My Dog Cries When I Pick Him Up – Should I Be Worried?

my dog cries when i pick him up

Dogs express themselves differently than humans. Your dog crying when you pick him up is his way of communicating an emotion or need.

While we can’t ask our furry friends directly why they’re vocalizing, there are some common reasons a dog may cry when picked up.

Understanding the potential causes can help you identify any underlying issues and address your dog’s needs.

Typically, a dog’s cries when picked up stem from separation anxiety, fear, pain, lack of trust, excitement, or attention-seeking.

The reasons may also change as your dog ages. In most cases, crying is perfectly normal dog behavior.

However excessive crying or a sudden change may indicate a health or behavioral issue needing veterinary attention.

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety refers to a dog’s excessive distress when separated from their owner or left alone. It is a common condition, especially in dogs adopted from shelters. Separation anxiety may develop due to:

  • Changes in the household routine, like owners returning to work
  • Traumatic experiences like abandonment
  • A dog’s inherent personality and attachment style

The most common triggers for separation anxiety are owners preparing to leave the home and departure routines like putting on shoes or picking up keys. Symptoms usually begin within minutes of the owner leaving and can include:

  • Restlessness, pacing, and following the owner  
  • Excessive salivating 
  • Barking, whining, or howling
  • Chewing, scratching, or destruction
  • Loss of appetite
  • Depression 

Separation anxiety is estimated to affect around 14-20% of all dogs to some degree. It is more prevalent in shelter dogs and those acquired at a young age without early positive exposures to being alone.

The severity can range from mild distress to extreme panic.

Fear of Heights

Some dogs become fearful when their owner picks them up because it elevates them off the ground. This fear response is similar to a fear of heights in humans. 


For dogs with a fear of heights, their anxiety is triggered when their paws are no longer touching the ground. Picking up a dog can make them feel unstable, inducing fear and anxiety. Some potential triggers include:

  • Being lifted off the ground by their owner
  • Climbing stairs or being carried upstairs
  • Getting placed on furniture like beds, couches, chairs
  • Being placed in a car or moving through the air in any way

Desensitization Training

Fear of heights can be improved through desensitization training and positive reinforcement. Some methods include:

  • Start by placing the dog’s paws on a low step or platform while giving treats and praise. Slowly increase the height over multiple sessions.
  • Pick the dog up only a few inches at first, reward calm behavior, and then set them down. Gradually pick them up higher while continuing positive reinforcement. 
  • Place the dog on stable furniture and reward relaxed postures. Move further away so they learn being elevated is safe.  
  • Associate being picked up with positive experiences like treats, petting, and happy talk. Remain calm and controlled when lifting the dog.
  • Consider using a secure dog carrier or harness initially so the dog feels more stable and less anxious.

With time and positive training, dogs can overcome a fear of heights when picked up. It’s important to make the experience rewarding rather than stressful. Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist may also be beneficial.


When picked up, some dogs may cry due to physical pain or discomfort. Several potential sources of pain could cause this reaction:


One of the most common causes of pain in dogs is arthritis. Like humans, dogs can develop arthritis as they age, especially in their joints.

When a dog with arthritic joints or bones is picked up, it can cause intense pain and pressure on sore areas. Dogs may cry, yelp, or even growl when arthritic pain is aggravated.


Prior injuries or strained muscles are another source of possible pain for dogs. If a dog has ever injured its back, neck, hips, or legs, being lifted could pull on sore muscles or put pressure on healing wounds.

Some dogs are also very prone to muscle strains or sprains, especially in the rear legs, which are painful when picked up.


If a dog cries persistently when picked up, it’s important to have a veterinarian examine it for potential sources of pain. They can palpate all the dog’s joints, bones, and muscles to pinpoint tender or painful areas.

Veterinarians may recommend X-rays or other imaging to diagnose the extent of arthritis, fractures, disc disease, or other conditions causing discomfort when the dog is held.


Depending on the underlying cause, pain medication, joint supplements, physical therapy, rest, orthopedic surgery and other treatments may help minimize a dog’s pain when picked up.

Treating the source of their discomfort can help improve their mobility and quality of life. With proper treatment, dogs with injuries or arthritis can often be picked up without discomfort.

Lack of Trust

Some dogs may cry when picked up due to a lack of trust in their owner. If a dog has not fully bonded with its owner or has had bad past experiences, it may see being picked up as threatening. 

Building trust between an owner and dog is essential. Here are some tips:

  • Building trust takes time and consistency. Be patient and don’t force interactions. Let your dog warm up to you at its own pace by sitting near it and offering treats and affection.
  • Use positive reinforcement. When your dog allows you to touch or pick it up, reward that behavior with treats and praise. This teaches your dog that good things happen when you hold it.
  • Be consistent. Stick to a routine with regular feeding times, walks, playtime, and training sessions. Dogs feel secure when they can predict their human behavior.
  • Remain calm. If your dog cries when picked up, do not tense up, yell, or punish it. Stay relaxed and keep handling gently. Your stress can make your dog feel unsafe.  
  • Consider your dog’s past. If adopted, your dog may have had bad experiences. Be extra patient and help it overwrite those associations with positive new ones.

Building a foundation of trust takes time, but it is essential for forming a secure bond between owner and dog.

With consistency, patience, and rewards, your dog can learn to feel safe and comfortable when you hold or pick it up.


Some dogs will cry out of sheer excitement when their owner returns home or goes to pick them up. This type of crying is the dog’s way of expressing their happiness and enthusiasm.

