is time-sensitive and we have no choice but to pick them up when they don’t like it, we need to take the following steps:

1. Start by interacting with the dog in a calm and reassuring manner.

Place your hand on its back and pet it in the direction of its hair.

2. Whenever the dog becomes comfortable with your hand, gently wrap your arms around its bottom, supporting the front part of its body.

Keep your arms tucked in close to the body while you surround the dog in a protective manner.

3. Slowly and gently, stand up while maintaining your supportive grip on the dog.

Cradle the dog while you carry them to a safe place such as a bed, chair, or outside.

4. Talk to the dog in a soothing and comforting voice.

Let them know that they are safe with you and that you are not going to hurt them.

5. Hold the dog for as long as it takes for the dog to feel comfortable and safe.

You can continue to talk to the dog and pet them to reassure them.

6. When the dog is ready, release them and step back slowly, keeping your gaze low and away from the dog’s eyes.

Watch their body language to make sure they are not scared or anxious before fully releasing them.

How to pick up a dog with a hurt leg

It is important to take extra care when picking up a dog with a hurt leg broken limb. Follow these steps to safely pick up a dog with an injured leg:

1. Make sure the dog is comfortable with you. Speak softly to the dog, avoiding sudden movements.

2. Make sure the dog is as relaxed as possible. Gently stroke along its back and sides, speaking soothingly.

3. If the dog is extremely agitated, you need to put a muzzle to prevent them biting you while in pain. If you don’t have a muzzle, you can use the steps in this video to secure their mouth in an emergency:

4. Place a towel or blanket on the area where you will be holding the dog. 

5. Gently scoop up the dog with both hands or arms, one hand supporting their chest, and the other supporting their hindquarters. Make sure the broken leg is not under any pressure.

6. Carry the dog to its desired destination (the car and the vet!), keeping their head close to yours, so as not to jostle the broken limb. 

7. Once you arrive, gently lower the dog onto its blanket or towel.

How to pick up a dog that may have a spinal injury

It is not recommended to pick up a dog that may have a spinal injury, such as after a dog is in a car accident and can’t seem to stand up. Doing this could result in further injury. If the dog needs to be moved, you can use a flat stretcher or gurney to carefully transfer them. If you do need to pick up the animal, be sure to get help, use caution, and follow your veterinarian’s instructions. Make sure you are supporting their chest and pelvis as you lift them, and bear most of their weight with your legs.

How to pick a dog with long back like a Dachshund

Dachshunds and other dogs like Bassets with long backs are extremely prone to spinal injuries and diseases. This means we need to take extra care when we pick them up. 

When picking up a Dachshund, it is important to use both hands to provide support. Do not lift the dog by the front legs or hind legs, as this can cause the dog harm. Place one hand underneath the chest, cupping the stomach and ribcage, and the other behind the hind legs supporting the back. Place the fingers of the hand behind the legs gently on the thigh, while lifting the dachshund into your arms.

How to pick up a dog that bites

If you need to pick up a dog that bites, it is important to do so in a safe and secure manner. It is important to wear thick, protective clothing such as protective sleeves and gloves. If possible, have someone help with the dog as well.

Approach the dog slowly and calmly and speak in a soft, soothing voice. Extend one hand towards the dog without making contact and give the dog a chance to sniff the hand. Allow the dog to get used to the situation before attempting to pick up or move it in any way.

If necessary, use a muzzle to protect you and the dog. When the dog is calm, approach it gently and securely support the dog’s body with one hand under the chest and your other arm under its hindquarters as you lift. If it is still struggling, move slowly, talk in a soothing voice, and bring a treat or toy to calm it.

How to pick up a dog with arthritis

1. Make sure to use two hands and keep your back straight when lifting your dog.

2. Support your dog under their abdomen and chest with one hand and place the other hand behind their hind legs when you pick them up.

3. Carry your dog close to your body. This will help to distribute the weight and make it easier for you.

4. When setting your dog down, do not just drop them onto the floor. Gently help them lower down.

5. Avoid aggravating your dog’s arthritis by limiting their movement and activity. If your dog needs to go for a walk, make sure to walk them on flat ground and in a way that does not aggravate their condition.

Final thoughts

People often pick their dogs and puppies up in ways that lead to injury. Being sure to provide your dog with proper support when lifting them is essential to protect their spines and joints. It’s also essential to take precautions with dogs who are in pain from arthritis or other injuries, or dogs that bite and don’t want to be picked up. 


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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