This post may contain affiliate links. We may be compensated if you purchase after clicking a link.

How to Safely Hold a Small Dog Without Hurting Them

Being able to pick up your dog is an advantage of a small breed - and not just for hugs! Here's how to safely hold your small dog.

Picking up your pet can be useful in stressful or dangerous situations. A small and lightweight dog is also much easier to carry if they’re injured or unwell.

It’s vital to pick up and hold your small dog safely though. The wrong method can make your dog feel unsafe or cause pain. It could also make them reluctant to be picked up again in the future.

How to Safely Pick Up And Hold a Small Dog

The key to picking up a small dog is to ensure they are always secure and safe.

If your dog wiggles or jumps out of your arms, there is a serious risk of injury. Holding your dog securely also helps them to feel relaxed in your arms.

Here’s a simple method for safely picking up small dogs:

  1. Start by asking your dog to come over. You should never chase your dog to pick them up, as this can cause anxiety and stress.
  2. Say a simple cue phrase, such as “going up.” Over time, your dog will learn that this phrase means they are about to be picked up, which allows them to brace themselves. It also makes it less likely that your dog is startled by being picked up.
  3. Bend at your knees and put one hand under the dog’s chest. It’s important that you support the dog’s chest with your palm, as this provides the most stability.
  4. Place your other hand behind the dog’s rump. Make sure both your arms feel secure and that you have a solid grip.
  5. Gently lift the dog. The dog’s rear end should be supported at all times. Bring the dog towards your chest, as this provides more stability and makes your pet feel secure. The rear end should be lower than the front of your dog, so that they are in a semi-upright position.
  6. To put down your dog, slowly lower them using both hands, until all four paws gently touch the ground. Don’t drop your dog (even from a small height) or let go when only two paws are on the ground, as this is bad for the joints.

The above method is specifically for small dogs. Bigger dogs must be picked up differently, as they are heavier and bigger.

Important: Don’t let young children pick up a puppy. During the socialisation phase, it’s important that a puppy is handled gently and respectfully, otherwise they may grow up scared of being picked up.

Should You Pick Up Your Small Dog?

There are many situations when picking up your small dog might be the safest option.

For example, if your pet is reactive and meets another dog on a walk, then picking them up could prevent an incident. Of course, this isn’t a permanent solution – but it can stop your dog from practising an unwanted behaviour.

Picking up your dog can also be useful if they’re feeling stressed or anxious. If your dog feels secure and happy when you’re holding them, then there’s nothing wrong with picking them up to give comfort.

However, it’s important that your dog feels comfortable being held. You shouldn’t just grab them whenever there is a stressful or difficult situation!

If you’re unsure whether your dog enjoys being picked up, look for signs of stress. These could include:

  • Running away when you try to pick them up
  • Tail held down
  • Lip licking
  • Looking away
  • Growling or showing their teeth

We recommend contacting a canine behaviourist if your dog doesn’t enjoy being picked up. They’ll help you with a training program that encourages your pet to feel happier about being held.

Mistakes to Avoid

Picking up your small dog incorrectly could cause them to feel uncomfortable or stressed. It could even cause serious injury, so it’s essential to hold your dog safely.

Here are some mistakes to avoid when holding your dog:

  • Never pick up a dog by the scruff. Mother dogs only do this for small and lightweight puppies. Humans should not pick up a dog using this method.
  • Don’t forget to support the rear end at all times. A lack of support can place stress on the dog’s back and shoulder joints.
  • Never pick a dog up by the collar. This puts a lot of pressure on the windpipe and neck. It’s also painful and scary for your pet.
  • Never pick a dog up by the tail. This can cause serious damage, including a broken tail and severe pain.
  • Avoid picking your dog up by the legs or armpits. A dog’s joints are not strong enough to cope with being picked up like this.
  • Never pick your dog up when they are asleep or resting. You should also avoid picking up your dog unexpectedly, particularly if they are distracted or looking in a different direction.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can You Pick Up a Puppy Too Much?

You should avoid picking up your puppy too much. It’s a good idea to start getting your puppy used to being held during the first few weeks. But they should be allowed to rest, explore, and have fun without being picked up all the time.


It’s important that your dog feels safe and secure when you pick them up. It’s also essential that you avoid common mistakes that could cause pain or injury.

For these reasons, make sure you pick up a small dog with two hands. One hand should support the chest, while the other supports the rear end. Bring the dog close to your chest to provide extra stability.

Do you have any questions about how to safely hold a small dog? Please let us know in the comments section below.


Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports.
Leave a Comment