Experiences of a Tiny Puppy

Picked up more often than larger puppies are
By Karen B. London PhD, December 2017

Puppies are so cute that they are at risk of being picked up, as well as hugged, cuddled and cooed at, and most puppies dislike being picked up. They may find it scary or uncomfortable, and it can cause them pain, even if we don’t realize it. Puppies who are especially little can spend their early months being constantly scooped up and held to the chest or face of each dog lover who encounters them.

I watched this happen to an itty bitty puppy in a little coffee store in Costa Rica. Group after group of tourists entered the shop following their tour of a coffee plantation and processing plant. I could see how overwhelmed the puppy was each time someone swooped down for her, squeezed her against their chest and exclaimed in high-pitched tones some version of, “Oh my! She’s so tiny and adorable!” in various languages.

This little puppy was so miniscule—far less than a pound—that our nature guide joked, “It’s some kind of mouse!” (Please take no offense to this or think ill of our guide. His joke is typical of the Costa Rican sense of humor but may not translate well to English-speaking dog enthusiasts.)

The frequency with which this puppy was picked up and forcibly cuddled was extreme. Tiny puppies deal with this constantly and far more often than average or large puppies do. That means that exceptionally tiny puppies have different life experiences than other members of the species. The result could be a number of developmental effects.

Puppies can become scared of people. If many of their interactions with people involve being picked up, they may learn to predict that the appearance or approach of a person will result in this negative experience. If being picked up is scary, and people usually do it, they can develop a fear of people, even if nobody meant to do anything but love the puppy.

Puppies who are picked up a lot can come to hate being touched. If too many of their interactions with people involve physical contact that they don’t enjoy, they may try to avoid it. As a result, they may react with aggression or attempt to run away or hide when people come near them or reach for them.

Less commonly, puppies may like being picked up and seek it out. These puppies may solicit being picked up and hesitate to explore on their own or to walk over new substrates.

Being picked up too much can cause these problems in dogs of any size, but it is more likely to be the little puppies who face a relentless series of pick-ups on a daily basis. Dogs are dogs whether they are large, small or something in between, but the experiences of dogs, including puppies, are strongly influenced by their size.

I must confess that I find it hard to resist picking up especially tiny puppies even though I know better. Are you ever similarly tempted?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.