Excitement crying occurs when a dog is overly enthusiastic or stimulated. The dog may be so thrilled to see their owner after a period of separation that it can’t contain their elation and cries out with joy. It’s an instinctive reaction stemming from the dog’s intense emotions.


Common triggers for excitement crying include:

  • Owner returning home after a long day at work
  • Being let out of the crate or room after isolation
  • Preparing for a fun activity like going for a walk or car ride
  • Interacting with a favorite toy or treat
  • Arrival of visitors to the home

Any event the dog finds extremely pleasurable can cause them to cry out in anticipation or glee. The crying is their way of saying “I’m so happy I can barely contain myself!”

Managing Excitement

To reduce excitement and crying, try the following tips:

  • Ignore the dog for a few minutes when arriving home before acknowledging them to let the initial excitement pass
  • Have visitors come in quietly and avoid overly stimulating the dog
  • Crate train to teach the dog to relax in confinement  
  • Reward calm behavior with treats and praise 
  • Distract with obedience cues or chew toys when the dog seems overly excited
  • Practice absence training by leaving for short periods to desensitize the dog

With time and consistency, the dog can learn to tone down their exuberant vocal expressions into softer, quieter ways of showing their joy. The key is avoiding overly stimulating the dog and praising calm responses.

Attention Seeking 

Some dogs will cry or whine when picked up because they are seeking more attention. Dogs are social animals that crave interaction, so crying or whining when you engage with them is a way for them to communicate their desire for attention and affection.

This behavior may be endearing, but it can become problematic if the dog constantly seeks attention this way.

To curb attention-seeking behavior when picking up your dog:

  • Define a routine. Pick up your dog at specific times, such as for walks, feedings, or playtime. Avoid rewarding crying by only picking up the dog when they are calm and quiet. This teaches them that crying does not lead to attention.
  • Redirect their energy. If your dog cries for attention, redirect them into a positive activity like playing with a toy or doing a trick. Reward calm behavior during these activities so they associate obedience and calmness with your attention.
  • Provide adequate attention. Make sure your dog gets sufficient exercise, playtime, training, and affection each day. Dogs that have their social needs met are less likely to crave constant attention. Consider providing food puzzles, chew toys, and interaction with other pets to fulfill their needs.

With patience and consistency, you can curb attention-seeking behavior when picking up your dog.

The key is rewarding quiet moments and not inadvertently reinforcing crying by giving them what they want. Over time, they will learn calmness and obedience are the path to your attention.

Changes with Age

As dogs grow and age, their tendencies and triggers for crying can change significantly. What prompted tears as a puppy may be very different than what upsets them later in life. 

Puppyhood vs Adulthood

Puppies are still growing emotionally and physically. They may cry for reasons that seem trivial to us, like being put in a crate or pen.

As they mature, dogs typically learn to handle separations and new experiences with less distress. Their crying becomes more purposeful and reserved for intense situations.


Elderly dogs can experience cognitive decline and senility. Confusion, disorientation, and memory problems may cause them to vocalize more frequently, even when nothing seems wrong. Dementia can make dogs anxious and uneasy without an obvious trigger.

Hearing/Vision Loss

Gradual hearing and vision loss are common in aging dogs. As their senses deteriorate, they may cry out of confusion or to express their dependence on their owner.

Staying close and keeping routines consistent can provide reassurance. Consider a vet exam to rule out pain as well.

When to Seek Help

It’s normal for dogs to occasionally cry or whine when picked up. However, if your dog’s crying is excessive, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help.

Here are some signs that your dog’s crying warrants a vet visit:

  • Persistent crying or whining when picked up. If your dog cries every time you pick him up, and it’s not getting better over time, this could signal an underlying physical or mental health issue. Persistent crying can be exhausting and frustrating for both you and your dog.
  • Aggression when picked up. If your dog growls, snarls, snaps, or bites when you pick him up, this indicates a serious behavior problem. Dogs cry when picked up due to fear, anxiety, or pain. Aggression is your dog’s way of communicating he feels threatened and wants to be left alone. This behavior should not be ignored.
  • Other concerning symptoms. If your dog’s crying when picked up is accompanied by trembling, loss of bladder control, hiding, or loss of appetite, he may be experiencing severe anxiety. Difficulty walking, yelping when touched, and lethargy could point to musculoskeletal pain. Any unusual behaviors in your dog warrant a trip to the vet.

Persistent, excessive crying when picked up is not normal in dogs. While the cause is often harmless, it can also signal serious physical or mental distress.

Don’t hesitate to consult your vet if your dog’s crying has become worrisome. With professional guidance, you can get to the root of the problem and help your dog become comfortable being picked up again.


In summary, dogs may cry when picked up for a variety of reasons including separation anxiety, fear of heights, pain, lack of trust, excitement, and attention seeking. Certain behaviors like crying when picked up may also change as a dog ages from puppy to senior.  

If your dog cries excessively when picked up or the crying is accompanied by signs of aggression or other troubling behaviors, consult with your veterinarian. They can examine your dog for potential medical issues and also guide training techniques to help address behavioral causes.

With time, patience, and positive reinforcement your dog can learn to feel comfortable and secure when you pick him up. Make sure to avoid punishment, as this will only increase your dog’s anxiety. Instead, use treats, cuddles, and praise to reward calm behavior while being held.  

Crying when held is a common but treatable issue for dogs. Understanding the potential reasons why can help you address the behavior and strengthen the bond with your four-legged friend. With the right approach, you’ll both soon be able to enjoy cuddle time without the tears.

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