Why Does My Dog Hate Being Held?

Adrienne Farricelli

If your dog's doesn't want to be held, it's important to listen to what your dog is trying to tell you: "I am not comfortable with this type of interaction, so please don't do that!" Your dog may communicate his dislike for being held up in your arms in a variety of ways, the most common being growling, barking or even baring his teeth and biting.

Many dogs do not like to be held and the reasons for this may be various. Of course, there are many exceptions to the rule with several dogs who are eager to be held and look forward to it too. Let's face it though: not all dogs were born to be lap dogs, and many of the larger dogs aren't meant to be held past puppy puppy hood in any case.

 Lack of Exposure 

Many dogs dislike being held for the simple fact that they aren't used to it. They simply may not like being lifted into your arms and then restrained there.

It's a good practice for breeders and rescues to get young puppies used to being held considering that new dog owners will want to pick their puppies in their arms and that dogs may be lifted on the vet's examination table at one point or another.

Many dogs are not comfortable being forced to endure things they are not used to, so they instinctively "use their their words" to inform us about their dislikes.

 It is ultimately up to us dog owners to evaluate what the dog is not comfortable with and take steps to either avoid such exposures, find alternate solutions, or make the process of being picked up and help more pleasant. 

Unpleasant Consequences 

Sometimes, dogs develop a dislike for being held due to unpleasant consequences. For instance, perhaps your child picked up your puppy roughly or he held your dog in her arms for longer than the dog tolerated. 

Perhaps, your dog doesn't feel safe in your arms and struggles being held. In general, consider that it may be uncomfortable for large breed puppies and larger dogs being picked up, and there are risks they may get hurt.  

Or maybe, Rover has learned that, every time he is picked up and held, something unpleasant is about to happen such as he is given a bath, his nails are trimmed or he is closed in a room or crate. If your dog dreads any of these activities, you'll understand why he dislikes being picked up. 

Medical Issues 

If your dog was OK being held for a good part of his life, and now is growling, consider whether there may be something medical going on. Perhaps your dog has pain somewhere and is reacting this way. 

Know That You Know...

As seen, dogs may have several good reasons for not wanting to be held, so it's important to listen to them and take their feelings under account. Here are tips for owners of dogs who do not like to be held.

  • Take your dog to the vet. Do this especially if your dog was fine being held before or he has been undergoing recent behavior changes that don't seem to have an explanation.
  • Avoid corrections! It may be tempting to correct the dog to "put him in his place" and force him to submit to whatever we are trying to do, but this method will surely backfire. So avoid physically correcting your dog and also avoid scolding him. Correcting any response based on underlying fear or general dislike is never a good idea. When dogs growl, bare teeth , bark or bite in this scenario, these signs are all emotional responses that should evaluated so to understand what may be triggering them in the first place.  
  • Ignoring your dog's growl is a big mistake too! Your dog's growl is his way of communicating with you. Listen to your dog and what he is trying to say.
  • Find alternatives. Like it or not, not all dogs like to be held. Instead of picking your dog up, how about attracting him on your lap with a treat and providing him the treat once he’s up in your lap? This offers a win-win situation because you get your dog on your lap while also creating positive associations with being there. This means, your dog will likely visit your lap more frequently.  
  • Use behavior modification. A dog's emotional responses can be changed using behavior modification methods focusing on desensitization and counterconditioning. Play it safe. Consult with a behavior professional using force-free behavior modification for safety and correct implementation.
  •  Start early! The earlier you condition your puppy to being picked up, the better. Here is how young puppies should be taught how rewarding it may be being picked up: how to pick up puppies correctly. 
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