Dog Yelps When Picked Up [What To Do]

Every dog owner can relate to the saying, “You’re only as happy as your least happy (fur) child.” So, if Fido starts yelping when you pick him up when he usually loves it, you’re undoubtedly worried.

There are many reasons why dogs yelp when picked up. Some are medical, while others are environmental.

I’ll help you sort through the many reasons why your dog might be yelping when you pick them up so that they can get back to their cuddly self.

mixed color maltipoo wavy puppy
A mixed color apricot and white Maltipoo puppy cuddles. A rare color of coat!

Non-Medical Reasons Your Dog Yelps When Picked Up

If your dog starts yelping when you pick them up, it doesn’t necessarily mean that a trip to the vet is in order. 

Below are some of the most common non-medical reasons for their yelping. 

Happy Yelp

Some dogs love their owners to pick them up so much that they’ll yelp from happiness when it happens. It should be easy to determine whether your dog is yelping from happiness or something negative like pain or fear.

For starters, look at their tail.

If it’s wagging, that’s a good sign. Furthermore, your dog’s eyes will be large and alert, likely looking at you in the loving way that you know so well. 

Your dog will likely pant, their tongue hanging out, their lips pulled back into a smile-like form. Although scientists haven’t proven that dogs smile, research shows that this smile-like behavior occurs when dogs feel relaxed.

fully grown maltipoo cream
A fully grown cream colored Maltipoo.

Surprised Yelp

You know that startled feeling you get when a smoke alarm goes off in the middle of the night when you’re sleeping? Dogs can feel equally startled and confused in the first seconds after you whip them into your arms when they’re sleeping or awake but not expecting it.

Surprised yelps tend to occur more frequently in puppies who haven’t had a lot of handling.

So, whether you have a puppy or an adult dog, make sure they’re alert and can see you bending down to grab them. 

And above all, never reprimand your dog for yelping as a result of being startled. 

You Don’t Handle Them with Care

Or, perhaps better put, someone doesn’t handle them with care.

If you have kids in the house that often play rough, your dog could yelp when they pick them up, expecting an uncomfortable experience. 

It’s crucial to teach your children how to pick up your dog so that they’re well supported.  

Here’s a hint: You should always use two hands.

Failing to hold your dog in a supportive way not only makes your dog yelp from anticipating the temporary pain, but it can cause more severe damage.

labradoodle in a towel
Labradoodle Max enjoys a cuddle in a towel after a shower and bath

They’re Scared

Dogs who’ve had abusive pasts may yelp because they’re afraid. They could be traumatized by a previous owner who was physically or verbally abusive. 

A sign that your dog is yelping out of fear when you pick them up is if they tremble. They also might tuck their tail between their legs and lower their head.

If you have a fearful dog, it’s crucial to pick them up slowly and gently. Talk to them in a soothing voice and hold them against your chest so that they feel safe. 

Expect it to take time for your dog to overcome their fear. In some cases, they may never feel comfortable with being held.

Medical Reasons Why Your Dog Yelps When Picked Up

If you’ve weeded through the possibilities above and didn’t land on one that seems applicable for your dog, they might be yelping because of an underlying condition.

Below are some of the most common medical reasons why your dog may be yelping when you pick them up.

Nerve or Spinal Cord Pain

Can you imagine someone swinging you into their arms if you have a spinal cord condition or nerve pain? You’d no doubt yelp in pain, as does a dog who is suffering from either of these conditions.

There are many medical reasons that your dog has spinal cord or nerve pain, with among the most severe being a ruptured intervertebral disk. 

Your vet will likely need to take an MRI to get to the root of your dog’s pain.

Muscle or Joint Issues

Muscle and joint pain can happen when dogs roughhouse it in the dog park or due to old age. In either case, they make it painful for dogs when their owners hold them.

Examples of muscle or joint issues that can occur in your dog include:

  • Strained muscle
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Hip dysplasia

If you suspect that your dog is suffering from a muscle or joint problem, holding them won’t be the only time you notice it. Instead, they’ll likely yelp or struggle when climbing stairs or laying down.

happy labradoodle puppy
Can Labradoodles smile? its hard to argue against when you see a happy puppy like this!

Skin Infections

Skin infections, cuts, and open wounds are other reasons why your dog may yelp when you pick them up. If this is the case, they will usually only yelp if you come in contact with the injured part of their skin.

Skin issues are one of the easiest medical issues to identify when you have a dog that yelps when you pick them up since you can usually see them.

Blisters and cysts are other skin-related items to look out for. Depending on the severity of the skin condition, you may need to take your dog to the vet.


We all know the pain that Charley horses cause. Just like humans, dogs can also suffer from muscles suddenly tightening up, creating a cramp.

Unfortunately, your dog can’t tell you when they have a cramp. So, if you happen to pick them up when they have one, it could cause them to yelp from pain.

If this yelping is out of the blue, it’s best to monitor them for a little while. If your dog settles down and lets you pick them up later in the day, then their yelping was likely from a cramp.

Stomach Issues

If your dog has abdominal pain, you can bet that they’ll yelp when you pick them up.

There are several reasons your dog could be yelping from a stomach problem, including:

  • Gas buildup
  • Pancreatitis 
  • Bloating

It can often be challenging to differentiate between spinal and abdominal pain. So, if your dog stops eating, then it’s a good sign that they’re having a stomach problem, and you should take them to the vet.

puppy at the vet with owners one adult one child
A cute puppy enjoying a Vet visit

Determining When to Call Your Vet

If you’ve ruled out environmental reasons for why your dog could be yelping, it’s best to take them to the vet. That way, your veterinarian can check their spine and muscles for pain, as well as determine if bloat or pancreatitis could be at play.

With some love and care, your pup should soon look forward to having you pick them up.