Why Puppy Growls When Picked Up (How To Stop)

why puppy growls when picked up
Answering a readers question about “Why my puppy growls when I pick her up?”

As much as we love our dogs, it’s sometimes difficult (and frustrating) when we can’t understand some of their behaviors.

Unfortunately, our furry friends can’t speak to us with words, so most of the time, they try to communicate with us through unusual or abnormal behavior. It’s then up to us to decode what they are trying to communicate.

One example of this is when your puppy growls when picked up. There are several possible reasons as to why dogs do this, ranging from fear to fun.

Does your dog growl when you try to pick them up or show them affection?  Read on to find out why some dogs growl when picked up and what you can do about it

puppy growls when picked up
Reader Linda emailed us and asked “My puppy growls when I pick her up. Help!

Possible Reasons Your Puppy Growls When Picked Up

  • History of poor handling
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Confusion or uncertainty
  • Resource protection instinct
  • Play growls!

Before diving into the reasons behind dogs’ growls, it’s vital to first debunk the myth that growling is a sign of exerting dominance. People tend to think of growling as their dog’s attempt to exercise authority over their owner.

In reality, this is not true. In fact, if you respond to your dog’s growls with an effort to discipline them, you might end up making the situation worse.

Your dog may be growling for several different reasons. When trying to understand the reason behind your dog’s growling, think about your canine’s usual behavior. Does your dog growl often (especially when being picked up)? Or is their growling a new behavior? 

If your dog doesn’t usually growl often, he might be facing a health issue. Your dog may be injured. In this case, picking them up may be causing them pain, which they are trying to express to you by growling. 

However, if your dog is a natural growler (like some growling Cockapoos) when it comes to expressing dissent, then it’s likely a behavioral issue. Below is a list of potential reasons behind this behavior.

Bad Handling Causing Growling

There’s a specific way to pick up and carry your dog to ensure their comfort. If you handle your dog awkwardly or uncomfortably, they might get hurt and not want to be picked up again.

The best way to ensure your dog is comfortable when being picked up is to hold them in a way that doesn’t put any strain on their legs or back. Place one hand on your dog’s chest to ensure it is supported, and use your other hand to support their hind legs. Make sure you have a firm yet tender grip on your dog—you don’t want drop them, but you also don’t want to hurt them with a tight grip. 

puppy at the vet

Anxiety or Fear

Another reason your dog could be growling when you try to pick them up is because of anxiety or fear. It could be that your dog has traumatic or negative experiences that they now associate with being picked up.

Dogs subjected to abuse in the past often growl as a defense mechanism out of fear. In less severe cases, dogs may associate being picked up with unpleasant activities such as being bathed and/or trimming their nails. 

Also, dogs have an innate flight-or-fight response that is activated when they feel threatened. This means that when faced with a potential threat, dogs will instinctively react by either engaging in fight or flight (i.e., fleeing the situation). If your dog perceives being picked up as a threat, their growling might be an indicator of their instinct to fight. 

Confusion as Root Cause of Puppy Growling

On the other hand, it’s possible that your dog is just confused. If your dog is not used to being picked up, they may not know that this is an expression of affection. In this case, the growling could be a kind of defense mechanism.

If this is the case, all you need is for your dog to warm up to the idea of being picked up. Start small by petting, cuddling, with engaging in physical contact with your dog. Then gradually work your way towards making them comfortable with sitting on your lap. The more physical affection you show to your dog, the less anxious and/or confused they will be when you pick them up. 

maltipoo after haircut style
Maltipoo dogs are super cute, but known for being growlers. Photo by T S Smith /CC BY

Protecting Resource Instinct Causing Growling

Dogs are protective animals, and they often engage in resource guarding behavior. This involves safeguarding their ‘personal space’ by protecting certain areas in the house or yard.

In some cases, they may also be protective of objects, such as their toys or blanket.  

