Why Does Your Dog Cry When Picked Up? Shocking Reasons and Quick Fixes!

Dogs communicate in various ways, but crying or yelping when picked up can be concerning for any pet owner. There are many potential reasons why your dog vocalizes distress when you lift them up, ranging from simple behavioural problems to more serious medical conditions. Determining the underlying cause is crucial to stop this behaviour and ensure your dog’s well-being.

This comprehensive guide will explore the numerous explanations for why dogs cry when picked up. We’ll provide actionable tips tailored to your pet’s specific situation, empowering you to confidently address this issue. With the right approach, you can transform the experience into a trusting, pain-free bonding moment for both of you.


Fact 1: Dogs primarily express themselves through body language. Subtle signs like recoiling when approached or avoiding eye contact can indicate discomfort with being picked up.
Fact 2: A dog’s spine is quite sensitive. Lifting or holding them roughly, especially around the mid-back, can potentially cause pain.
Fact 3: Small dog breeds are genetically prone to issues like luxating patellas, collapsing tracheas, and fragile bones. This predisposes them to pain when picked up incorrectly.

Table of Contents

Non-Medical Reasons Your Dog Yelps When Picked Up

Dogs communicate in various ways, but crying or yelping when picked up can be concerning. While health issues often cause this reaction, there are several non-medical factors that could explain the behaviour too.

Personal Preferences: Not all dogs like to be held

Just as humans have individual personalities and preferences, so do our canine companions. Some dogs might revel in the closeness and security that comes with being held, while others may find it confining or even intimidating. Breeds and individual histories play a role; for instance, a dog not used to being held during its puppy stages might be averse to the experience as an adult.

Wrong Holding Position: The importance of holding dogs correctly, especially for smaller breeds

Every dog, irrespective of its size, requires a proper holding technique. For smaller breeds and puppies, it’s essential to provide support to their rear and chest when picking them up. Holding them incorrectly can cause discomfort, unease, or even potential injury. In some cases, dogs might yelp not because of pain but due to the awkwardness and unease of an incorrect grip.

Crying Out of Excitement: Difference between yelps of excitement and distress

A yelp doesn’t always signify pain or discomfort. Some dogs vocalize their excitement with yelps, especially when they see their owners after a long day or are about to go on a walk. This high-pitched vocalization can be similar to a distress call, so it’s vital for owners to distinguish between the two by observing the context and accompanying body language.

Unexpected Movements: Why quick, surprising movements can scare a dog

Dogs, like humans, can be startled by sudden and unexpected movements. If you’re trying to pick up your dog and make a swift move they weren’t anticipating, it might catch them off guard, leading to a yelp or whimper. Consistency and predictability when handling your dog can help them feel more secure.

Fear of Heights: Some dogs might be naturally afraid of heights

Not every dog is a fan of heights. While some may enjoy the elevated view and the wind on their faces, others might find the experience disorienting or even scary. Dogs with a natural aversion to heights can feel insecure when lifted off the ground, leading to yelps or whimpers of distress. It’s essential to be aware of your dog’s comfort levels and ensure they feel safe.

Traumatic Experiences: Past traumas can lead to an aversion to being held

A dog’s past plays a significant role in its present behaviour. Dogs that have experienced trauma, whether from improper handling, accidents, or abusive environments, might associate being picked up with those past negative experiences. As a result, they may yelp or show signs of distress when lifted. Building trust and ensuring a safe environment can help alleviate these fears over time.

Understanding the non-medical reasons behind a dog’s yelping when picked up is crucial. By recognizing these factors, owners can better cater to their dog’s needs, ensuring a happy and trust-filled relationship.

Medical Reasons Why Your Dog Yelps When Picked Up

Now let’s explore some common medical issues that could be behind this vocalization:

Muscle Problems: Common Muscle Issues in Dogs

Dogs, much like humans, can suffer from a variety of muscle-related issues. From simple strains due to overexertion to more serious conditions like myopathies (muscle diseases), these issues can cause discomfort, especially when lifting or applying pressure. Other symptoms include limping, reluctance to move, muscle atrophy, or swelling. When picking up a dog with muscle problems, ensure you handle them gently and avoid applying pressure to the affected areas.

Arthritis and Painful Joints: Symptoms and Ways to Alleviate Pain

Arthritis is a degenerative joint condition that commonly affects senior dogs, although it can occur at any age due to various factors. Symptoms include limping, difficulty in rising, joint swelling, and a decreased range of motion. When a dog suffering from arthritis is lifted, the joints might feel added pressure, leading to pain. To help alleviate discomfort:

  • Provide Soft Bedding: Orthopedic beds can offer more joint support.
  • Weight Management: Excess weight puts more pressure on joints. A healthy diet and exercise can help manage your dog’s weight.
  • Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or supplements like glucosamine can aid in reducing joint inflammation.

