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

Just approached your pup and they’ve let out an ear-splitting yelp when picked up under the chest? Find out the key reasons why dogs yelp when picked up under the chest, including handling tips and advice for dealing with this common canine behavior.

1. Shock

If you’ve picked up your dog suddenly and they weren’t expecting it, they may give out a yelp of fright! To reduce the stress of being picked up without warning, make your pup clear of your intentions. First, speak to them to let them know you’re there before slowly moving your hands into the lifting position.

Using a ‘cue word’ like ‘up’ or ‘lift’ before you pick them up can also help reinforce the action. Just make sure to reward them with a treat or praise when you’ve put them safely back down again.

2. Excitement


Another reason your pup might yelp when you’ve picked them up is that they’re just so excited to see you! You’ve probably come home from work and scooped them up in your arms for a cuddle after a long day apart. Though this is a very sweet reason for yelping, it sometimes occurs because your pup is over-excited.

Other clues that your pup might be over-excited include barking, panting, nipping or mouthing, jumping up continuously, running, and spinning in circles. Though it’s hard at first, try to ignore your dog until they’ve calmed down before praising them and giving attention.

3. You’ve picked them up in an uncomfortable way

A straightforward reason for yelping is that your pup finds the way you’ve picked them up a little uncomfortable! It might be that their leg is caught at an odd angle, or that you haven’t supported their back end properly.

As dogs come in all shapes and sizes, different breeds will require little adjustments to your technique to lift them safely and securely. A good technique for most dogs is to squat down beside them and cradle one arm under the neck and one arm under the belly (or behind the back of the legs), before standing up and holding them close to your body.

If you or your pup has an injury and you need extra support, your veterinary team will be happy to show you how to hold your dog safely and comfortably. Special care should be taken when handling toy breeds or puppies, as they are especially delicate. Children should also be closely supervised when interacting with dogs and should be taught to ask for permission before petting or trying to pick them up.

4. Soft tissue injuries

Your pup may also be yelping due to a soft tissue injury, and by picking them up you’ve accidentally put pressure on the sensitive area. Soft tissue injuries affect the muscles, tendons, and ligaments and can range in severity from a muscle strain or sprain to a torn ligament.

In the cases of more severe soft tissue injuries, your pup would nearly always be showing other signs like lameness (limping), pain, difficulty standing or lying down, or struggling to jump. You may also notice changes in their behavior, for example, being more quiet than usual and not wanting to play or eat as much as usual.

More mild injuries, however, can easily be missed, especially if your dog only shows more subtle signs of pain and discomfort. So if there’s any concern that your dog might have an injury, or you aren’t sure, it’s important to make an appointment with your vet as soon as possible to have them checked over.

5. Spinal/joint problems

Other injuries that could cause your dog to yelp when picked up under the chest are orthopedic or neurological problems that affect the joints and spine (including the neck). Many different types of injury and disease can affect these areas including intervertebral disc disease (slipped disc), meningitis, elbow dysplasia, and osteoarthritis (arthritis).

As with soft tissue injuries, we would usually expect to see some of those additional signs that something isn’t quite right with your pup. However, it’s important to remember that diseases can present in many different ways and each dog is different in how they respond to pain.

In the case of suspected spinal or joint problems, your vet will watch your dog move and perform a comprehensive orthopedic and neurological examination. Further tests such as X-rays, CT, or MRI may be required to fully investigate the problem and make a diagnosis.

6. Skin infections or wounds


Another possibility that might cause your pup to yelp when touched would be a painful wound or skin infection. Bite wounds, abscesses (painful pockets of infection), and traumatic injuries would be some of the more common causes, but even a nasty skin infection that’s been rubbed raw can be very tender to touch. This also includes healing surgical wounds.

In most of these cases, there will be visible changes to the skin such as redness, swelling, discharge, pus, or a visible wound. This can sometimes be tricky for pet owners to spot, especially with long-haired breeds or those with thick coats. Your pup may also not want you to look at or touch the area, in this case, don’t! – leave it for your vet to do safely. 

Signs your dog is in pain

Assessing pain in animals is a challenge for pet owners and vets alike – if only they could talk! Many dogs will hide or downplay signs of pain as a survival instinct, whereas others are more sensitive. Regardless, knowing which signs to look out for means you’re more likely to pick up a problem sooner and get much-needed veterinary care for your pup.

Signs of pain in dogs include:

  • Yelping or snapping if the painful area is touched/stimulated
  • Shaking or trembling
  • Licking excessively
  • Changes to posture such as an arched back, or holding their head down
  • Breathing faster and taking more shallow breaths, panting
  • Eating and drinking less or struggling to chew
  • Difficulty getting up and down
  • Loss of interest in play and exercise
  • Limping/lameness
  • Struggling to jump
  • Difficulty toileting or toileting inside
  • Behavior changes such as not wanting to be touched, being more vocal than usual, restlessness, and increased aggression

If your dog is showing any of these signs, or you’ve noticed something isn’t quite right, it’s better to be safe than sorry and have them checked out by your vet.

Testing for injuries in dogs

If in doubt – DON’T. Leave it to your veterinarian.

When checking your pet for injuries, safety should always be the priority. Animals in pain are more likely to bite, so if your pup doesn’t want you looking at the area or is trying to snap – stop! Your veterinary team is experienced in animal handling and has the option of using sedation when needed.

If your pet is showing any of the signs of pain discussed they need to visit a vet, so making them uncomfortable and putting yourself at risk just isn’t worth it. If your pup will let you have a closer look at the area for any obvious wounds, swellings, or an object stuck in their paw, this is fine but there is no need to poke and prod any further.

When to take your dog to the vet

This one is simple. If your pup is showing signs of pain, illness, or injury they need to see a vet. Even if you aren’t sure and can’t get to the bottom of your dog’s yelping, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Your vet might notice that you aren’t picking up your dog properly or there’s a behavior problem that they can help you out with!



Understanding your pup’s behavior is essential for a good relationship and is key to working out why your pup is yelping when you pick them up. Remember if your dog is showing any signs of illness, pain, or discomfort they need to see a vet as soon as possible to get to the bottom of the problem.

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