Why Do Dogs Open Their Mouth When You Pick Them Up?

If you’re a dog owner or have spent time with dogs, you may have noticed a peculiar behavior – when you pick them up, some dogs tend to open their mouths. 

This action may leave you puzzled, wondering about the reasons behind this seemingly unusual behavior. 

In this article, we will delve into the world of canine behavior to shed light on why dogs open their mouths when you lift them up. 

Understanding this behavior will not only help you bond better with your furry companion but also provide insights into their communication and emotional state.

Communication through Body Language

Dogs communicate primarily through body language, and their mouths are no exception. A dog’s mouth is a versatile tool for conveying various emotions and intentions. 

When a dog opens its mouth while being picked up, it could be a form of communication. This gesture can express feelings of stress, discomfort, or even excitement.

Expressing Stress or Discomfort

One of the main reasons dogs open their mouths when being lifted is to communicate their stress or discomfort with the situation. 

Being picked up can be an unfamiliar experience for some dogs, especially if they are not used to being handled in this way. 

The act of opening their mouths may serve as a signal to their owners that they are feeling uneasy or anxious. 

It’s crucial to be attentive to your dog’s body language and respond accordingly to alleviate any discomfort they may be experiencing.

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Avoiding Confrontation

In the wild, opening the mouth can be a way for dogs to display submission and avoid confrontation. 

When dogs are picked up, they might feel vulnerable and, by opening their mouths, they signal that they mean no harm and are submitting to your actions. 

This behavior is a part of their instinctual communication repertoire and can be traced back to their ancestors’ survival tactics.

The Gaping Reflex

Another possible explanation for why dogs open their mouths when being lifted lies in their involuntary response to certain stimuli. 

The gaping reflex, commonly observed in canines, is a response that activates when they feel pressure on the roof of their mouths. 

This reflex is similar to the one that causes dogs to yawn when they see other dogs yawning. 

When you pick up your dog, your hands may inadvertently apply gentle pressure to the roof of their mouth, leading to the gaping reflex.

Relieving Pressure

In some instances, dogs may open their mouths when lifted to relieve pressure in their ears. 

Similar to how humans may pop their ears to equalize the pressure during changes in altitude, dogs open their mouths to release pressure that builds up in their ear canals when lifted off the ground. 

This behavior is more commonly observed in breeds with floppy ears that might be more prone to pressure changes.

Associating Picking Up with Positive Experiences

Interestingly, some dogs may open their mouths when being picked up as a result of positive associations. 

If your dog has been lifted in a gentle and loving manner in the past, they may have associated the act of being picked up with pleasant experiences, such as cuddles, treats, or playtime. 

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Consequently, they may display this behavior as a way of showing enthusiasm and anticipation for the upcoming enjoyable moments.

Exercise and Stretching

In some cases, the act of opening their mouths when being lifted might simply be a physical response related to stretching their neck and jaw muscles. 

Similar to how dogs may yawn after waking up or after a period of inactivity, being picked up can prompt them to stretch their mouths, providing relief to their muscles.


While the exact reasons why dogs open their mouths when being picked up may vary from one individual to another, it’s clear that this behavior is a form of communication and expression of their emotions. 

By paying attention to your dog’s body language and understanding their behavior, you can build a stronger bond with your furry companion and ensure their well-being and comfort. 

Remember, each dog is unique, so take the time to observe and learn from your pet to foster a deeper connection and create positive experiences during your interactions.