Problems With the Spinal Cord: Recognizing Spinal Issues in Dogs

Intervertebral disc disease (IVDD) is a common spinal issue in certain dog breeds. It involves the cushioning discs between the vertebrae of the spine becoming herniated or ruptured. Symptoms include pain, reluctance to jump or move, hunched back, and in severe cases, paralysis. When lifting a dog with spinal issues, ensure their back is fully supported to avoid any additional stress on the spine.

Tummy Aches: Reasons for Abdominal Discomfort in Dogs

Various factors, ranging from gastritis and bloating to ingestion of harmful substances, can lead to abdominal discomfort in dogs. Signs of a tummy ache include whimpering, pacing, drooling, vomiting, or a swollen abdomen. When lifting a dog with abdominal discomfort, be gentle, and avoid squeezing their tummy. If symptoms persist or are severe, it’s essential to visit a vet for an accurate diagnosis.

Lumps and Tumors: Importance of Regular Vet Check-ups

Lumps and tumours can appear anywhere on a dog’s body. While many are benign, some can be malignant (cancerous). If your dog yelps when you touch or lift them near a lump, it’s a sign to get it checked. Regular vet check-ups can help catch these growths early, making treatment more effective. In case of a suspicious lump, vets may recommend a biopsy or other tests.

Internal Injuries: Signs and How to Approach

Caused by trauma, falls, or accidents, internal injuries can be challenging to detect from a surface observation. Look out for signs like lethargy, difficulty breathing, a sudden change in behaviour, or physical discomfort. If you suspect your dog has an internal injury, especially if they yelp when lifted, it’s crucial to approach a vet immediately. Diagnostic tools like X-rays or ultrasounds might be used to determine the injury’s nature.

Infections in The Eyes: Recognizing and Treating Eye Infections

Eye infections can result from various causes like bacteria, viruses, or foreign particles. Symptoms include redness, swelling, and discharge, and the dog may frequently paw at the affected eye. Dogs with eye infections might be more sensitive to touch around their face and can help if their sore eyes are accidentally pressed when picked up. Prompt treatment, including antibiotic eye drops or ointments, can help resolve the infection and reduce discomfort.

It’s essential to observe any behavioural or physical changes in your dog closely. If your dog yelps when picked up, it might be signalling discomfort or pain due to one of these medical reasons. Always consult with a veterinarian to ensure your dog’s health and well-being.

Symptom Likely Cause
Limping Muscle Problems, Arthritis, Internal or External Injuries
Hunched Posture Abdominal Discomfort, Muscle Issues, Spinal Problems
Wobbliness Spinal Cord Compression, Inner Ear Infections
Swollen Joints Arthritis, Strains
Reluctance to Jump Arthritis, Knee or Hip Issues
Whining, Howling Anxiety, Stress
Loss of Appetite Many Causes
Localized Swelling Sprains, Muscle Tears, Lumps/Tumors
Bruising, Cuts Trauma, Injuries
Difficulty Standing Arthritis, Weakness, Dizziness
Eye Redness, Discharge Eye Infections
Lethargy Infection, Pain, Injuries

How to Stop Your Dog from Crying when You Pick Him Up

Now that we’ve explored the wide range of potential causes, here are some tips to prevent your dog from yelping when lifted:

Consult with a Veterinarian: Importance of professional advice

Before making any behavioural or training changes, it’s crucial to consult with a veterinarian. A dog’s yelping when picked up can sometimes be a sign of underlying medical issues. By getting a professional’s perspective, you ensure that you’re not overlooking potential health problems. Furthermore, a vet can offer advice tailored to your dog’s specific needs, making the subsequent steps more effective.

Be Gentle: Tips on the gentle handling of dogs

Handling a dog with care and gentleness is paramount. Here are some tips to ensure you’re doing so:

  • Always announce your intentions: Before picking up your dog, talk to them in a soothing voice and ensure they see you coming. This reduces the chances of startling them.
  • Use both hands: Support your dog’s rear and chest to distribute their weight evenly. This is especially vital for puppies and smaller breeds.
  • Avoid sudden movements: Lift your dog in a smooth, controlled manner. Jerky or swift motions can cause distress.
  • Know your dog’s sensitive areas: Some dogs might have spots they don’t like being touched, like their belly or paws. Familiarize yourself with these to make the experience more comfortable for them.

