A woman carrying her dog

How To Pick Up, Hold & Carry a Dog

Picking up and holding a dog seems straightforward, but if you don't do it right, you could injure yourself and your pup. Learn how to pick up, hold, and carry a dog in this guide.

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Picking up, holding, and carrying your dog isn’t just a great way to sneak in a cuddle. It’s a good way to socialize and acclimate your pup to people, too. 

You may also need to carry your dog because of health issues, or because you’re in a crowded or dangerous environment.

Regardless of the reason, learning how to properly pick up a dog and carry them isn’t always as straightforward as it seems. We’ll cover the best way to pick up a dog and carry them in this guide.

In this guide:

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How to pick up a dog

First things first

Know your strength

Depending on your breed and your personal size and strength, your dog may be too much for you to lift. Never try to pick up a dog if you’re not confident you can hold them. Doing so risks injuring both your back and the dog if they’re dropped.

If you have a large, old, or injured dog that needs help getting into the car or onto the furniture (if that’s allowed!) consider getting a pet ramp or pet stairs instead.

Take it slow at first

Whether you’re picking up a sleepy puppy or a potentially skittish rescue, it’s best to take it slow at first. Make sure your dog is comfortable with you by allowing them to give you a sniff. It also helps if you can sit on the floor at first and simply allow your pet to lay in your lap.

Give a verbal cue

Next, give a verbal cue, such as “Up!” to alert your dog that you’re going to pick them up. Of course, they won’t know what this means at first, but over time, they’ll learn the cue and won’t be startled when you start to pick them up. If you need help teaching your dog commands and verbal cues, check out some of the best dog training books for tips and strategies.

Bring treats

For the first few days, always give your dog a training treat after picking them up so they learn that this is a positive experience. Consistent, positive reinforcement can help even reluctant dogs tolerate being held.

How to pick up a small dog

Picking up a small dog is, unsurprisingly, easier than picking up a big dog. Max, our resident Yorkshire Terrier, weighs only 6 pounds, so we can easily lift him with one hand. That is, of course, if he lets us. 

The main issue you face when picking up a small dog is getting them to cooperate. Small dog breeds can be notoriously jumpy and easily startled. If they wiggle out of your hand or try to jump, they could easily break a leg—a painful and expensive experience. We’ve seen it happen first-hand.

To pick up a small dog, reach around their body and place your hand beneath their rib cage, between their front legs. As you lift, cradle the dog’s hindquarters with your forearm or elbow and hold them against your chest. You can secure the dog by placing your free hand on their back. Don’t squeeze the pup, but hold them tightly in case they wiggle.

How to pick up a mid-sized dog

Picking up a medium-sized dog works the same way as picking up a small dog, except you may need to use both hands. Lift the dog with your dominant hand between the front legs and place your non-dominant hand over the dominant hand to provide extra muscle. Always hold the pup against your chest to keep them stable and cradle their rump to distribute their weight.

How to pick up a large dog

Picking up a big dog can be a lot more difficult, and it’s best to rely on ramps or stairs whenever possible. However, if you must pick up a large dog, you’ll need to go about it differently than you would with a tiny pup.

There are two approaches you can take; we’ll call them the Forklift and the Child. If neither of these techniques work because you have a giant breed, then lifting your dog may be a two-person job.

The Forklift

Squat next to your dog and place one arm across their chest and behind their front legs. Reach as far underneath them as possible, until their side is against your chest and your hand wraps around to their other side. 

Do the same with your other hand, just behind their hind legs. Pull your back arm in so that the dog sits on your forearm, then lift with your knees—not your back—and try to distribute the pup’s weight against your chest when you’re fully upright. 

The Child

This approach begins with you squatting in front of your dog, face-to-face. Train them with a verbal command, such as “Up,” to put their forelegs on your chest or shoulders, and reach your hands behind their back legs to their rump. Lift with your knees, and distribute their weight between their rump and your chest. Never lift them by the legs.

It may help to direct the dog’s head and both front legs over one of your shoulders, wrapping the opposite arm under their rump and using your free hand to hold their back.

If this is hard for you to picture, just imagine how you’d hold a child, hence the name.

How to pick up a dog that bites

If you need to pick up a dog that bites, you’re going to need a muzzle. That’s the only way to guarantee your protection. However, the task doesn’t end there. You should also do your best to condition the dog to tolerate being picked up to remedy the issue at its source.

