It's All In The Legs: Carry Your Dog Upstairs Safely

It's All In The Legs: Carry Your Dog Upstairs Safely

Key Points

  • Lifting your dog from under their front legs is the incorrect way to pick them up.

  • Some dog breeds are prone to hip and joint issues so carrying them must be carefully done.

  • A harness helps you carry a large dog upstairs.

  • In an emergency, use a towel or blanket to carry a large dog upstairs.

Carrying a large, heavy dog upstairs is tough. Be safe about it by learning various carrying methods to make it easier to get your dog up and downstairs. Find out the right and wrong way to carry a large dog upstairs.

Keep your dog and all their essentials on the same level if possible. If you must use steps, there are a few methods to use to carry a large dog upstairs. You may try to prepare if you have a dog prone to health issues, but the unexpected arises. There are also things to do in case of an emergency to help your dog upstairs.

Take care of your dog and learn to carry them safely.

Carrying Your Dog Incorrectly

Picking up a dog incorrectly is dangerous and damaging -- for you and for your pup. Just because a dog doesn't whine or bark, it doesn't mean they aren't in pain when you pick them up.

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang writes in a 2016 article on Vet Street that many children lift a dog by their front legs and adults tend to lift them from under the dog's armpits. Both techniques, she says, are wrong. It puts unnatural force on their elbows, shoulders, and spine.

It may also strain the muscles, tear ligaments, or even dislocate a shoulder or elbow. Damage to the bones and cartilage may occur if the dog falls. Learn to carry a large dog upstairs correctly so you don't hurt them.

Proper form of man lifting a box

Common Medical Issues

Many large breed dogs are prone to certain problems as they enter their senior years. Osteoarthritis and hip dysplasia are two common ailments for older dogs. The cause of Invertrbral Disc Disease (IVDD) is damage to the vertebra and it's common in certain breeds like dachshunds, beagles, German shepherds, Dobermans, and Labrador retrievers, among others.

Hip dysplasia is the abnormal growth of a dog's hip joint. It occurs most often in large breeds like golden retrievers, Labrador retrievers, Saint Bernards, and Great Danes, but it also happens with smaller breeds.

Cartilage is the cushioning between joints. In osteoarthritis, a dog's cartilage begins to deteriorate and wear away. With nothing to absorb shocks, their bones and joints come in direct contact, which is very painful. Even regular walking becomes an excruciating exercise.

When your dog has this kind of pain, they're unsteady on their feet. Going upstairs is especially dangerous as their legs may buckle due to the pain. Your dog may not even attempt to climb a set of stairs without support for fear of falling.

If your dog is recovering from IVDD surgery or other procedures, climbing stairs on their own isn't a good idea. The extra effort it takes is painful and a fall may worsen the injury.

When possible, try to relieve your dog's back pain before you move or attempt to carry them. It makes the process go much more smoothly.

When you have a large or giant breed dog, prepare yourself for some of the issues these breeds tend to have. It's always best to be ready to deal with them rather than scramble around in an emergency.

Lifting a puppy by the waist

How To Carry Your Large Dog Upstairs?

If your dog has trouble navigating steps and you have the option, keep them on the ground level. Make sure everything they need is on the same level as well, including their bed, food, and water. Put up a gate in front of the stairs so they aren't able to use the stairs by themselves while you're away.

Especially for a bigger dog, PetMD recommends avoiding the stairs if at all possible. Block off the stairs when you're home as well and keep them from following you.

You may live in a split-level home or another place where using the stairs is necessary. There are ways to help your dog up and down stairs that lessen the chances that they have an accident or hurt themselves.

Coodeo Dog Lift Harness

Whether your dog needs a little extra support or you must carry their entire weight yourself, the Coodeo Dog Lift Harness on Amazon helps. Some harnesses or slings support just the front legs or the back, but this one supports your dog's whole body.

If your dog needs just a bit of help getting up the stairs or into your car, there's a short handle on top of the harness about the middle of the dog's back. This helps to ensure your dog doesn't fall if they lose their balance or their legs give out.

There's also a long shoulder strap to support the entire weight of the dog more easily. If your dog is too heavy to lift with one hand, the shoulder strap comes in handy. You carry your dog at your side like a suitcase.

If your dog has pain in the legs, this function is especially helpful. With support under their body, their legs don't have the pressure put on by their weight.

Even after your dog is completely recovered from injuries or surgery, use this product like a regular dog harness. There's a ring on the back to connect a leash.

Dog sits in backpack and is carried by owner

Lift and Carry

It's best to avoid carrying your dog if possible. If your dog climbs the steps, watch them as you follow them up to make sure they don't fall. If going up the stairs is impossible for your dog and you must carry them, do it safely.