Train Your Dog: Training techniques to help a dog be more comfortable with being picked up

Training can work wonders in making your dog more receptive to being held. Here’s how you can train them:

  • Start young: If you have a puppy, familiarize them with the sensation of being held from an early age. This can make them more comfortable with the experience as they grow.
  • Use positive reinforcement: Reward your dog with treats and praise when they allow you to pick them up without fuss. This can create a positive association with the act.
  • Gradual exposure: If your dog is particularly averse to being held, start with shorter durations and gradually increase the time they’re in your arms.
  • Seek professional help: If you’re unsure about training methods, consider seeking out a dog trainer or behavioural specialist to guide you.

Keep Its Toys Around: Distraction techniques

Distraction can be a useful tool when trying to pick up a dog that’s hesitant or fearful. By keeping their favourite toys around, you can:

  • Shift their focus: Before picking up your dog, get them engaged with a toy. Their attention on the toy might make them less likely to protest when lifted.
  • Create a positive environment: By associating the act of being picked up with playtime, you’re creating a more pleasant context for your dog.
  • Use toys as a reward: After setting your dog down, allow them some playtime as a reward for their good behaviour.

By employing these strategies and understanding the root cause of your dog’s distress, you can create a more positive and trusting environment. Remember, patience and consistency are key when trying to modify any dog’s behaviour. With time and effort, your dog can learn to view being picked up as a positive experience.

PRO TIP: Always use a soft, cheerful tone when approaching your dog for a lift. A reassuring voice can make all the difference in keeping them calm.


Why Does My Dog Cry When Picked Up?

Determining When to Call Your Veterinarian

Recognizing signs of severe distress or pain

It’s essential for pet owners to be observant and tuned in to their pet’s behaviour and physical state. While dogs can’t communicate verbally, they exhibit various signs that could indicate distress or pain. Some vital signs to watch out for include:

  • Vocalization: Excessive yelping, whimpering, growling, or snarling can be signals of discomfort.
  • Changed behaviour: If your typically playful and energetic dog suddenly becomes withdrawn, lethargic, or aggressive, it could be a cause for concern.
  • Physical symptoms: Visible signs like limping, swelling, excessive drooling, changes in eating or drinking habits, or issues with defecation can indicate underlying issues.
  • Breathing problems: Rapid, shallow, or laboured breathing can be symptoms of distress or pain.
  • Excessive grooming: Dogs might lick or chew at areas that hurt, leading to spots of missing fur or even wounds.

Importance of regular check-ups

Just as humans need periodic health check-ups, dogs too benefit immensely from regular veterinary visits. Here’s why they’re crucial:

  • Early detection: Regular check-ups can catch potential health issues before they become severe. Early detection often means easier treatment and better outcomes.
  • Preventative care: Routine visits can help in the administration of vaccines, deworming treatments, and flea/tick preventatives, ensuring your dog remains protected from common canine ailments.
  • Dental health: Dental issues can often go unnoticed, but a vet can identify and treat dental problems, ensuring your dog’s oral health is in top shape.
  • Dietary guidance: Based on age, breed, and health, a vet can provide dietary recommendations to ensure your dog is getting the right nutrients.
  • Peace of mind: Knowing that a professional has given your dog a clean bill of health can offer significant peace of mind to pet owners.

For pet owners, understanding when something is wrong and acting swiftly is key to ensuring the well-being of their furry friends. While it’s essential to trust your instincts, it’s equally important to rely on the expertise of veterinary professionals for the best care possible.

PRO TIP: Regular massages can help detect any unfamiliar lumps, bumps or tender spots on your dog’s body, allowing for early identification and care for potential problems.

Why is my dog yelping when I pick him up? Specific Scenarios:

Let’s explore some common situations where dogs cry when handled:

Why does my dog yelp when picked up under the chest?

Dogs have a sensitive area beneath their chest, and picking them up incorrectly from this area can cause discomfort.

  • Sensitivity: The chest area houses essential organs, making it naturally more sensitive.
  • Pressure Points: Holding your dog too tightly under the chest might press on certain pressure points, leading to discomfort or pain.
  • Breathing Difficulties: If you grip too tightly, you could inadvertently restrict your dog’s breathing, causing them to yelp.

Why does my dog yelp when picked up after shots?

Post-vaccination tenderness is common in dogs, much like humans might feel sore after an injection.

  • Injection site soreness: The area where the shot was administered might be tender, and handling your dog roughly can exacerbate this pain.
  • Vaccination reactions: Some dogs may have a mild reaction to vaccines which can lead to temporary discomfort.
  • Muscle soreness: Some vaccinations are intramuscular, and the muscle might be sore for a day or two post-injection.

Why does my dog randomly scream in pain?

Random screams of pain can be alarming and may indicate various issues.

