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It’s an instinct for many owners of small breed dogs to pick them up at different points while walking, such as when they’re walking past larger dogs. It’s natural to want to protect your small dog from an approaching large dog. But, there are pros and cons to picking your little dog up.

Training Small Dogs

Studies have shown that there are some behavioral differences between small and large dogs. In some ways, this research validates some of the commonly held beliefs about small dogs and their behavior. Specifically, the research showed that small dogs were more likely to be anxious than larger breed dogs. The study also indicated that small breed dogs were likely to be more excitable. They were also less reliable with responding to trained cues. “Little dogs get less training, less socialization, and are involved in fewer activities than big dogs, and that’s a shame for them,” explains Dr. Zazie Todd, a dog behavior expert.

Dr. Todd advises that small dogs can and do excel with training just as much as large breeds, but dog owners have to put the training work in. “Little dogs learn just like big dogs do, so you can use positive reinforcement to teach them to walk past other dogs, or if they are already fearful of big dogs, you can use counter conditioning to teach them they are okay,” she explains. Ideally, we want to hold our small dogs to the same training standards as larger breed dogs. Ensuring small dogs receive appropriate training can help them to feel more secure in the world and prevent behavioral issues.

Young woman sitting in the grass holding her French Bulldog.
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When Should You Pick Up a Small Dog?

When walking a small dog, many dog owners instinctively will pick up their dog if they see a large dog approaching, especially if they’re off-leash or seem excited. Picking your dog up is a natural impulse because of the size difference. A larger, excited, or aroused dog can accidentally injure a smaller dog. By picking your small dog up off the ground, you can keep an approaching dog from getting to your dog. Picking up your small dog can also make them feel more secure if they’re reactive or nervous around other dogs.

“If you know that your little dog is reactive to other dogs, you can sometimes pick them up and turn them around so that they never even see the other dog,” Dr. Todd advises. She notes that this strategy can be especially helpful in keeping your dog from reacting. Plus, it can help you “protect your training if you aren’t ready at that moment to turn it into a training situation,” meaning if you don’t have treats with you or can’t quickly increase the distance from an approaching dog. By picking up your little dog, you can reduce the tension of passing a larger dog while walking. This will make the interaction easier for all dogs involved.

Chihuahua sitting in the middle of a cobblestone street.
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Dangers of Picking Dogs Up

Picking your little dog up can be a way to keep them safe from approaching large dogs. But, it can also create some potential challenges. “Unfortunately, if another dog is fixated on the small dog and is very close, the motion of picking up the dog can add to the arousal of the other dog,” warns Michelle Stern, a certified professional dog trainer and behavior consultant. If the large dog approaching seems aroused, picking your small dog up could cause the approaching dog to bite you. If you’re picking your dog up because they’re reactive or uncomfortable around other dogs, this may deescalate the situation for your dog. However, it could also be upsetting to your dog. In this case, lifting a small dog who is reactivating about an approaching dog could result in an accidental redirected bite by the small dog to the small dog’s owner as they’re picked up.

Respecting Your Dog’s Boundaries

Although picking up your small dog might be easy, not all small dogs enjoy being picked up. For some dogs, getting picked up can be a disorienting, frightening, uncomfortable, or painful experience. Stern advises that we can make this experience more comfortable for our dogs by working on the skill ahead of time. She recommends teaching your dog when they can expect you to carry them. By doing this, you can train them to associate being picked up with something positive. You’ll also help them avoid being surprised by being scooped up. “One way to help the dog to accept being picked up is to give a verbal cue before you pick up the dog, so they know what to expect,” Stern explains. A verbal cue can prevent small dogs from being startled as they’re lifted and make the experience more positive.

Cavalier King Charles Spaniel meeting a Yorkshire Terrier at the park.

Alternatives to Picking Up Small Dogs

There can be benefits to getting your small dog off the ground as other dogs walk past. However, this isn’t always practical. If you have a small dog who doesn’t enjoy being picked up, or if you struggle to bend down to pick your dog up, you can use training to get your little dog off the ground. Trick training skills can be especially helpful to get your small dog height as a large dog passes.

“An alternative to picking up the dog could be cueing the dog to climb up onto a tall object that is out of the way or even behind a large object, so they can no longer be seen,” explains Stern. To do this, you can utilize front paw targeting or a lure to encourage your small dog to jump onto a log, rock, park bench, or other object in the environment and then add a verbal cue like “up.” This allows dog owners to get little dogs off the ground as a larger dog passes.

Related article: How Much Mental and Physical Exercise Do Puppies Need?
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