What to do if your dog hates being picked up

Have a small dog that gets fidgety every time he’s picked up? Here’s what he’s trying to tell you.

Whether your dog gets wriggly or aggressive when you scoop him up, he’s communicating to you that he doesn’t like that. Many dogs don’t enjoy being held, some love it, many simply tolerate it. It is important to listen to what your dog likes and doesn’t like. By forcing pets to tolerate or endure being picked up when they don’t like it, we are essentially teaching them to not trust us – and the problem will get worse. If he is aggressive, you must contact a professional right away. Aggression is not something to handle on your own. Please use our trainer search or the IAABC here to look for professionals. And be sure to speak to past clients for referrals!

If he is wriggly, try petting him when he is relaxed, but not in your arms (ex: when he’s on the floor, or the couch/bed next to you). As he learns that you’re not going to pick him up, and that petting feels nice, he will eventually learn to enjoy that and trust you. If he’s already fine with this, you can skip this step. Over time, pet him with both hands and, eventually, all over his body where he likes being patted. As long as he is relaxed with that, you can pick him up to instantly feed him a yummy snack (like a bit of cheese), then put him right back down. Repeat several times until he gets excited to be picked up (over one day, over weeks, or even months – depending on your dog).

Once he gets to the point where he wriggles to be picked up (NOT wriggling to get down!), pick him up, hold him for several seconds, pat his head, treat him, then set him down again. Be sure to give his special treat or pat him before putting him on the ground – as this rewards being in your arms. Always listen to him – if he wriggles in your arms, you’re holding him too long. If he is relaxed in your arms, set him down!! We want to set him down before he wants to get down. Over time, he will learn:

1) arms are a wonderful place to be

2) my mom is a hotdog dispenser when I’m in her arms

3) I can trust my mom


Katenna is an associated certified animal behaviorist and is certified by the CCPDT and IAABC.