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Does It Hurt Dogs When You Pull Their Skin?

Dog owners are faced with a variety of challenges as their canine companions grow and develop. Aging dogs might be experiencing health problems, while puppies will be adjusting to being away from their mother. 

The way owners approach interactions with their dogs is dependent on the canine’s needs, and these needs must even be considered when determining the best way to pick up one’s dog.

Picking up dogs by their necks or scruffing involves pulling a dog’s skin, and it will usually not hurt them if it is done when they have just been born. Mother dogs often hold their puppies by the scruff to move them. However, owners should understand the correct techniques for scruffing their dogs and not hurt their pets.

This article will discuss the ins and outs of scruffing, along with the ways scruffing should and shouldn’t be used. In addition, we will explore the best ways to hold and lift dogs.

How Dogs Feel Pain

There are several situations where a dog’s skin can be pulled, with scruffing being the most common. Owners might need to grab their dogs in an emergency quickly. Children could roughly pull on different parts of a dog while playing, and pain might be caused by a physical altercation with another animal.

Many people believe that different dog breeds have different levels of pain tolerance, and characteristics such as size and reputation are commonly used to determine how a dog feels pain (source).

However, there are no definitive qualities of a dog that will determine pain tolerance. Just because a dog is a large breed or reputed to be aggressive does not mean the dog can handle pain any better than a smaller dog.

A dog’s health can drastically deteriorate if pain is experienced over a long period of time. Pain puts stress on the body and damages the internal body systems. It can also cause fatigue, loss of appetite, and other harmful effects on the dog’s body (source). 


Scruffing is the name given to the practice of picking up an animal by the skin around its neck. This practice is most commonly seen with mothers and their puppies.

Dog, Puppy, Shih Poo, Young Animal, Cute
Image by congerdesign via Pixabay

What Is it?

The skin around a dog’s neck is looser than the skin elsewhere on the dog’s body. When dogs are puppies, the neck skin, or scruff, is much looser and their bodies much lighter than they will be later on in life.

Dog moms grab or carry puppies by their scruff because they lack hands, and it is an entirely natural interaction for dogs. Humans may also pick up puppies by their scruff but need to pay attention to the dogs’ physical and emotional wellbeing.

When Is It Used?

Scruffing should only be used when a dog is very young, and the skin around their necks is loose and elastic. Dog moms will use scruffing to move puppies around or pick them up if they are misbehaving. 

When their mothers pick up puppies in this way, they exhibit clear signs that the process has been developed through evolution and does not cause the puppies any pain. Their young age and small bodies make it easier to go limp, and they can be carried without causing harm.

Owners might try to use scruffing for various reasons, including teaching a puppy how to stop mouthing and playing too rough. If a puppy has not learned how to control biting, they might not be aware of how sensitive skin can be.

Suppose an owner has a negative physical reaction to the puppy’s misbehavior. In that case, the puppy might become afraid of the owner or learn to bite more. Scruff shaking might seem like an effective way to control biting but could instead backfire and lead to aggression problems down the road (source). 

Do’s and Don’ts of Scruffing

For some people, there are a few acceptable ways to pick up a dog by its scruff. Others believe there is no time or manner in which it is okay to use scruffing. Nonetheless, scruffing does have an effect on dogs.

Arguably Appropriate Ways to Use Scruffing

When mother dogs wish to move their puppies around, they might pick them up by their scruff. Since dogs do not have hands, the mothers must use their mouths to pick up and transport their young. 

As puppies grow larger, the skin around their necks becomes tighter. At this point, it is not a good idea to pick up the puppy by their scruff as it is uncomfortable, unsafe, and even painful. 

Some trainers choose to incorporate scruffing into their training process. Owners are taught to scruff their dog when they misbehave, imitating a mother dog, to achieve the desired results. 

Scruffing should not be used as an initial training method. Even without being too rough, scruffing can cause physical pain and should not be used for a prolonged period of time. When paired with a command, the action can be eliminated once the dog responds to the verbal cue (source).   

How NOT to Use Scruffing

black and tan short coat puppy
Image by R.D. Smith via Unsplash

Scruffing should only ever be used when puppies are very young and absolutely not as adults. It may seriously harm the dog in more ways than one. Even more seriously, scruffing should never be used as a form of punishment. 

Although some dogs don’t appear to be in pain, they may very well be suffering. They might remain stoic, but, even so, physical force should be avoided except for severe behavior issues.

There are many other ways to pick up a dog. For small dogs, picking up with one arm is acceptable. Similar to holding a football, the owner puts an arm under the dog and holds the animal close to the chest. 

For larger dogs, two arms are necessary. Humans should hold the rear end of a dog with one arm and the front end with the other while keeping the dog close to the chest. The dog’s legs should be tucked inside the owner’s arms to keep the dog comfortable. 

Effects of Scruffing

Scruffing can cause a dog both physical and psychological pain. Bruising can occur at the spot where the dog was grabbed, breathing might be restricted, and more types of physical pain could be caused if the dog tries to escape. 

Scruffing can also lead to dogs distrusting their owner and may even play a part in the development of physical aggression. Dogs might not feel comfortable coming to or being held by humans. Owners might see an increase in barking or lashing out at people and animals. 

For more information on how physical force affects dogs, be sure to read “Do Dogs Remember When You Hit Them?

Final Thoughts

Dogs can be picked up in many ways, either by their parents or owners. The size and age of a dog help determine how to best pick up the animal, along with the individual needs of the dog.  

Improperly picking up a dog can cause many negative side effects. The scruffing method should be used in very few situations to avoid causing the dog any pain.


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