Starting from puppyhood, barking communicates excitement, fear, confusion, or even protective behavior. Your dog might bark at you, at your child, or both of you.
Whether your dog loves and is protective of your child or is nervous, picking up your child might trigger them to bark.
So why does my dog bark when I pick up my child?
Picking up your child might be exciting, startling, or confusing to your dog. In some cases, dogs might be protective of the child, and picking them up can trigger resource guarding. Finally, not all dogs like children and are more likely to bark at them.
It is reasonable to not want your dog to bark at you, but especially reasonable to not want your dog to bark when you pick up your child. Dogs barking at children can instill a childhood fear whereas we want our children to love and be confident around their canine family members.
You also want your dog to be gentle with your child and not bark at or be scared of them. Let’s look at the reasons your dog might bark at you when you pick up your child as well as what you can do to change this unwanted behavior.
Why Does My Dog Bark When I Pick Up My Child?
So is your dog barking at you when you pick up the child, at the child, or at the action of picking up the child? Your dog’s body language will help you determine what is setting off the barking.
Wagging tails, maybe jumping, and bright alert eyes mean picking up your child is exciting! Cowering and hiding means they are scared, meanwhile growling and raised hackles could mean resource guarding or aggression towards the child.
Being able to read your dog’s body language is crucial to helping you understand their emotions and keep yourself, your children, and your dog safe in addition to your family (both human and canine) staying harmonious.
Reason 1. Your Dog Is Excited
What does picking up your child usually mean in your house? If your dog is used to observing you picking up your child and placing them in a stroller, it could mean a family walk, which is exciting.
They also might love playing with your child, and show their exuberance by barking. Certain breeds, like the Great Pyrenees, bark a lot by nature and seem to exceptionally love children. If they are attached to your child there is a good chance they will bark with all the excitement that comes with picking up your child.
It is in many dog’s nature to bark when they are excited or want to play. Dogs that love their human sibling might show their affection and excitement by barking.
This excitable behavior of barking when you pick up or hug your child could be indicative of over-stimulation. Overstimulated dogs have a hard time finding their “off-switch.” For some dogs, an off-switch has to be trained like in this video.
Reason 2. You Startled Your Dog
Something about picking up your child might startle your dog and cause them to bark at you and bark when you pick up your child.
Many dogs are sensitive to sudden movements or crying babies, and picking up your child can scare them, triggering them to bark. Certain dogs, especially dogs with generalized anxiety, are prone to barking as a way to show they are scared or stressed. Other symptoms of anxiety include pacing, panting, hiding, or trembling.
Some breeds are more prone to anxiety and they might easily be startled by children. Just because they bark when you pick up your child does not mean you have done a poor job training them. Newly rescued dogs might lack socialization around children, some dogs have had a traumatic experience with children, or they are uncomfortable around kids’ unpredictable behavior.
Kids run rampant, scream, flail their bodies, and can tease dogs if they are not taught boundaries. All of this can startle your dog, including when you suddenly pick up your child.
Reason 3. Your Dog Is Resource Guarding
According to Positively.com, “Resource guarding is when a dog controls access to food, objects, people and locations that are important to him through defensive body language or overt aggressive display.”
Because dogs are social animals, they often include human children as a part of their pack. They can sense how important children are to their owners and can be instinctively gentle and protective of babies.
While as a parent you might like your dog being protective of your child against strangers, it can be alarming when that nurturing protective instinct turns into resource guarding. This might include an escalation of barking or even growling when you pick up your child.
Dogs might not just resource guard your child when you pick them up. Hugging could also set off resource guarding. If your dog barks when you pick up or hug your child and you suspect they are resource-guarding, this Zak Geroge video is a great place to start understanding the behavior and how to change it.
Reason 4. Your Dog Does Not Like Children
While your dog might have been gentle with your child when they were a baby, as they get older they can become less tolerant. Humans as babies might be loud, but they are pretty immobile and do not present a threat. However, as they start to walk and grab things, your dog might have less patience. This might be why they bark at them when you pick up your child.
As they get older, bigger, and start moving around, your child might start pushing boundaries with your dog. Generally, dogs do not like to be sat on or have their ears and tails pulled. Your dog probably shows signs that they are getting agitated.
