How To Get a Puppy To Stop Growling When You Pick Them Up

October 26, 2022 / Dog Training / By: Lilianna Parker

How to Get a Puppy to Stop Growling When You Pick Them Up

We have all been there. You go to pick up your adorable new puppy to give them a cuddle, and they give out a little menacing growl. This will leave many puppy owners bewildered and wondering why their puppy is rejecting this act of affection.

While some puppies will play growl when you pick them up, most are growling because the act of picking them up is stressful or frightening. 

After all, most puppies are tiny, and we are significantly larger than them. As a result, many puppies will see a human looming over them and fear what may happen to them, even when we mean well.

Here we will be explaining what exactly causes puppies to growl when we pick them up. Additionally, I will also be explaining how you can stop this growling and how to differentiate between playful and threatening growls.

Let’s get into it!

Aggressive Growl Vs Play Growl: How to Tell the Difference

First, it is important to be able to tell the difference between a play growl and an aggressive growl. Most of the time a puppy will give a playful growl when they are either playing or trying to initiate play.

A dog that is play growling will likely be wagging their tail and exhibiting playful body language such as the play bow (1).

Additionally, a playful dog will always have relaxed body language and be exhibiting no signs of stress, anxiety, or fear.

Meanwhile, signs of an anxious dog include but are not necessarily limited to.

  • Tail tucked between the legs
  • Ears pinned back
  • Whites of eyes showing (whale eye)
  • Snarling
  • Yawning
  • Lip licking
  • Excessive panting
  • Attempting to move or run away from you
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Other vocalizations like whining or barking

If your dog does any of the things listed above then it is safe to say that their growling is coming from a place of fear, anxiety, or stress.

Note: There is a third type of growl and that is resource guarding growling. This occurs when a dog is is growling at another dog or human to stay away from their food, toys, bones or other favorite item.

Why Does My Puppy Growl When I Pick Them Up?

There are several different reasons why dogs growl. Most of the time growling is either a sign of playfulness or anxious behavior in dogs.

However, it can occasionally also be a sign that a puppy is in pain as well.

Here we will be getting into all of these causes in more detail.

1. They are Playing

Play growling is incredibly common in both puppies and adult dogs.

However, this type of growling is usually isolated to when they are playing. So, if you go to pick up your puppy in the middle of a play session this very well may be the cause.

Similarly, frequently picking your puppy up right before playing with them may cause them to play growl when you pick them up.

2. They are Frightened or Stressed

Most of the time though, puppies will growl when they are picked up because the action is making them feel stressed or frightened.

There are several possible reasons why being picked up could frighten a dog including:

  • The puppy is not used to people
  • The puppy is not used to being handled or picked up
  • The puppy does not like the way that you are picking them up
  • Being picked up has been a precursor to being punished in the past

You will be able to tell if a puppy is stressed or anxious by looking at their body language. If your puppy is exhibiting any body language that is similar to those listed previously in this article, then you likely have a nervous pup on your hands.

3. The Act of Being Picked up is Painful for Them

Occasionally a puppy growling when you pick them up is a sign that it is painful for them (2). 

This is especially true if your puppy is suddenly growling when they never used to before.

Injuries and illnesses could potentially cause this problem, so if you are worried about your puppy’s health then it is a good idea to take them to the vet.

How to Stop Your Puppy From Growling When You Pick Them Up

The good news is that dog owners can stop this growling with a little patience and extra care.

Here is how you can stop your puppy from growling when you pick them up depending on what is causing the behavior.

How to Stop Your Puppy From Growling When You Pick Them Up

Better education is required for pet owners to accurately interpret a dog's body language, to both safeguard their dogs' welfare and reduce the occurrence of anxiety-related behavior problems. Photo: Nenad Stojkovic/Flickr

1. Change the Way You Pick up Your Puppy

Many very small dogs and young puppies will view a person bending over them to pick them up as incredibly threatening and frightening, especially when it is done from behind.

