If a dog growls when you pick him up, it can be for a physical or psychological reason or a combination of both. It also might not be a negative reaction, as dogs sometimes growl to communicate with humans. In some cases, the growl you are mistaking for anger or pain is actually more like a cat's purr. It can also be a sign that he's having fun, such as a puppy growling when playing. Reviewing some of the reasons your dog growls when you pick him up will help you read his signals correctly.
Growling vs. snarling
Dogs use growls to communicate a variety of emotions, and they aren't a sign of danger. A snarl, when a dog bares her teeth, is a sign that something is seriously wrong and that you or someone else might get bit. If your dog follows a low growl with a nip or love bite, that's a sign that you didn't just startle her, and though something's wrong, it's not too serious.
Video of the Day
If she starts to snarl and looks you in the eye, something's seriously wrong. Back off if the dog snarls and wait until she calms down. If she continues to snarl, you might need to call a vet, trainer, groomer, or pet sitter for advice.
Look for patterns
If your dog occasionally growls, look for patterns, such as only growling if you pick him up in a certain area of the house, if you pick him up at a certain time, or if he's involved in a certain activity. This can help you determine the reason. For example, if you only pick up the dog when you're going to bathe or groom him or give him medicine, he will know that something's about to happen that he doesn't like, and he'll growl in response.
If your dog has just started growling most times when you pick him up, it might be a behavioral change in the dog, or it might be that you've changed your approach to picking him up (and that is causing a twinge of pain).
The dog is afraid or startled
A growl is often a dog's reaction to being startled or frightened. Think about the times your dog has heard something outside, sat up suddenly, perked up her ears and then started growling. If you've been approaching your dog from behind when picking her up, start approaching from the front to let her know you're coming.
The dog might be busy
When your dog growls when you try to pick him up, it might be nothing more than an appeal to leave him alone because he's busy doing something else and doesn't want to be interrupted. It could be that he's watching something on TV, almost finished gnawing something, or is watching a cat or other critter through the window.
The dog is being territorial
If you pick up your dog when she's eating, drinking, or playing with a favorite toy, she might be telling you to back off and get out of her private space. If your dog only growls when you try to engage her in a particular area of the house, that might be a sign that this area is off limits for picking her up.
The dog needs sleep
No one likes to be roused out of a sound sleep or bothered when they're tired and falling asleep. Exhaustion and fatigue can lead to irritability, so even if you're picking up the dog to let him sleep in your lap, his whine might be a growl of temporary disapproval.
The dog has a medical issue
If your dog is growling when you pick her up and there's no pattern to the behavior or apparent reason, she might have an exterior injury or internal illness. This is more likely if she's just started the behavior. Examine your pooch by lightly running your hands over her body to see if she winces, whines, growls, or pulls away when you touch a particular area.
You picked up your dog the wrong way
Mama dogs pick up their pups by the nape of the neck, and humans see them do this. Many pet parents will try to mimic this behavior, but if you don't get it right, it can be painful for the dog. If your dog has grown and/or put on weight, that might be a change that is making your neck grab more painful. A heavier dog might be causing you to apply more pressure to his torso as you pick him up. Try being more gentle as you lift him, using both hands to support as much of his body as possible.