A dog who growls when picked up is saying, “I’m not loving this, put me down!” All you need to do to stop the grouchiness is figure out what he doesn’t like about being picked up, before slowly and gently helping him get used to each step of the process.
Fear is the most common cause of growling. It’s a defense tactic. The surprise of being lifted off the ground, the lack of control your poor pup has when off the ground or simply one bad previous experience of being picked up could all be causing him to be fearful. When a dog is showing fear aggression, it’s essential not to make him feel cornered or threatened. Carefully observe your dog’s body language as you approach and attempt to pick him up. He should be relaxed in your arms. If he is tense and rigid, put him down. If you approach your dog abruptly and head on, you might startle him before you attempt to lift him. Always approach slowly from the side.
You might inadvertently be causing your dog discomfort in the way you pick him up. When lifting, do it slowly and cradle the dog’s bottom so he doesn’t slip downward. Support his spine and don’t grip too tight. If you fail to do any of these things, your handling technique may be the problem. You should also check for lumps and bumps on his body. If you suspect he hates being picked up because it hurts him, see the vet.
Once you’ve ruled out a physical problem with your dog, try to figure out which element of being picked up he hates. If he’s fine with being approached and stroked, it’s most likely the elevation and lack of control that he dislikes. If he tenses up at your merest touch, he may have problems with being handled in general. Some dogs hate being picked up when other dogs are around, as this exposes their tummy to the other dog, which is tantamount to forcing the dog into a submissive posture.
Perform the picking up process in stages. First, sit on the ground with a treat and let the dog approach you. Stroke him, then give a reward. Repeat this exercise for about a week, or as long as it takes the dog to feel comfortable with being stroked. Graduate to putting the dog on your lap, and give a reward for a calm response. Do this for a week, or for as long as it takes for your dog to be happy on your lap, then move on to lifting the dog slightly off the ground and rewarding a passive response. Eventually your dog will become used to each element of the process and will learn to enjoy it.