You may have seen a mama dog or a wild animal pick up their babies by the scruff of their necks. How cute!
Your dog’s mom certainly used to carry her around by the scruff at one point. So, is it okay for you to continue the tradition?
The truth is, although your dog may still have loose, floppy skin at the back of her neck, it’s painful for her when it is grabbed.
When your dog was a tiny puppy, her body weight was very tiny, and her ratio of skin-to-body was at its highest. She was not heavy enough for scruffing to feel very painful to her.
Now, she weighs more, and her ratio of skin:body mass is now much lower.
Even at 8 weeks old, when you bring your puppy home, she will already be too large to be carried by the scruff of her neck.
So, if you’re looking for a quick answer:
Is it safe to pick up a dog by the scruff of her neck? No.
Your Dog’s Skin Isn’t As Thick As You May Think
But isn’t a dog’s neck skin thicker than ours? Can’t it handle a bit of roughness?
As it turns out, this isn’t true.
The epidermis, or the outermost layer of your dog’s skin, is 3-5 cells thick but for humans, it is at least 10-15 cells thick.
Skin thickness varies across the body, breeds, and individuals, though overall, a dog’s skin is thinner and more sensitive than ours, which is also why something as harmless as human shampoo can damage it.
If Scruffing Hurts, Does It Make For Good Discipline?
We’ve established that grabbing your dog by the scruff, especially carrying her so her scruff supports her body weight, is unpleasant and painful.
So… does that mean it’s a good way to punish her?
Certain dog training books and dog trainers recommend doing the “scruff shake” to punish your dog.
The instructions typically state to shake your dog until they stop struggling, and to then stare your dog in the eyes until they look away, then roughly release them.
Sounds like it’s based on modern science, right?
If that sounds weird, barbaric, and cruel, congratulations, you’re a civilized human being.
Those who still do this justify it by claiming that your dog’s mother will have punished her in the same way… which is not only untrue, but totally nonsensical.
As humans, we’ve found so many wonderful ways to communicate with our dogs because we have this awesome ape brain.
What Happens When You Pick Up A Dog By The Scruff Of Her Neck
If you’ve already picked up your dog this way, not knowing any better, but she doesn’t seem injured, she may, at worst, experience bruising at the site.
It’s unclear to me whether or not scruffing a dog can affect the placement of their microchip, but they have been known to “migrate” years after they’re been placed, so I would generally avoid agitating the area.
As an aside, you can ask your vet to scan your dog’s microchip at visits to ensure it’s still in place with up-to-date information.
With a tiny dog, it’s possible for a struggle to end with a broken leg or a pulled muscle. That’s why you need to be especially careful when handling them.
Physical injuries aside, scruffing a dog can make her distrustful. You may find it difficult to get her to come to you. She may hesitate before allowing you to pick her up.
Luckily, dogs are resilient. If you’re more careful in the future when picking her up, your dog will warm up to you again.
Always remember to support her body weight. Don’t pick her up by the scruff, under the arms, or in any other awkward way.
Remember the golden rule: one hand under the booty at all times!