Tips for Handling Small Dogs

Small dogs present their own list of problems when it comes to restraining them safely. Technician Assistant at DoveLewis, Leilani Baker, draws from her experience restraining these small dogs and shares her tips of handling them safely.

Views: 38903 - Comments: 21

You are here

Nothing strikes fear in the hearts of the veterinary staff as when facing a snarling Chihuahua in the lobby. I know many of us would rather work with a large guard breed than a tiny ferocious one. However, these small dogs are very popular, so many of them come into our hospital daily. Here are tips on how to make the visit safe for vets, techs and assistants, as well as the tiny canine patients themselves.

If immediate treatment isn’t necessary, take the time to get to know the patient if it’s not aggressive. Crouch at its level, face your body sideways, don’t stare directly and speak in a friendly and calm tone. Let the dog approach you instead of going to it. When it’s time to take it for treatment, have its owner walk with you to get the dog restraint with towel

Aggressive dogs can be covered with a thick towel or blanket and then picked up gently but securely since they can be quite wiggly. Place them on a firm surface, expose their head if they are snapping, and have another person put an Elizabethan collar on while you stop the head from swinging. 

The collar must extend long enough past the dog’s muzzle to avoid the applier’s fingers from being bitten. Elizabethan collars are sometimes better than muzzles because they allow the dog to breathe comfortably, are harder for a dog to pull off and still allow us to visualize the mucous membranes. They are also easier to place on a dog that is muzzle savvy. Another option is using a vinyl cat muzzle that covers the whole head. These muzzles do a great job of providing an open airway while covering the patient’s eyes. This often calms them since they can’t see our hands coming at them.Dog with cat muzzle on

Many little dogs can be fine at the start of the exam but will bite if they become uncomfortable with a certain procedure or experience minor discomfort. There is nothing wrong with using a muzzle from the start with these dogs. Oftentimes the muzzle will keep the dog a little calmer and help ensure handler safety. 

Sometimes holding a small dog gently but firmly will suffice. Do not scruff small dogs since they are not calmed by this technique and often become more agitated. Simply restraining them in your arms allows many procedures to be done by the technician or veterinarian. When doing so, keep their muzzles away from human faces to avoid being bitten. Also ensure that their airway remains clear since many small dogs have collapsing tracheas and some of them are brachycephalic. 

Brachycephalic dogs need special consideration because for them, breathing during regular activity often requires effort. When they are stressed, such as during a vet visit, breathing becomes even more difficult--they can actually become cyanotic and collapse. Muzzles are often impossible to use on these breeds, because some of them (like a pug) often have no “muzzle” to place anything on. For these dogs you can roll a towel lengthwise and place it around their neck. Just the extra material on their short neck stops them from whirling around and biting, but they are still able to breathe. Go slowly with stressed brachycephalic dogs and give them a chance to catch their breath between treatments. 

With small dogs, minimum restraint is better than too much. These little mites will often struggle to the point of hurting themselves, or to the point of collapse. If they are becoming too agitated take a break and give the dog a chance to calm down. Ask the veterinarian if pharmacological restraint can be used. See if someone else can switch with you because even excellent handlers need a break too.

Hopefully these tips will make your next canine mighty mite treatment go smoothly!

Sidebar Bookmark Button


Add To Training Plan


Content Assignment



Gretchen Brittain's picture

Lol, isn't it always the littlest ones taking up the most staff sometimes just getting them under control!...and hoping that anals don't express and bladders and bowels don't release (my favorite is all 3 at once) WHILE trying not to get bitten and keep patient comfortable. Thanks for suggestions, i forget to try an e-collar.

Amy Lacey's picture

Great article Leilani! Another thing to keep in mind when restraining in little guys in lateral recumbency is to not hold the legs to hard; because if a breed like an Italian Greyhound struggles its legs can be injured, or a Daucshound may injure its back. If that position is necessary I try to use my chest gently but firmly (when they are on the table that is chest height for me) against their body so they can't squirm so much and they're less likely to injure themselves trying to get up.

Lori Sipes's picture


Diane Barrett's picture

Great article! I think it is important to keep the animal's best interest in mind. A lot of time, staff members are so focused on getting what needs to be done that they stress the animals out too much. They will poke the animal over and over again until they get a sample(even on well behaved animals this happens too often :( Give them a break if need be, or do the procedure in a couple hours or the next day if it can wait. No need to have a stressful/traumatic experience for anyone. Just my two cents :)

Alexa Vesek's picture

Wow, great tips. Next time I handle a bitey pug, I will try that towel trick! And the cat muzzle technique sounds very helpful. I never thought about covering their eyes.

Jason Young's picture

Don't forget that many small breeds (I'm looking at you dachshunds) are prone to injuring their backs, and this can easily occur when struggling with improper restraint!

Josie Tattersfield's picture

it makes sense to have different handling procedures for dogs of different sizes prior to reading this Id always handled all dogs the same way good to be informed.8~)

Meghan Usrey's picture

At the clinic I work in, I have a few co-workers who use high pitched voices when around small dogs, or any for that matter, as a distraction or try to force food in their faces. I personally don't care for either they never seem to help usually just make things worse. What are yall's opinions?

Megan Urton's picture

Hi Meghan,

Offering food and a kind voice to patients is a good 'Fear Free' method to try out, but for nervous patients may not always work. Personally, I find that a quiet volume and soft, soothing tones when trying to comfort patients is most effective. Loud, high energy, high pitched noises can often intensify stress. It is important to read how your patients are responding to stimulus (like your coworker's well-meaning sweet talk), and to RESPOND to their body language. Advocate for your patients. If you feel your patient tense up when the volume of the room increases, you could politely ask your coworkers to quiet down, or you could move to a calmer area.

Each patient is an individual, and while a few might enjoy a loud happy interaction, others are going to need something different. It is up to you and your coworkers to read the body language of each patient and to respond accordingly.

Hope this helps!

Jaynice Moore's picture

I agree there is nothing wrong with using a muzzle when the staff is uncomfortable or has a weird feeling about the dog.

Rebecca Taylor's picture

I've never used an ecollar in lieu of a muzzle before, but it sounds like a VERY good thing to try when/if I need to. Ditto the towel. Thanks so much for the great tips!

Megan  Michaud 's picture

very great tips. im sure the towel method could ready help me when I have to give my dog pills.

Alicia Tapley's picture

helpful article. I may try the towel when I have to give my dog his flea medication!

Sage O'Donohoe's picture

Read the article and can't help but wonder how many people had a image of a specific pug or chihuahua pop in there head as well.