Michael is a pet-lover and avid content writer on topical themes related to animal care.
Understanding Why Your Dog Whines
Why do dogs whine? Some do so, not out of timidity, but because it is their way of submitting to or appeasing their owner if, for example, they have done something wrong. Others whine when confronted by noises they are unaccustomed to like loud peals of thunder. Sometimes it is simply because they have been confined for too long and need to relieve themselves outdoors or occupy themselves elsewhere. Not all whining is negative, however. Sometimes dogs whine as a way of acknowledging someone, akin to a greeting.
It is normal for puppies to whine when they are in the developing phases, for example during the initial stage of house training when they need to be allowed out of the crate. However, if the pet has grown beyond the insecurities of infancy and keeps whining, the behavior may indicate something else is out of place. The real reason why the dog is whining needs to be identified before you go into solution mode.
Whatever the cause for the whining, ensure that you do not punish your pet. Whining may not be pleasant, but it is their way of communicating pain or distress. So exercise patience and self-control. When an owner reacts out of anger or frustration, for example by shouting or banging the crate, it serves to aggravate the problem by compounding both fear and anxiety.
The following six methods can help curb your dog's habit of whining.
- Avoid negative reinforcement
- Fix overattachment
- Combine nurturing with training
- Create a healthy diversion
- Exercise moderation
- Make strategic adjustments
1. Avoid Negative Reinforcement
Often the most helpful thing you can do is nothing at all. Giving your pet whatever it wants in order to stop the whining sets in motion the wrong conditioning. The dog learns that all it needs to control you and obtain what it wants is to whine. You should be the one managing your pet and not the other way around.
This calls for the exercise of patience on your part. The easiest and quickest way is always to simply stop the whining by giving in and doing what the dog wants. It is the same principle in a parent-toddler relationship where a parent reinforces a child's negative behavior by complying each time it surfaces.
For instance, if your dog is whining because of the fear of being left alone at night, it will always keep you awake as long as you keep going over to comfort it. Teaching your pet to recognize that night-time is set aside for rest is part of proper dog training. It needs to learn through your non-responsiveness that whining does not work and it is not the type of behavior that you reward.
If your dog is whining, drooling, pacing about, or kicking up a fuss where there is no emergency, the best thing to do is to ignore it. Give it your attention only at the moment it stops whining. Only after the dog has settled and quieted down, should you proceed to reward it with petting, compliments, or treats. Aim at teaching the dog that whining does not change or improve its situation. Your reactions should be directed at encouraging or strengthening the desirable rather than the undesirable behavior.
2. Fix Overattachment
Sometimes a dog can manifest symptoms of anxiety by seeking to follow you everywhere you go, even when you need to attend to other things. The dog sees itself as a group member and so the fear of being abandoned by the pack it belongs to can cause it to start whining. Since in its mind, you are the pack leader, the question is what if you do not return? There is a growing sense of unease because there seems to be no one else to rescue or protect it.
If the puppy is young, it may tend to whine a lot when left on its own. This may have to do with the fact that it is without the protective, nurturing presence of its mother and siblings as it is no longer with its biological family. Naturally, a healthy bond between the pet and members of its new household helps offset this effect.
However, an unhealthy overattachment to you as the owner needs to be discouraged. This is because, aside from all the other elements of its upbringing, the dog must have the inner fortitude to take care of itself in your absence. So during the course of your training, aim at getting your pet used to you not being around by gradually backing away for lengthier periods of time.
If the root cause of whining is a desire for attention (especially if you are dealing with a puppy), then your pet needs to be conditioned to your absence. Allow it to whine without trying to comfort it, until it gets used to being without you. Comforting or soothing your dog will only teach it how to control you. Reward its achievement once it is able to stay by itself without whining.
A dog will tend to exhibit anxiety if it is not used to being around other people or pets. Socializing your pet during the proper stage of its development, therefore, eliminates a lot of problems later on in life because it provides the foundation the dog needs to be confident in different situations. If your dog keeps exhibiting separation anxiety behavior, it is best to seek the services of a professional and/or veterinarian to see whether it can be medicated or to identify other means by which the anxiety can be curbed.
3. Combine Nurturing With Training
The better trained a dog is, the more equipped it is to deal with challenges. Proper housebreaking, crate training, and socialization are essential to ensure that the dog has balanced growth and is not overwhelmed or inhibited by behavioral problems. Any counterproductive habits that the dog develops in the initial stages will need to be curbed.
For instance, when the dog is properly crate trained, it relates to the crate as its own domain and a place of comfort and security. This knowledge alleviates much stress as it goes about its daily life. No matter what happens, there is a place where it knows it can be completely safe and secure. At the same time, sticking to basic potty training rules like not giving your puppy water just before bedtime will save you from being woken up at night unnecessarily.
The emotional state and behavior of a dog could be health-related or triggered by medical conditions. If the dog has become impaired in some way (loss of hearing or damaged eyesight, for example) it will feel vulnerable and more dependent on the owner. Alternatively, if the dog usually whines when it is eating, it may have an oral or dental problem that requires the attention of a veterinarian.
4. Create a Healthy Diversion
Another method you could use is to distract the dog by diverting its attention, especially if your dog is already trained to obey certain commands like sitting. In the dog's brain, the focus will shift from the present situation to the reward associated with obeying your command. This conditioning will displace the distress that induced the whining.
Distraction can be achieved in other ways, like providing your pet with a chew toy or puzzle feeder. If you are in the process of training your dog to be accustomed to your absence, ensure that it has enough items to keep itself busy so that loneliness does not become a hindrance.
If the dog is whining out of boredom, it is looking up to you to provide guidance on what it should do. Again, it recognizes you as the leader of the pack and will naturally feel isolated if it does not receive your attention or direction on what to do. In this case, you can end the habit of whining by initiating constructive activities like developing its responses to vocal commands or additional lessons in obedience training.
5. Exercise Moderation
A dog may also whine out of excitement. If your dog has a tendency to be very excitable, its reactions need to be managed so that they do override the training it has adopted. If it keeps whining at such times, check yourself and refrain from heightening its emotional state.
Allow the dog to first calm down before you begin to interact with it and when you do so, ensure that your actions are methodical and calm, not hurried or animated. Avoid responding by raising your voice or speaking excitable. Also, where the whining is always connected to a specific action, like meeting a new person or engaging in a particular activity, you could use the same conditioning methods in obedience training. This will make your pet accustomed to a replacement behavior that is more polite and acceptable.
6. Make Strategic Adjustments
Your dog may be whining because it wants to be included in what you are doing. Sometimes a dog may come and start whining up at you while you are taking your meal. In this case, you simply need to synchronize its feeding time with yours such that it eats from its bowl whenever you are having your meal.
Again, a dog may whine because it has been kept in confined spaces for too long and it needs to have more liberty. Giving it more room and freedom will curb the behavior. If you are busy or mostly unavailable, consider hiring the services of a pet sitter or a dog walker instead of leaving your pet always locked up in your absence. Alternatively, if your hours cannot be adjusted, drop off your pet at a local daycare institution.
Finally, always ensure there are no factors in the life of your dog that can encourage the habit. It is best to be proactive rather than reactive. Ensure that it is always comfortable and that its needs are met holistically by providing nutrition, water, toys, and space for activities that keep it preoccupied.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Michael Duncan (author) from Germany on February 17, 2021:
Thanks for your positive review, Liz
Liz Westwood from UK on February 10, 2021:
This is a helpful and well-structured article for anyone who owns a dog or is looking after one temporarily.