If you suspect your dog’s growling is a by-product of resource guarding, it’s a good idea to seek professional help. You need to quickly and precisely identify what is triggering this behavior. Once the trigger(s) is/are identified, you can train your dog to modify this behavior.

Play Growling

Finally, your dog could be growling out of excitement. Some dogs tend to bark or growl during playtime or when they’re excited. Dogs playing with each other often growl at each other, which is usually no cause for concern.

Over excited growling puppies are common – particularly amongst high energy dog breeds like the Cockapoo – or occasionally hyper dogs like a growing Goldendoodle.

However, puppy play should always be supervised closely. Some dogs are stronger and more aggressive than others and can hurt their playmates during rough play. Moreover, rough play may encourage aggressive responses. However, this is only if your dog feels threatened. 

When You Should See A Vet About Your Dog’s Growling 

Growling is not always an indicator of an adverse circumstance, but it often is. You don’t want to risk misdiagnosing your dog’s behavior. If you do, your efforts to change this behavior may not be fruitful and can even harm your dog in some cases.  

If you notice a sudden change in your dog’s behavior, it’s always a good idea to take them to the vet. This way, you can rule out whether the growling results from a health-related or behavioral issue.

How To Stop Your Dog From Growling When Picked Up

If your dog’s growling is not related to their health, there are specific tips you can take to condition your dog to change their perspective on being picked up. Below is a list of the top ___ tips to keep in mind when dealing with a dog who doesn’t want to be picked up. 

Take Note Of Your Dog’s Signals 

Whatever the reason behind your dog’s discomfort may be, growling is their way of expressing that discomfort to you. That’s why it’s essential to take note of your dog’s behaviors and triggers.

When your dog growls at you, what other behaviors is he exhibiting? Yawning and licking their lips are indicators of stress, for example. In this case, your dog may be scared of you or may not trust you enough to pick them up.

A commonly overlooked sign is excessive paw chewing or licking.

Positive Interruption; Positive Reinforcement 

To change your dog’s negative associations about being picked up – it’s vital to create positive experiences and associations with being picked up.

Positive interrupters a great way to stop your dog from exhibiting unwanted behaviors such as growling. Positive interrupters are often used in dog training.

They prevent unwanted behaviors by encouraging and rewarding good behavior. This way, you won’t have to punish your dog for their bad behavior. Instead, you’ll be replacing their bad behavior with good behavior and rewarding that good behavior.

If your dog is uncomfortable with being picked up by you, start creating positive associations with being in physical contact. Offer your pup a treat every time you touch them.

This way, they will become conditioned to associate your touch with a treat. Once your dog becomes comfortable with your touch, do the same every time your dog sits on your lap until they are comfortable enough to be picked up.

Eventually, most dogs will love being close to you so much they may even end up sleeping on TOP of you (not ideal!) It is much better to have a big dog sleep at the end of the bed or by the door (or in a crate).

A crucial tip to keep in mind is to never punish a growling dog, as this may induce aggressive behavior such as barking or biting. The aim is to change your dog’s perspective on being picked up. If you respond to their growling with aggression, this will only strengthen your dog’s dislike towards being picked up. 

In fact, it’s recommended to encourage your dog to communicate through growling rather than to repress it. This way, you can learn a lot about your dog through their growling.

mixed color maltipoo wavy puppy

Be Gentle (And Patient) if Your Puppy Growls When Picked Up

Your dog needs to trust you and feel comfortable with you. Only then will your pup lose the reservations about being picked up. That’s why you should always be kind, gentle, and patient with your pet (even though that’s easier said than done sometimes).

When addressing your dog, make sure to use a cheerful, happy, and soothing voice to ensure your dog feels safe in your presence. Pet them gently, give them treats, and offer words of praise when they exhibit good behavior.

Even after your dog becomes comfortable with the idea of being picked up, it’s crucial to maintain this behavior change. Make sure your dog likes the idea of being picked up, but not to the extent that they begin to want to be picked up or carried all the time.  

How to deal with puppy aggression – strategies for a common but tricky problem.