As a result, simply changing the way that you pick your puppy up will help put them more at ease and stop the growling (3). 

When picking up a puppy or a small dog, it is best to crouch low to be on their level and pick them up from the side of their body.

Removing the act of you bending over them is often enough to stop a puppy from growling when you pick them up.

Even if you also need to desensitize your puppy to your touch, practicing this way of picking them up is still a good idea.

2: Slowly Desensitize Your Puppy to Touch

Some puppies are simply not used to being touched by humans, and some have possibly also been mistreated in the past.

If this seems to be the case for your puppy, then you will need to slowly and carefully desensitize them to your touch.

Here we will break down how you can do just that into a few simple steps.

Step 1: Allow the Puppy to Warm up to You

First, it is always best to establish a base level of trust with a nervous puppy before trying to pet them or pick them up.

It is always best to start off by giving your new puppy treats and toys to play with.

This is because both of these things are positive to most puppies and are also non-threatening and noninvasive actions.

Step 2: Gently Pet Areas That Your Pet is OK With, and Provide Positive Reinforcement

Once your puppy is comfortable with your presence, you can start gently petting and touching the areas that they seem comfortable with.

A good rule of thumb is to avoid areas like your puppy’s paws and tail, especially in the beginning. This is because these areas are very sensitive, and many dogs do not really like these areas being touched.

While petting the parts of your puppy’s body that they seem comfortable with, it is important to provide positive reinforcement throughout the process.

You can do this by giving them treats and praise as you are touching them. This will give your puppy a positive association with you touching them.

Step 3: Slowly Work Your Way up to Picking Them Up

Continue doing the process described in step 2 until your puppy is completely comfortable with your touch.

The length of this process differs from puppy to puppy, and it could take as little as a few hours to as long as a few weeks depending on how adverse the puppy reacts to touch.

Once your puppy is completely comfortable with you touching them you can then try to pick them up. It is still a good idea to provide positive reinforcement in the form of praise and treats at this point.

Remember, it is also better to crouch down and pick your puppy up from the side rather than bending over them. This will prevent your puppy from getting startled just before you pick them up.

Step 4: Always be Mindful When Handling Your Puppy

It is always such a great feeling when you can finally pick up your puppy without them growling at you!

From now on it is a good idea to continue picking up your pet carefully to prevent them from having a bad experience with it. It is also important to continue watching your dog’s body language for signs of stress or nervousness to prevent them from having a bad experience as well.

It is best to stop handling your puppy at any point that they seem nervous. Doing this will prevent them from growling or biting, and it will also keep them from going back to associating being picked up with negative emotions.

3. Go to the Vet

Occasionally growling when being pet or picked up can be a sign that a puppy is in pain from an injury or medical condition.

As a result, you may want to consider taking your puppy to the vet if they are doing this, especially if the behavior has come up out of the blue.

After all, it is always better to be safe than sorry when it comes to a puppy’s health.

4. Change up How You Play With Your Puppy

Although play growling is not something that most dog owners need to worry too much about, you may need to change the way that you play with your puppy if their play growling is bothering you when you pick them up.

In order to stop your puppy from play growling when you pick them up, it is best to stop picking them up in the middle of play.

Additionally, it is also a good idea to stop picking your puppy up right before playing with them as well. 

This will get your puppy out of the habit of play growling when being touched.

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Main featured photo: lucianvenutian/Flickr


Lilianna Parker

Lilianna Parker is a certified dog trainer through the Animal Behavior College, and has been involved in training dogs in the New York State community for several years. Lilianna has also written numerous works on dog training using positive reinforcement. She believes that every dog owner should have the tools that they need to see their dogs succeed. Her articles and blog posts about dog training are excellent ways for dog owners to get started with force-free training. She owns Simply Positive Dog Training and when she’s not writing or training, she enjoys going for hikes with her Shiba Inu called Cleo!

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