If you happen to see a puppy, it is natural to grab her and give her a big hug!
Please, don’t do this. Although it may feel great to you, the chances are that you have just created fear in that dog’s eyes.
PUPPIES ARE FREE FROM FEAR
Style is important. The seemingly easy pick-up method above makes three mistakes: The surprise, swoop, and squeeze. All of these elements can cause discomfort in a person who is unfamiliar with our human world. (No one on Planet Dog picks up anyone else!) Fourth element of terror is often the Squeal.
People sometimes contact me in panic when their puppy is growingl at them. A quick home visit usually reveals that these nice folks are in the surprise-swoop-squeeze camp. The pup is learning how to cope with the unintentional terror they are causing.
This is a sad news, but it’s also great news. It means that we can fix it quickly by creating a new pickup process that will build trust.
Rule #1: No Surprises!
Puppies can be scared when they are taken completely by surprise. They can be just sitting there, or sound asleep, and then they are up in the air. Some dogs will be able to roll with it. But for others, it can be alarming.
Change your approach to avoid surprise. There is no running! No zooming! Simply walk over to give the pup a chance for a look before you continue. Next, crouch down and give your pup a gentle stroke. For extra comfort and preparation, you can use a low-volume voice-over to say “Hi sweet puppy.” This advance warning system gives the puppy a chance to catch up.
Additional help: A cue word can be helpful for a dog who is already agitated about handling. It can make a big difference to give your pup a consistent heads-up. This helps your pup be prepared for whatever is about to happen, and relax when it doesn’t.
Rule #2: No Swooping!
Even though you have eliminated the surprise element, your dog may still growl if they feel unsafe in the air. The second rule for a perfect pick-up: No swoop and dangle. Your pup won’t be able to resist the thrill of an amusement-park ride.
You can make her feel secure by cradling her in a slow, gentle motion. One hand is underneath the shoulder, and the other is gently against her chest. Your quiet voiceover gets you bonus points: “Aw, here we go, we just want to move over there, you’re my sweetie girls.” . “Don’t get up too fast – Give your dog the old creaky elevator experience instead of the one that takes you insanely fast to the top.
Additional help: You can offer extra help if you are doing remedial work. If this is the case, you might have a chew toy, a toy or piece of jerky in one hand while you say “1-2-3 times for a pick up!” This will distract your dog from her worries and help you create a positive association.
Rule #3: No Squeeze-and-Trap!
You can teach your puppy trust once she is comfortable in your arms. Some puppies fear the squeeze-n-trap, which can be the most painful part of picking up. Puppy owners love to give their puppies a hug. The puppy may call it frightening jail time.
No one – not one person, not one dog – wants their body held against its will. We think that puppies should be allowed to lie in our laps or love being carried around by humans, so we force them to do this regardless of how they react. This is the hardest for children to resist. But, I am amazed at how many adults refuse to recognize a puppy’s squirming and as a legitimate plea to bodily autonomy.
This is just the beginning of the train wreck. These dogs are often over-held and end up becoming dogs who hate to be handled. This is a sad fact in many ways. It’s the cuddlers who are most likely to make their dogs resist.
Here’s what I tell children (and a few adults: Do you want your puppy to be your favorite? Let the puppy choose, especially at the beginning. Instead of begging for the puppy’s attention you can entice him. You can get down on the ground, grab a toy and roll around puppy-like. Soon, your puppy will choose you to play with. Then, by miracle of miracles, she will choose your lap to rest in when she is tired. You are just one step away of that happy pup asking for your attention and snuggles.
Perfect puppy hold. The perfect puppy hold. A happy puppy is secure, but not locked up. Sitting on the ground, especially for children, is the best way to secure puppies and not scare them.
ALWAYS LOOK AT YOUR DOG’S BODY LANGUAGE
If you eliminate the surprise-swoop-squeeze from your routine, your pup will soon be calm about being picked up. If you aren’t at this point, check for signs that your pup is happy with consent-based handling. Are you seeing her approach you often? Do you notice her turning her head towards you rather than away? You can relax her body by rubbing against yours. You can no longer make her struggle in your arms. Perfect. You can now skip the warning and have the treat in your hands as you lift.
What about the rest? The no-surprise approach The soothing voiceover The non-intimidating crouch The supported, slow lift? These are important. Habits like these are what eventually make you “just magic with dogs!”
Nope. It’s not magic. It’s just empathy. Enjoy the benefits of this technique.
How to Get a Puppy Completely.