Stressed and nervous body language your dog might display if they do not like children include, whale eye, turning their head, licking their lips and drooling, panting, yawning, and you may observe that they tense their jaw, they might also try to escape.
If you ignore signs that your dog does not like your child, it could result in them barking at your child when you pick them up as a way to release pent-up frustration and stress.
Keep an eye on your dog’s body language towards your child. Ignoring their body language could culminate in your dog hurting your child. Never force your dog to interact with the baby if they are scared or do not like children.
Reason 5. Your Dog Is Confused
My dogs and I love to go for hikes on the many public trails in the area where we live. One thing that always seems to confuse them is strangers with their children strapped in baby carrier backpacks, kind of like the one in the video below.
Dogs are genuinely baffled by the appearance of a second head on what should be a regular human, so when you pick up your child the confusion can make them bark.
It is the same reason a dog who does not normally bark at people might bark at someone who is in a wheelchair or riding a bike. Something is strange about the person’s appearance so the dog feels the need to bark at them.
How Do I Change The Behavior?
First off, it is normal for dogs to be nervous around small children and babies. Children are loud, lack boundaries, and smell weird.
Depending on your dog’s personality, it can also be exciting, stressful, and overstimulating. Not everyone has had the opportunity to socialize their dogs around children, so those dogs tend to be wary around babies and when you pick up your child they might be startled or excited.
Barking when you pick up or hug your child might be how your dog expresses their pent-up stress or excitement.
So what can you do to change your dog’s behavior?
Socialize Your Dog And Your Child
Socialize your dog with children where they are rewarded for remaining calm while kids are running around, yelling, and being picked up. This will condition them to stay calm and not get stressed or overly excited.
Respect your dog if they are nervous about being pet and do not force them to interact when they are stressed. Never push a dog past their threshold, especially with children. This will reinforce the idea that they can relax around children and do not have to fear them or worry about being bothered.
Finally, teach your child how to treat your dog. Manage your dog and child and supervise or keep them separate until the child is mature enough to not be rude or tease the dog.
Redirect Your Dog
Redirection refers to teaching your dog an alternative behavior to an unwanted behavior. In this case, the unwanted behavior is barking when you pick up or hug your child.
Since you can predict the behavior (you know your dog will bark every time you pick up your child) have them do the preferred behavior beforehand.
Rather than redirecting to an exciting toy, choose to redirect your dog to a calming behavior such as going to their crate or going to their bed. Kikopup has a great video to help train “go to your bed.”
Reward Your Dog
As your dog calms down and is less worried about you picking up your child, make sure you reward them for not barking. Praise them or give them treats. If they are comfortable and gentle around your child, invite your kid to give treats as well. This will help condition them to be calm around the kids and not to bark when you pick them up.
Long-lasting toys like frozen peanut butter or yogurt inside a toy or deer bones will help condition and reward calming behaviors as well. Just make sure your child knows not to take the dog’s things!
Should I Be Worried?
Hopefully, you can shape your dog’s barking response into a more acceptable behavior. However, if barking at your child escalates into a more aggressive behavior like lunging, growling, nipping, or biting, please talk to your veterinarian and enlist the help of a certified behaviorist.
The last thing you want is your dog to bite your child. Dog bites can easily become infected. Furthermore, it can have severe consequences on your dog’s life and your child’s confidence with future dogs. Always play it safe and if you are unsure of how your dog will react when you pick up your child, keep them separated. Crates and baby gates are useful tools to help manage your household until your child and dog have a better relationship.
The family is a unit and it is important to be an advocate for everyone, including yourself, your child, and your dog.
When your dog barks at you when you pick up your child, firstly, identify why. Are they excited, startled, confused, nervous, or being protective (or resource guarding)? Your dog’s body language will help you figure out the answer to why they bark when you pick up your child.
Generally, dogs enjoy training and like being shown a different behavior such as a calming behavior over barking. But you also have to raise your child to respect your dog’s boundaries. If you let them pull your dog’s ears or tail, your dog will learn that having a child is not a blessing but a scary thing. This is what causes dogs to be scared of children.
That is why you need to socialize your whole family, both human and canine. Then you can pick up, hug, and swing your child around and your dog will learn not to bark.