As described above, use a slow approach, verbal cues, and treats to get your dog comfortable with the process. They’re likely biting because they’re uncomfortable and unsure of what’s happening. So as soon as they learn that being picked up isn’t threatening or dangerous, they’ll change their response.

If your dog isn’t normally a biter, but they snarl and bite when you try to pick them up, you should also consider the possibility that you are hurting them. Double-check your approach, and scan their body for any injuries or sensitive spots that may be in pain.

When in doubt, use a pet stretcher

If your dog is too big to pick up, or if they’re injured, arthritic, or just sensitive, you may need to use a pet stretcher with wheels. These stretchers allow you to strap in your pup and pull them behind you, so you can manage their weight and you don’t put too much stress on any one part of their body.

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Do dogs like being picked up?

It depends. My dog, Hobbes, is a complete cuddle-bug and loves being carried around or sitting in my lap. Other dogs hate being carried, either because it makes them nervous or because they don’t like feeling constricted. 

Just pay attention to your dog’s body language when you pick up and hold them. Sometimes they may be in the mood, while other times they may want to go investigate some noise or animal they saw in back yard.

What not to do when lifting a dog

Some of these should be obvious, but you’d be surprised what people have tried.

Don’t lift dogs by their collar 

Lifting a dog by their collar, even temporarily, puts stress on their neck and can cause collapsed trachea, a serious medical condition.

Avoid lifting dogs by their underarms

Lifting dogs by their underarms may seem like the best way to pick them up, and it sometimes works. But if you pull their legs in the wrong direction, you can cause pulled muscles or torn ligaments. Some dogs also get spooked when they’re touched or pulled in this location.

Don’t lift dogs by scruff 

You’ve probably seen a mother cat or dog lift their litter by the scruff. It’s best not to emulate this. First of all, the mother instinctively knows how much pressure to apply. You don’t. 

Also, this approach doesn’t work forever. As your dog grows, they’ll no longer have the excess skin and light bodyweight necessary for them to be carried by their scruff, so you could injure your pet or get bitten if you try.

Not by the tail 

File this one under the category of things that shouldn’t need to be said, but do. Never attempt to lift your dog by its tail, even if it’s a light little puppy.

How to hold a dog

Most of the time, you should hold a dog in exactly the same position in which you picked them up. However, if you’re holding a small dog or a puppy, you may be able to hold them in a cradled position. 

To achieve this, use the Child approach above to pick them up, then turn the dog over so their belly is facing up. Hold their upper body with one hand or forearm and their rump with the other, similar to how you’d cradle a baby.

If you’ll need to hold the dog for an extended amount of time, you may want to look into getting a pet carrier. We’ll cover a few of your options in the next section.

>> Read more: How to Hide a Pet from Your Landlord (& Better Options)

How to carry a dog

As I said above, you’ll typically hold and carry a dog in the same position you used to pick them up. However, if you need to carry a dog for an extended distance, this may not be feasible. In this case, a pet carrier is your best option. There are a variety of types to choose from.

How to carry a small dog

Small dogs, especially toy breeds, can travel with you wherever you go using a basic sling carrier or purse-style carrier.

If you’re carrying your dog onto an airplane or bus, a duffel-style travel carrier works best. Just make sure your dog has enough room to stand up and turn around. This guarantees they can maintain a natural position throughout your trip.

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How to carry a large dog

Carrying a large dog more than a short distance will certainly require some type of pet carrier. Fortunately, there are many types of carriers available.

Pet strollers

If you have more than one medium-sized dog or a large dog breed, we recommend getting a dog stroller, such as the one pictured above. 

At first sight, dog strollers may seem silly. Isn’t “walking the dog” supposed to include, you know, your dog walking? But if you have a senior dog with arthritis or an injury, a dog stroller may be the only way to give your pooch some fresh air or to get them from A to Z. 

There are many different types of dog strollers available, so you can find one that meets your needs.

Pet bike trailers

If you like to bike and you want to carry your dog a longer distance, we recommend getting a pet bike trailer, such as the PetSafe Happy Ride Aluminum Dog Bike Trailer. These hitch onto the back of your bicycle so you can hit the road with your pup in tow, and most also double as a stroller if you’re going for a walk.

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