If you have a new puppy that you want to shower with love and cuddles, you are understandably upset if they growl when you pick him up. Why do puppies do that? Is it a sign that something’s wrong? Will they grow out of it? What should you do about it? Here’s everything you need to know.
So, why does my puppy growl when I pick him up? Puppies can growl when you pick them up because they want to be left on the ground. You might have disturbed them, caused them pain without meaning to, or they might just be frustrated or frightened. Either way, it’s a sign they don’t want to be raised at that moment in time.
Once you discover the reasons for your puppy growling, you can address the issue so that your puppy learns to enjoy being picked up.
So, let’s get into those reasons in further detail before turning to the approach to correct them – for good!
Is It Normal For Puppies To Growl When You Pick Them Up?
It is normal for puppies to growl when being picked up, at least periodically. However, if this is persistent or your puppy is extremely tense or reactive each time you attempt to pick them up, it could be a sign that something more serious is going on.
Here are some other factors to consider.
Consider How You Are Picking Them Up
If you are picking up your puppy by simply lifting him from underneath his arms, it is normal for him to growl.
Puppies don’t usually like being lifted that way, which can even hurt them.
Puppies need to feel supported – they aren’t used to being lifted off the ground because they feel more vulnerable.
Consider Their Past History
Your puppy may have had bad experiences with being picked up.
A puppy that has been poorly handled in his previous home may experience extra anxiety or fear when he’s picked up again.
Growling is just their way of telling you they’re frightened.
In some cases, puppies can associate being picked up with unpleasant experiences such as having a bath or getting their nails trimmed.
Consider How Often They Growl
If your puppy growls at everyone when he is picked up, then it might be that he doesn’t like being held.
Young puppies want to run around and explore their world.
It isn’t natural for puppies to be carried around, so your puppy might feel uncomfortable.
Puppies who growl when you pick them up aren’t growling out of aggression. Most of the time, your puppy is afraid.
It could be that your puppy is frightened simply because his feet are off the ground.
If your puppy doesn’t usually growl when picked up and has only just started doing so, he could be injured or hurt. The best thing is to get him to a vet for a checkup.
Your vet can show you how to handle your puppy if he requires extra gentle care for a while.
Consider Your Puppy’s Posture
Your puppy isn’t likely to growl out of aggression when you pick him up, but here’s how you can tell for sure.
If any of the following are present while he’s growling, then he’s feeling aggressive:
- Ears back
- Staring directly at you
- Mouth tight or showing teeth
What To Do If Your Puppy Growls When You Pick Them Up
How you respond to your puppy depends on when and how they growl.
If Your Puppy Growls Immediately
If your puppy growls as soon as you pick him up, you want to make sure he isn’t injured or ill.
Otherwise, it could be that your puppy is confused. Some puppies don’t understand why they are being picked up, so they will growl in protest.
Your puppy may not know that you’re picking him up to show him love!
If this is the case, you want to help your puppy warm to the idea of being picked up (see below).
Some puppies growl immediately when picked up because they are guarding their resources such as their food or favorite place to lie down.
Safeguarding their space and resources is a natural behavior for dogs.
If you suspect your puppy is growling to protect his resources, you need to work out what is triggering his behavior.
If you can work it out yourself, you can teach your puppy to modify his behavior.
If you can’t work it out, enlist the help of a professional dog behaviorist. You don’t want your puppy to continue to feel threatened when he’s picked up!
If Your Puppy Doesn’t Growl Right Away
If your puppy only growls a few moments after you pick him up, you could try distracting him with a toy.
However, make sure to give him the toy before he growls because otherwise, he could mistake the toy as a reward for him growling!
A toy as a distraction is also useful if, in addition to growling, your puppy is a bit too mouthy (biting playfully at your hands or fingers).
Pay Attention To Your Puppy’s Signals
Different dogs will give various signals when they are unhappy.
Check to see what your puppy’s signals are, as growling is his way of saying he’s uncomfortable.
When your puppy growls, does he also yawn? Lick his lips? Chew his paws a lot?
These are indicators of stress, so your puppy might be too frightened of you or not trust you enough just yet to let you pick him up.
Be Gentle And Patient
It’s essential to be patient and kind with your puppy if you want him to overcome his fear or anxiety about being picked up.
Make sure to use a happy, cheerful and soothing voice to help your puppy feel safe around you.
