5 Things Your Dog Wishes You Knew About Picking Him Up

Woman holding puppy
Dogs may not always tell you if they don't want to be picked up or if your holding technique is hurting them.

Nothing warms my heart more than seeing a family welcome a new dog into their home. Growing up with a dog is one of the great joys of childhood — the bonding, the long walks after school, the shared distaste for green vegetables.

On the other hand, nothing chills me more than seeing a young child grab a nervous pet and drag him by the paw to draw him close. I’m fortunate to be in a position where I feel very comfortable correcting this behavior and bringing it to the parents’ attention, but it’s shocking how often the parent will respond, “It’s OK; he doesn’t bite.”

In so many ways, animal care professionals do a great job of teaching new pet parents the ins and outs of dog ownership, from the vaccine regimen to choosing the right time to spay or neuter. But in other ways — particularly when it comes to safe pet-handling skills — many would argue that we’re still playing catch-up. Safe dog handling is vital to the safety of both the pet and the person. Fortunately, good handling is a teachable skill. Here are five things your dog wishes you knew about picking him up.

1. My Limbs Are More Delicate Than You Think

Dog limbs are a wonder of form and function, meant to propel pups forward with speed and agility. They aren’t designed to support the entire weight of the dog when he's suspended in the air, however. The most common form of dangerous pet handling I see, particularly with young children, is when they lift a pet by the front limbs as if it were a doll. Adults tend to put their hands under the armpits of the dog and lift, as one would a human child. Both techniques are incorrect.

When a dog is lifted by his front limbs, instead of properly supported by the chest and pelvis, it puts unnatural force on the elbows, shoulders, front toes and even spine as the pet dangles in the air. This can strain the muscles that support the front limbs and spine, tear ligaments, and potentially even dislocate a shoulder or elbow. In the worst-case scenarios, it can damage the bones and cartilage, particularly if the pet struggles and is dropped. The pain and risk of injury is compounded in older dogs who may already experience degenerative changes in these joints, such as arthritis.

2. It Hurts, Even If You Think It Doesn’t

One of the greatest myths I hear dog owners repeating is, “If he isn’t yelping, he isn’t hurting.” Like people, some dogs are more dramatic than others and will waste no time letting you know if something bothers them. But other dogs are quite stoic and will tolerate discomfort to a much higher degree before protesting — assuming they protest at all.

Clearly, yelping or growling are obvious signs of discomfort in a pet. But there are plenty more. All dog owners should know the basic signs of anxiety in a dog: avoidance, struggling, averting his gaze, licking his lips, "half-moon eye" or showing the whites of his eyes, and yawning are just a few. These signs are indicative of a dog who is uncomfortable, and that means you need to stop what you are doing and reassess the situation.

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