Understanding Your Dog’s Behavior: Why Does My Dog Growl When I Pick Him Up?

As a dog owner, you strive to understand your furry friend’s every behavior, sound, and movement. One behavior that can be particularly concerning is when your dog growls as you pick them up. Growling is a form of communication for dogs, and it can indicate a variety of emotions or physical states, from fear and discomfort to a simple request for personal space. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the reasons behind this behavior, what it can mean, and how you can address it to ensure both you and your canine companion are happy and comfortable.

Understanding Growling:

Growling is a vocalization that dogs use as a warning signal. It’s their way of saying, “I’m uncomfortable with what’s happening right now.” It’s important to note that growling is a natural behavior for dogs, and it should not be punished. Instead, it should be seen as an opportunity to understand and address the underlying issue.

Reasons Why Dogs Growl When Picked Up:

1. Pain or Discomfort: One common reason a dog may growl when picked up is due to pain or discomfort. If your dog is experiencing any physical discomfort, such as arthritis, an injury, or even just sore muscles, being picked up can exacerbate that pain. Dogs with back problems, such as those from the Dachshund breed, are especially prone to discomfort when lifted.

2. Fear or Anxiety: Some dogs may growl out of fear or anxiety. If your dog has had a negative experience with being picked up in the past, or if they are naturally anxious, they may associate being lifted with that fear. Additionally, if your approach is too sudden or if the dog is in an unfamiliar environment, this can prompt a fear response.

3. Dominance or Territoriality: In some cases, dogs may growl when picked up because they are trying to assert dominance or express territoriality. This is more common in dogs that have not been properly socialized or have been encouraged to exhibit dominant behaviors.

4. Preference for Personal Space: Just like humans, dogs have personal space needs. Some dogs simply do not like to be held or picked up and will growl to communicate that they would prefer to keep all four paws on the ground.

5. Communication of Boundaries: Growling can be a dog’s way of setting boundaries. If your dog growls when you pick them up, they may be trying to tell you that they are not comfortable with the interaction and that they need their space respected.

6. Surprise or Startlement: If a dog is picked up unexpectedly, they may growl out of surprise or startlement. It’s always best to let your dog see and sniff you before you attempt to lift them.

Addressing the Growling Behavior:

1. Visit the Vet:

If your dog suddenly starts growling when picked up, the first step should be to visit the vet to rule out any medical issues. It’s essential to ensure that your dog is not in pain or experiencing any health problems that could be causing the behavior.

2. Positive Reinforcement Training:

Positive reinforcement training can be an effective way to address growling behavior. Teach your dog that being picked up is a positive experience by associating it with treats and praise. Start by rewarding your dog for calm behavior when you reach towards them, and gradually work up o rewarding them for allowing you to lift them slightly off the ground. Ensure the training sessions are short, positive, and end on a good note.

3. Respect Your Dog’s Boundaries:

It’s important to listen to what your dog is trying to communicate. If they don’t like being picked up, respect their wishes and don’t force the issue unless absolutely necessary (such as for a veterinary examination). Consider alternative ways to interact with and move your dog if needed, such as guiding them to move on their own or using a pet ramp or steps.

4. Socialization and Desensitization:

Proper socialization from a young age can help prevent growling due to fear or anxiety. Expose your dog to various people, environments, and handling in a positive and controlled manner. For older dogs or those with established fears, a slow and patient desensitization process can help them become more comfortable with being lifted.

5. Body Language and Approach:

Learn to read your dog’s body language to anticipate their comfort levels. Always approach your dog in a calm and gentle manner, especially when you intend to pick them up. Let them see and sniff you first, and use a consistent cue or verbal assurance that lets them know what to expect.

6. Consult a Professional:

If your dog’s growling persists or if you’re unsure how to address the issue, consult a professional dog trainer or a behaviorist. They can assess the situation, rule out any serious behavioral issues, and provide you with personalized strategies to help your dog feel more comfortable.


A dog growling when picked up is a sign that they are trying to communicate discomfort, fear, or the need for personal space. It’s crucial to approach this behavior with understanding and a willingness to address the underlying cause. By visiting the vet, respecting your dog’s boundaries, engaging in positive reinforcement training, and seeking professional advice when needed, you can create a more comfortable environment for your dog and strengthen the bond between you two. Always remember that patience, consistency, and empathy are key when working with any canine behavior.

By understanding the ‘why’ behind your dog’s growl, you can better cater to their needs and ensure that being picked up—if necessary—becomes a safe and stress-free experience for both of you. Remember that every dog is an individual with their own likes, dislikes, and comfort levels. As responsible pet owners, it’s our job to listen and respond to our dogs’ communication cues with love and care. With the right approach, you can turn a potentially worrying growl into an opportunity for learning and growth in your relationship with your beloved canine companion.


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