Pet your puppy gently and give him words of praise and treats when he does what you want him to do.
You may need to offer him treats as you teach him to get used to physical contact with you (see below).
Make sure that your puppy learns to enjoy being picked up but doesn’t then ask to be picked up all the time.
If Nothing Seems To Be Working
If your best efforts to get your puppy to stop growling have been in vain, consider seeking professional help from a trainer.
How To Teach Your Puppy To Enjoy Being Picked Up
Get Your Puppy Used to Your Touch
Here’s how you can help your puppy to enjoy being picked up:
- Rather than continuing to pick him up, start small: pet him and cuddle him while leaving him where he is. Get him used to physical contact with you.
- Work your way gradually (going at your puppy’s pace) towards making him comfortable with sitting on your lap.
- Continue to show him affection with cuddles when he’s on your lap. The more affection you can show him when he’s feeling safe, the less anxious or confused he’ll be when you pick him up.
Use Positive Reinforcement
You can help your puppy enjoy being picked up by creating positive associations with you holding him.
Encouraging and rewarding good behavior is the most effective way to get your puppy to behave in accordance with your wishes.
Trainers call these tricks positive interrupters: you’ll be replacing their bad behavior with good behavior and rewarding them when they comply.
Here are some ideas you can use:
- You can try offering your puppy a treat every time you touch him. In this way, your puppy will associate your touch with a treat (a positive experience).
- Once your puppy is comfortable sitting in your lap, you can offer a treat again.
- And when your puppy lets you pick him up without growling, offer him another treat.
- Over time, your puppy will become comfortable with your touch. Don’t offer treats once he’s used to you picking him up, though, or he will expect them every single time!
Your puppy may grow to love being close to you to the point where they want to sleep on you – which isn’t ideal.
Train him to sleep at the end of the bed, by the door, or in a puppy crate.
Note: Never punish your puppy when he growls. Punishing a growling dog can lead to aggressive barking or biting, and he’ll dislike being picked up even more. You want to let your puppy growl when he needs to since growling is his way of communicating with you (if there’s genuinely something wrong for him to growl about).
How To Pick Up Your Puppy Safely And Properly
When picking up your puppy, you want to hold him in a way that won’t put any strain on his back or his legs. Here’s how to pick up your puppy safely:
- Put one hand on your puppy’s chest to make sure it’s supported. You want your hand to be where the rib cage is. Once you pick up your puppy, you can rest this part of his body on your forearm if you wish. Go in from the side to place your hand between your puppy’s front legs.
- As you lift your puppy, use your other hand to support his back end as you pick him up (his rear end and hind legs).
- Be sure to use a firm yet gentle grip on your puppy – you don’t want to drop him. You can put one arm underneath his backside and the other arm around his torso to pull him close to you.
- As you’re holding him, cradle him into your chest or stomach: you want him to feel supported and safe. You also want to prevent him from wriggling out of your arms.
- Lower him gently to the floor when you want to put him down. Keep your arms in the same position until his feet are safely on the ground.
Never pick up a puppy by the scruff of his neck, by his tail, or by one leg.
It’s not nice seeing your new pup in distress.
Particularly if it’s the result of your actions.
Besides, we all just want to hold and cuddle our new little dogs.
That being said, growling is a sign that something is not quite right.
It could be your approach or it could be an indicator that something is not quite right with your puppy.
So take note, look for accompanying behaviors, and do consider contacting a vet if this is something that persists.
Have other questions about puppy biting or other related behavior? Well, my following guides may be of help:
- Why Does My Puppy Bite His Tail?
- Why Does My Puppy Lunge At My Face?
- Why Does My Puppy Bite His Paws?
- Why Does My Puppy Bite Me When I Pet Him?
- Why Does My Puppy Bite My Ears?
- Why Does My Puppy Have Hiccups?
- Why Does My Puppy Pee In Her Sleep?
- Why Does My Puppy Lick My Feet?
- How Long To Keep Puppy In Playpen
I am an experienced pet owner with decades of experience owning a number of different pets, from traditional pets like dogs and cats, to the more exotic like reptiles and rodents. I currently own a Cockapoo (pictured) called Bailey. I am also the main writer and chief editor here at Pet Educate; a site dedicated to sharing evidence-based insights and guidance, based on my vast pet ownership knowledge, experience, and extensive research.