  • Internal injuries: Your dog may have internal injuries or conditions not immediately visible.
  • Sudden cramps: Like humans, dogs can experience muscle cramps that can cause sudden sharp pain.
  • Neurological issues: Conditions like Intervertebral Disc Disease (IVDD) can cause sharp pains, especially in certain breeds.
  • Skin or coat issues: External factors like insect bites, matted fur, or skin infections can cause sudden pain.

Why does my Chihuahua yelp when I pick him up?

Chihuahuas, given their petite stature, can be especially sensitive to being handled, and there are breed-specific reasons they might yelp.

  • Delicate frame: Chihuahuas have a small and delicate frame. Incorrectly picking them up can quickly cause discomfort.
  • Genetic predispositions: Chihuahuas, like other small breeds, can be predisposed to certain health conditions like patellar luxation or hip dysplasia which can cause pain when handled.
  • Fear or anxiety: Given their size, Chihuahuas might feel more threatened, leading to yelping out of fear rather than pain.
  • Past trauma: If a Chihuahua has experienced rough handling in the past, they might yelp in anticipation of pain.

Understanding the specific reasons behind a dog’s yelping can provide better insights into their needs and how best to handle and care for them. Always approach with gentle care and, if uncertain, consult with a veterinarian.

Reasons Your Dog Yelps When Picked Up
Picture Credit @Simon Robben from Pexels


Dogs have complex emotions and physical health needs. While crying when picked up can be deeply upsetting, successfully addressing it strengthens your bond exponentially. Determining the precise trigger, be it behavioural or medical, is the key first step.

With careful handling, training adjustments, veterinary guidance and loads of patience, you can transform the experience into a trusting and painless one. Your dog depends on you to listen, understand and protect their wellbeing. By taking their needs seriously and empowering them to feel safe in your arms, you become their champion and best friend for life.


Why does my dog yelp when I pick him up?

Dogs may yelp due to discomfort, anxiety, injury, or an underlying condition. Determining the cause requires observing their body language, checking for physical issues, and potentially consulting a vet. Gradual conditioning along with medical treatment can help minimize distress.

How do you help a dog in pain?

Ensure ample rest, provide joint supplements, use heating/cooling packs, give prescribed medication, and make them comfortable with beds, ramps and gentle handling. Maintain a calm environment and consult a vet if pain persists.

Why does my dog yelp when picked up under the arms?

Lifting dogs by the front legs alone over-stretches their spine and is very uncomfortable. Always support their rear and chest together. Certain breeds are prone to tracheal collapse too, so lifting by the neck/armpits can damage their airway.

Is it bad to pick up your dog?

When done gently and properly, occasional lifts are not harmful. However, repeatedly picking up dogs incorrectly or against their wishes can cause joint and spinal injury over time. Respect their signals to avoid overhandling.

Can a dog yelp for no reason?

Yelping is triggered by physical or emotional factors – pain, surprise, anxiety. It does not occur without an underlying cause. Determining the source is key to resolving it. Certain breeds tend to be more vocal as well.

What human painkillers are safe for dogs?

Human medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen are toxic for dogs. Only give pet-specific pain relievers under veterinary guidance, like carprofen, meloxicam and gabapentin. Never self-prescribe human medicine.

Why does my dog hurt when I pick him up?

Potential reasons include arthritis, muscle strains, ligament injury, IVDD, sore joints after shots, or emotional fear/anxiety. Have a vet evaluate while using gentle handling techniques.

What is the correct way to pick up a dog?

Face them and crouch low. Use one arm to cradle their chest while the other supports their rear underside. Lift the bottom first then the front. Keep their body aligned, close and fully supported. Limit bending their spine.

Is it normal for puppies to cry when held?

Puppies may squeak when initially picked up but should not cry outright. If they do, check for injury and use very gentle handling. With coaxing, reward-based training and time, they can become comfortable with the process.

Can dogs be ticklish and yelp when touched in certain areas?

Dogs are not innately ticklish like humans. But they can be sensitive due to past trauma, injury or skin irritation. Have a vet evaluate reactions to touch to identify any underlying medical cause requiring treatment.

How often should I take my dog for health check-ups?

For puppies, every 3-4 weeks for immunizations and deworming. For adults, annual exams to assess teeth, heart, joints, early cancers etc. Senior dogs need twice yearly exams to monitor health changes closely.

How can I tell if my dog has internal injuries?

Signs include difficulty breathing, crying when touched or moved, restlessness, weakness, loss of appetite, vomiting, and abdominal rigidity or bruising. Seek emergency vet care if internal trauma is suspected. X-rays, MRIs and ultrasound can diagnose it.