Puppy Growls When Picked Up (+ How to Stop)

Puppy Growls When Picked Up

Puppies are a bundle of joy, but some will have aggressive tendencies that can worry new owners. One of the more aggressive behaviors is when a puppy growls when picked up. It can happen when they are awake, or even when they are sleeping.

Puppies growl when picked up to vocalize a feeling. This could be pain, frustration, or due to a previous bad experience they have had. Puppies will also growl when you pick them up whilst sleeping for those reasons, plus the shock and surprise of being woken.

If your puppy growls when picked up while sleeping, it’s easier to understand as they might have been dreaming and you’re waking them unexpectedly. But it could also be due to those reasons I briefly touched upon above.

Below contains more detail on why your puppy is growling when you go to touch or pick them up, and what you can do to hopefully make it stop.

Puppy growling and biting when picked up

One of the hardest things to resist as a puppy parent is letting your sweet furry friend walk past you without picking them up.

If you’re lucky enough, they will keep calm and enjoy being in your arms. But for many puppy owners, picking up their furry friend might not have a happy ending.

It can be quite upsetting lifting your puppy with the best intentions, only for them to grumble and growl as though protesting your decision… sometimes even biting you.

The big question is, why do puppies sometimes growl and bite when picked up?

puppy being picked up
Sometimes puppies will growl if you pick them up while sleeping.

There are multiple reasons why puppies resort to growling and biting when carried. Let’s take a closer look at what your puppy could be trying to communicate:

1. They are in pain

If your puppy has a visible injury or experiencing discomfort anywhere, lifting them probably brings the deep-seated pain back to life.

This might be the case if your puppy wasn’t the growling type before but suddenly starts to growl or bite each time you carry them.

So, when they make these noises, they’re trying to tell you that they feel pain when you lift them. This will be more pronounced if you pick them up while they are sleeping as they will not have time to prepare themselves for the pain coming.

2. You’re picking them up the wrong way

When it comes to carrying puppies (as well as adult dogs), comfort is everything.

If you normally lift your puppy as carefree as you do when picking up the trash bag, expect them to growl every time you pick them up. And by carefree, I mean the following:

  • Quickly lifting them with one of their front legs.
  • Holding their collar or tail to lift them.
  • Grabbing them by their underarms while bending at your waist.
  • Pressing their belly when lifting them.

And worse, doing any of the above without even giving your furry friend a heads up.

Imagine yourself as a kid. Someone randomly walks up to you, grabs your arm, and scoops you off the ground without notice. You’d probably make a fuss, right?

This is one of the main reasons why your puppy growls when picked up sleeping.

If you’re guilty of not handling your puppy correctly when lifting them, the growling and biting might be their way of letting you know you should do better.

3. Something unpleasant happened in the past

Our furry friends have what we call associative memory where they remember what certain experiences made them feel.

Maybe your recently adopted puppy was once dropped to the ground while being carried recklessly. Or the last time you forcefully picked them up, you squeezed them too tight. It might be that they had a bad owner previously (yes, puppies can sense evil).

These bad experiences will make them associate being picked up with negative things.

Growling is a way that puppies express their fear of a particular situation. Your puppy’s negative experience with being carried will make them growl out of fear. They can also bite you, but it’s not something you should let them do… (more on how to stop it lower down the page).

puppy on kids lap
Some puppies don’t mind being picked up at all.

You will also realize these growls come with stress-like signs such as:

  • Lip licking.
  • Ears laid back.
  • Trembling and shaking.

When the growling starts, and you notice such signs, take it that your puppy simply has trust issues that make them fear scared of being carried around.

They aren’t confident that you or anyone else won’t hurt them in the process.

4. They feel frustrated

If some puppies could talk, they’d probably say they don’t mind being picked up, but only at the right time. Not when they’re busy playing with their favorite toy or enjoying their nap and sleeping.

So, when you interrupt your puppy’s fun moments to carry them, they might growl. You’ll probably see them struggling to free themselves from your arms.

