Even after they’re old enough to be rehomed, puppies naturally require a lot of handling. And even if they didn’t, few things are as instinctual as our impulse to cuddle puppies. They’re small, vulnerable, and entirely dependent on us.
It can be disconcerting when a puppy growls when picked up. But what causes this behavior, and how can you stop it?
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Dominance Behavior and Puppies that Growl When Picked Up
First of all, let’s establish what isn’t happening. Many people believe that if a puppy growls when picked up, it’s trying to exert dominance over you. That’s not the case at all.
It’s helpful to remember that puppies can’t talk. That being the case, they rely on other techniques to communicate with you.
If you are concerned about a puppy exhibiting dominant behavior, signs to watch for include:
- Mouthing you or other dogs
- Resource guarding
- Possessiveness over toys
- Butting to the head of a pack walk
Other signs include:
- Keeping you/other animals waiting
- Refusal to lick other dogs on the mouth
- Consistently winning at a tug of war
- Initiating and winning staring contests
Notable by its absence is a dog that growls when picked up. So, if not asserting their place in the pack, what is your puppy trying to tell you?
Why Does My Puppy Growl When I Pick Them Up?
There are several reasons why a puppy growls when you pick them up. These are the most common.
Imagine for a moment that someone whose language you don’t speak is tickling you. You try to tell them to stop, but the message doesn’t get across. Since you are no longer enjoying being tickled, you quite understandably growl.
If you’re wondering ‘Why does my puppy growl when I pick them up?’ This is one of the most frequent answers.
Puppies are as excitable as they are small, and that means they can easily become overwhelmed by environmental stimuli. Bizarre as it sounds, that includes you picking your puppy up and snuggling them.
Other Ways Puppies Communicate Boundaries
Importantly, if your puppy growls when you pick it up, it’s likely they’ve already tried to express their need for space.
Other signs a puppy doesn’t want to be picked up include:
- Running away from you
Typically, if a puppy growls when you pick them up, it’s because you’ve already disregarded their No Trespass sign.
However, communication isn’t the only thing that causes your puppy to growl when picked up.
Your Puppy Has Health Problems
Sometimes a well-handled puppy goes from tolerating a spontaneous cuddle to growling when picked up overnight.
That’s because, in addition to growling to communicate boundaries, puppies, and even adult dogs, sometimes growl to express pain. Maybe your puppy sprained a paw while wrestling with a sibling or trying to negotiate stairs.
It’s important to remember that in addition to being small, puppies have extremely delicate bones. The type of play that won’t hurt an adult dog can cause sprains or even broken bones in puppies, and it’s vital that when introducing them to children, you stress the importance of gentle handling.
So, if you suddenly find yourself asking, ‘Why does my puppy growl when I pick them up?’ Then it may be time to schedule a vet visit.
Your Dog is Unused to Being Picked Up
Another answer to ‘Why does my puppy growl when I pick them up?’ is that your puppy is unused to being handled.
Usually, a breeder ensures puppies adapt to handling during the twelve-week period before they get rehomed. For the best result, puppies should associate being picked up with positive experiences. This helps not only rehome them but also with early vet visits, as well as their socialization with other dogs.
Your Puppy Equates Being Picked Up With Negative Experiences
If that doesn’t happen, another reason your dog growls when picked up is that instead, they learned to associate being held or handled with a negative experience.
These negative experiences don’t have to be dramatic or malicious to adversely affect your puppy.
Negative experiences that may cause your puppy to growl when picked up can include:
- Improper handling that causes pain
- Nail Trimming
It’s also worth remembering that from a puppy’s perspective, they have just been elevated several feet off the ground by a giant. Even if it’s an affectionate giant, it’s natural for this to trigger a fight or flight response. Since fleeing isn’t an option, the only alternative is to fight.
Consequently, a nervous puppy may growl when you pick them up.
Should I Punish a Dog that Growls When I Pick Them Up?
No. Although many vets and groomers encourage neck-scruffing behavior for dogs that growl when you pick them up, this isn’t necessary.
The practice goes back to that instinct to manage perceived dominance in dogs and puppies. But if your dog is not trying for dominance and is instead anxious, this can adversely affect their relationship with you.
So, if neck-scruffing isn’t an option, then how do you stop a puppy growling when you pick them up?
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How to Stop Puppy Growling When Picked Up
The best thing you can do, confronted by your now-growling puppy, is put them down immediately. That signals that you respect their boundaries. This, in turn, will help them feel safe around you.
