Small dog being carried.

Would you be surprised if I said the majority of pet owners don’t know the best way to carry a small dog? It’s true. The most common way people lift and hold a little dog could cause the pup to have back problems later in life.

Our instinct is to scoop them up with one arm and straddle their body over it. The technique leaves their back end and legs dangling. It also places undue stress on the dog’s spine because their entire bodyweight is being unevenly distributed over a person’s arm.

Because many small breed dogs are prone to spine problems, like Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD), it’s important to learn the technique that’s best for their health.

Learning from a top authority

Small puppy held by one hand

Holding a small dog with one arm allows their limbs to dangle and puts excess pressure on the spine. 

Until I adopted my Beagle, Olivia, all of my dogs have been large German shepherds and shepherd mixes. I never gave any thought to the different ways people lift a little dog.

Then I read an article by holistic veterinarian, Peter Dobias, DVM. He put together a pattern that he saw in his patients.

Dogs that suffer from back problems are usually carried around their underarms with their hind end hanging down over the arm.

Learning this information made me realize I needed to demonstrate the best way to carry a small dog to our readers.

Click here to read Dr. Dobias’ story

The right way lift and carry a dog

Woman safely carrying small dog


Whether your pup is healthy and able-bodied or paralyzed, small breed dogs should always be lifted up with two hands. Never jerk or pull a dog toward you, lift them by their front legs or pick them up by the scruff on their neck.

The goal is to lift the dog and then create a platform with your arms where they can sit in a natural position.

Keep these 3 rules in mind:

  1. Hold the dog as close to your body as possible.
  2. Keep the spine straight as you lift.
  3. Support the front and back end at the same time.

Here are the steps:

  • Start by bending down to the dog’s level. Slip one arm around the front of the dog so the head can rest in crook of your arm.
  • Slide your other arm under the dog’s stomach, just in front of the hind legs. If this isn’t comfortable for the dog, slide your arm around the outside the hindquarters and lift by supporting the rump and back legs.
  • Stand up gently and slowly. Hold the dog close against your chest.
  • Make a shelf out of your arms where the pup can sit or lie down.

Caveat: Don’t hold your dog upright for a long period of time. It stacks the spine and adds pressure.

Setting your dog down

Always place the dog down with his paws facing the floor, not on his back or side. If your pet isn’t able to stand, lie him down while he’s still in your arms and then gently slide your arms out from under the body.

Here’s a video about the correct steps to carry a small breed dog.

Help for an injured or large breed dog

Injured dog in DIY sling


If your dog is hurt or too heavy to hold, an ordinary bath towel can be used as an emergency sling. The technique’s called towel walking or sling walking. It allows you to safely lift and move your dog without putting excess pressure on the spine, organs and joints.

All you need is a large bath or beach towel that’s strong enough to support the weight of your dog. Pass the towel under your pet’s belly and use the ends as handles for you to grab.