When the struggle begins, it’s better to put them down immediately to avoid a bite from your frustrated puppy.

5. They are super excited

A puppy’s growl when pickup up while sleeping doesn’t always mean bad news.

Sometimes, they may growl when overexcited, for example when you’re home after being away for several hours – they might growl and possibly whine too.

When you pick them up to say hi in a special way, they will wag their tail fast and let out a low, happy-sounding growl as you pet them while carrying them.

6. Blame it on confusion

If your recently adopted puppy never got a chance to be carried by their previous owner, you lifting them up will make them confused.

It all feels new to them. Like, “why are my legs suddenly off the ground?”

They’ll likely growl because their posture feels awkward, and they want you to put them down.

But with time (especially if you’re picking them up correctly), your puppy will be open to being carried without causing chaos.

How do you get a puppy to stop growling when you pick them up?

There are some things you can do to stop your puppy from growling when picked up. As you can understand though, knowing why they are growling will be half the battle.

But puppies can stop growling when carried. This all depends on how you handle the situation.

But remember, never yell at your furry friend for growling while picking them. This will only make them aggressive. With that in mind, here are a few tips to help you manage the growling.

1. See the vet to check for pain

Schedule a vet checkup if the growling wasn’t there before. That’s the only sure way to know whether your puppy growls out of pain and help them get treated.

2. Give notice that they are about to be picked up

Make sure to use a verbal cue so your puppy knows you’re about to carry them.

The cue should be a word you don’t use on your furry friend as often. For instance, if you settle for a cue like “up,” you should only use this command when about to carry your puppy.

A verbal cue will help them relax, knowing what you’re about to do: lift them.

3. Learn how to carry them correctly.

If you often pick them up like trash, they will always growl. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here’s the right approach to use when picking up your puppy:

  • Kneel or squat, so you’re almost at the same level as your puppy.
  • Wrap your hand under their chest (not belly) to support their upper body.
  • Place the other hand on their backside to support the hind legs.
  • Once you have a firm yet comfortable grip (don’t hold them too tightly), slowly get up while holding them close to your chest. This will make them feel secure.

4. Establish positive associations

If your puppy fears being carried around, offer them a healthy treat before the growling starts and praise them for agreeing to remain calm.

This will help them get used to the idea that a reward will await them if they stay calm. Over time, they will associate getting picked up with positive experiences.

5. Distraction can work

Distract them with their favorite toy. You should also do this before the growls, so your furry friend doesn’t assume the toy is the reward they get for growling.

If you’ve tried your best to curb your puppy’s growling without luck (and more importantly, if there are signs of aggression like biting each time you pick them up), seek professional help.

Whilst it can be easy to regret buying a puppy if they continually growl when picked up while sleeping, it is possible to remedy.

FAQs on growling

Should I be worried if my puppy growls at me?

The short answer is, not always.

Sometimes, their growling might be due to excitement. But if they growl for other reasons besides excitement, you should take action to curb the biting and growling.

What are signs of aggression in puppies?

Aside from your puppy growling when picked up, there are other signs of aggression to keep an eye on. The reasons for aggression in puppies is varied, but can include guarding either an object, themselves, or a person, food guarding, or possibly they are in pain or have fear.

Signs of agression in puppies include:

  • They will stiffen up when held.
  • Barking and snarling with a guttural tone.
  • Lunging at a person, despite not actually touching them.
  • Showing their teeth during growling
  • Narrowing of the eyes.
  • Muzzle punching where the puppy hits a person with their snout.


You’ve seen it happen almost every time — your puppy growling as soon as you lift them. What is it with puppies and their “growl-when-picked” habit? What are they trying to tell you?

So, why do puppies growl when picked up? Growling is simply their way of vocalizing what they think and feel about being carried around.

They could be growing because they are frustrated, confused, in pain, you’re holding them the wrong way, or they have had unpleasant experiences in the past.

To stop the growling, make sure to see the vet first so they can check for any pain issues. Once that’s been checked, learn to hold them the right way, use treats and praises before the growls start, or distract them with their favorite toy.

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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