Put one hand under the dog's chest and the other hand behind/under the dog's back legs. Hold the dog close to your body as you stand.

One of the key points that she repeats is to hold your dog close to your body. This provides more stability so you don't drop them. Another point is to bend at the knees which saves from straining your back.


If your dog has a cast or injury to their foot or leg, you may be able to safely carry them in a backpack. Many backpacks allow your dog's front legs to extend out across your shoulders while they're strapped to your back. Check with your vet to make sure this position doesn't hurt your dog.

Be sure to lean forward when you have a dog on your back. With that distribution of weight making you top-heavy, you may easily fall back if you're not careful.

Some trainers teach how to carry a dog on your shoulders, but this isn't advisable for a dog with injuries. The methods usually involve a dog hopping up onto their owner's shoulders which may not be possible with back or joint issues.

Man carries dog over shoulder

Carry a Dog With Back Pain

It's not recommended that you carry a dog with back pain or injury. Call your vet first to find out what they recommend for treatment and if it's necessary to bring them in. Some vets make house calls, and that's the ideal solution for this situation.

Renee Fong, a writer for Service Dog Training School International, explains how to pick up a dog with back pain. Fong says, "You can properly pick up a dog with back problems by placing one of your arms between the dog’s front legs and the other one between the dog’s hind legs. It is imperative to make sure you are supporting the dog’s weight evenly across the entire length of its body."

Fong also suggests that you might need a muzzle on your dog if they're in pain. With your face so close to the dog and your hands occupied, it's a bit risky. Even the friendliest dog may nip at you when they're in pain. This is an instinctual reaction, so don't take it personally.


If your dog injures their neck or back, call your vet immediately. Let them advise you on if or how to move and transport your dog.

If your dog suffers an injury and you need to carry them, make an emergency sling. Get a small blanket or large towel and draw it underneath your dog. You may need to grab hold of the scruff of the back of their neck and lift them to do so. Lift the ends of the towel on each side of your dog and tie them together in knots. Make sure the knots are secure before using the stairs. You don't want to drop your cargo halfway up/down.

Use the loop you made by tying the ends as a handle. Put your arm through the loop to make it easier to carry. It's best to employ the help of another person if available, especially with a very heavy dog.

If your dog has an injury to their back, you want to move them as little as possible. A tweak in the wrong direction may result in a more severe injury and even paralysis. If you have help, put the dog onto a makeshift stretcher -- a board or other sturdy, plank-like object -- and carry them with one person holding each end.

Woman cradles her dog in her arms

Make It Easier

If your dog has only a few steps to navigate -- steps leading to your front porch, for example -- try installing a ramp. For a dog in pain, an incline is easier than climbing steps.

If you have hardwood flooring, your dog may be unsure when walking across the floor, let alone the stairs. Installing stair runners gives traction and a sense of stability.

If your dog must walk up concrete steps to get into the house, put out a pet-friendly de-icer in the winter. A dog with arthritis or other issues may already be shaky, and a slippery surface combined with trembling legs results in disaster.

If your dog walks on their own, use a portable ramp or steps to get them into your vehicle. This is much safer than trying to lift them yourself. Fit them with a harness to give them support as they go up the ramp just to keep them steady.

Dealing With Anxiety

When your dog is in pain, attempting to move them may cause them stress. You don't want your dog to get scared during the process and possibly try to get away or nip at you.

Give your dog a calming treat about 15 minutes before you need to move them. These treats have calming ingredients like chamomile, L-tryptophan, and L-theanine. They put your dog in a more relaxed state and make it easier to move them.

If your dog has pain in their back, legs, or other joints, get a calming dog bed. The Calming Cuddle Bed Plus is great for anxiety and it also contains memory foam. This helps support your dog's bones and joints without putting unnecessary pressure on them, causing pain.

Their body sinks into the middle while the bolstered sides support their head and neck. If your dog has trouble sleeping due to pain, this bed makes them more comfortable.

Man carries dog in arms up the stairs

Steps To Make Your Dog Feel Better

Overall, avoid carrying your dog up and down stairs if at all possible. It's potentially dangerous and may cause your dog unnecessary anxiety. They're already in pain so they don't need the added stress.

Harnesses and manufactured or homemade slings are options to help carry your dog upstairs safely, but there are always risks. Consult with your vet to see if these methods work well for your dog's particular issues. They may even prescribe medication to ease the pain and help their mobility.

Do whatever is safest for your dog and for yourself. Just don't overdo it. It's never a bad idea to ask for help. If you try to lift your dog and end up straining your back, there may be two members of the household who need help up the stairs.

Don't let your dog carry the burden of pain alone. Carry them safely and take the weight of anxiety from their shoulders.

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