• Why do we pick up dogs?
  • Do dogs like being picked up
  • How does it alter the dynamics between dogs?

From observations in the parks and from problems encountered by clients I have noticed that picking dogs up can result in an altercation between the dog on the ground and the dog that has been picked up.

Someone once asked me "What can I do, my dogs don't get on, whenever I pick up one of my dogs it results in a fight?" Well, not picking up either dog would be an immediate solution!


Even my own dogs have a problem if one of them is picked up and they generally live happily together but an unsuspecting friend once picked up my terrier and almost immediately tension filled the air and I saw that the dog on the ground was ready to go as was the terrier - I immediately shouted at the human "put the dog down" and moved swiftly to walk in between the dogs to help split and diffuse the situation. The unsuspecting friend's immediate thought when the problem started was to keep the terrier in his arms and hold him higher and tighter whilst trying to stop the other dog from jumping up - if he had continued with his instinctive human/primate behaviour I have no doubt that a fight may have occurred and the human involved may well have been bitten as well.This just goes to show that even dogs that are normally fine together are affected quite significantly by what, to them must be, bizarre human behaviour.


Why do we pick them up in the first place when they have perfectly good legs, are very mobile and able to get around, and quite capable of communicating with the other dogs peacefully? Needless to say it's only the smaller dogs or puppies who get picked up.

  • Do we do it as we are trying to protect them,
  • because it's easier than asking them to do something,
  • because we like to carry something around,
  • because we feel we need to make their choices for them,
  • perhaps it's because we don't like the behaviour they are exhibiting or maybe just because we can?!

Who knows but it's a strange thing for us to do and whilst dogs may get used to it I don't think it is something that they necessarily enjoy and certainly not in the presence of other dogs.


Do dogs like to be picked up?

  • How many photos have you seen of dogs being carried where they are showing calming signals
  • Have you ever heard of a dog growling or struggling when someone goes to pick it up or even trying to mouth or bite?
  • Given a choice I'm not sure that any dog would initially want to be picked up but obviously over time it can become something they get used to especially if the owner makes it rewarding.

Even tiny puppies give calming signals when they are first picked up but often these signals are ignored or at worst punished - we are inhibiting natural behaviour and preventing them from communicating with other dogs by doing this.


Personally I hate to be picked up, always have since childhood and know many children who don't like it either - there may be a time and place sometimes but it should be by mutual consent with thought given to the circumstances.



By picking dogs up we are preventing them from communicating with the dog on the ground. I have observed that the communication is hampered so much by one dog being picked up that there are strangely mixed signals and conflict occurs. Sadly when the problem starts the general human reaction is to shout which escalates and alarms the dogs, sometimes punish the dogs and often the picked up dog gets held higher and further away leaving it very vulnerable to being bitten from underneath. The human is also in danger of being bitten at this point. When the dog finally gets to be put on the ground again there may be some residual problems/hostility between those dogs completely caused by human intervention - do we punish the human or educate them??



More often the dogs are the ones in trouble and punished and/or sent to pet dog training classes. When dogs choose to jump up and sit on our knee or near us on a chair I haven't noticed any problems like the extreme reactions that picking them up causes - there are many thoughts as to why this might happen but the best way to stop this happening is to not pick them up in the first place. We don't pick up Labradors, German Shepherds, Great Danes, Pointers etc or any of the larger breeds but the small breeds and puppies are still dogs, they have the same form of canine communication, the same instincts and canine needs that big dogs have and we hamper them by continuing with this practice.


As owners, parents, teachers, carers, breeders, handlers etc it is our duty to make sure that the dogs in our care or in our classes have the opportunity to communicate their peaceful intentions to other dogs and to socialise without our interference.

Think before you pick a dog up!

September 2006


About the author of this article -

After many years in the corporate world I was lucky enough to be able to change my life and follow a path that I feel passionately about – dogs! Having owned many problem free dogs in the past I changed the way that I think about dogs after getting my first ever rescue, Dennis, a large Parsons Jack Russell. I struggled to find a successful approach that seemed appropriate for both him and me. Gradually through much research and increasing involvement in the dog world I discovered more up-to-date and forward thinking methodologies. Dennis improved immensely as a direct result of my studies. I learned about how dogs communicate, what their instinctive normal behaviours are, how different the drives and instincts are of different breeds, how to look at the whole picture and not just symptoms and how with a calm, holistic, informed, kind and relaxed approach life can improve immensely for all concerned.


I now work professionally as a dog trainer and behaviourist and Bowen Technique therapist for both people and dogs. In addition I speak at seminars and conduct workshops in the UK and abroad on a variety of canine subjects for both professionals and members of the public. I am a full member and current Chairwoman of Pet Dog Trainers of Europe (PDTE.org), full member of Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT.co.uk) and member of the Association of INTOdogs. My first book ‘How To Handle Living With Your Dog’ was published in 2008 by ShortStack Publishing.


Dennis is one of my greatest teachers and he shares this responsibility with my two lurchers, Maisie and Pete. My approach is always holistic and dog centred and my aim is to improve the lives of dogs and their owners by education and treating all dogs and owners as individuals.


Winkie Spiers Cert E.C.B.S. Member Of PDTE(F036), APDT(804), BTER, EGCBT, Association of INTOdogs

Tel: 020 7924 3744 / 0771 833 2914

"I share my home with two fabulous dogs; Dennis, my terrier was my first rescue dog experience and so emotionally damaged and stressed (obsessive behaviours, self mutilation, fear) that I was compelled to learn more as the professional advice that I was given at that time was not what I felt was right for him. My first weekend up in Staffordshire on a Rescue & Rehoming weekend with Sheila Harper made me feel that this was where I needed to learn (there is now a well worn path from Battersea to Little Hayward!). Dennis has probably been my greatest teacher and is now a confident, happy and well-balanced dog. Two and a half years ago I got another rescue dog, Raif, a gorgeous little 'blue' Lurcher who's problems were quite different, chronic gastro-enteritis, severe separation anxiety, fear - he too has been a marvellous teacher and can now cope with pretty much anything. Both of my dogs help me in my work when relevant on social walks - helping other dogs learn social skills and overcome dog-to-dog related problems."


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


Dog-Games Copyright 2004 - 2015 All Rights Reserved