But since there are several reasons why puppies growl when picked up, isolating the underlying problem and stopping it requires you to accurately diagnose the problem.
Stop Dog Growling When Picked Up with Correct Handling
One way to stop a puppy growling when picked up is by ensuring you handle them correctly.
Many people instinctively pick puppies up by the front legs, leaving their back legs dangling. Understandably, puppies find the sudden loss of support from their hind legs alarming. Even adult dogs may growl when picked up this way.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t continue approaching a dog from the front. But the best practice to stop a dog growling when picked up is to slip one hand under their hind legs so that you support them. Simultaneously, position your other hand between the puppy’s front legs.
When you lift your puppy or small dog, you should have one hand resting under or on their chest and the other securely on the lower abdomen. The dog can rest their rump on your forearm.
Lifting like this keeps a dog’s back straight, which is crucial for dogs with elongated backs, like dachshunds. It also ensures your puppy feels comfortable and secure and stops them growling when you pick them up.
Touch Your Dog’s Paws Often
Earlier, we discussed how some dogs can react negatively to routine experiences like nail trimming.
These experiences aren’t necessarily negative, but because they cause anxiety for your pet, they react nervously to being handled. That’s because they associate being picked up with an unpleasant experience.
If that’s your dog, forget about picking them up. This may sound counter-intuitive if you want to stop your puppy growling when they’re picked up. However, sometimes a dog is used to being handled but not to having a particular body part touched, like their paws or ears.
In this situation, the best thing you can do is begin acclimating your dog to having their paws touched. You can do this by gently stroking their paws while they watch TV or inspecting their feet after a walk. If your dog retracts the paw you are handling, stop. You can resume another time.
Paws aren’t the only body part dogs like to keep to themselves. Many also react negatively to people handling:
Sometimes a certain amount of handling is necessary if, for instance, you have to administer medical treatment. But it’s also not essential to play with your puppy. And one way to stop your puppy growling when you pick them up is by leaving the rough-housing to the dogs and only touching them in sensitive spots when it’s essential.
This also helps puppies feel more at ease and helps with socialization. It will also reduce inappropriate growling and biting behavior.
If there’s no way around picking up your puppy and doing something they would rather you don’t do, make sure to reward them with a treat. That way, they will learn to associate the experience with positive feedback, even if they never warm up to ear drops or nail trimming.
Don’t Pick Up Your Puppy to Redirect Other Behaviors
It’s also possible that one of the reasons your puppy growls when you pick them up is because you are interrupting other inappropriate behavior, like chewing.
Instead of picking your puppy up to save your favorite slippers, try distracting them with an appropriate chew toy. This helps curb destructive behavior while simultaneously stopping your puppy growling when you pick them up.
Keep in mind that for puppies, this kind of compulsive chewing is normal, especially when they’re teething. Using a deterrent like Bitter Apple also helps discourage your dog chewing, and saves you from having to intervene by picking them up.
Address Health Problems
Finally, don’t underestimate the part underlying health problems can play in causing your puppy to growl when picked up.
Regular veterinary appointments are necessary for young puppies anyway, so scheduling one to help stop your puppy growling when you pick them up won’t be difficult
Also, remember that to avoid situations like broken bones or sprains you teach any children your puppy is in contact with to handle them gently.
Conclusion for Puppy Growls When Picked Up
Puppies growl when picked up for all kinds of reasons. Sometimes it’s to assert their need for space, other times it’s because they aren’t used to being held. It might even be because picking your puppy up causes them pain.
With that in mind, you’ll need to figure out why your puppy growls when picked up if you want to stop it from happening.
Get to know your dog and learn their limits. Whatever the cause, if your puppy growls when picked up, put them down immediately. This helps reassure them while still fostering a strong positive bond between you and your pet.
And if you suspect there’s a health issue causing the growling, don’t hesitate to call the vet. Puppies can be fragile, and sometimes a trip to the vet will solve the problem.
If not, be prepared to spend some time and effort to stop your puppy from growling when picked up. With a bit of patience and a lot of love and affection, they will soon adapt and hopefully let you handle them as often as you like.
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Garrett loves animals and is a huge advocate for all Doodle dog breeds. He owns his own Goldendoodle named Kona. In addition, he volunteers at the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, where he fosters dogs and helps animals. Garrett enjoys writing about Doodles and believes that dogs can teach humans more about how to live than humans can teach a dog.
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