Understanding Why Your Dog is Whining

Dog whining is guaranteed to try the patience of even the most patient dog owner! Dogs are social creatures, and whining is an effective way of communicating to each other and to humans either that they want something, or that something is wrong. Puppies learn quickly that their mother responds to a whine, for good reason, but that honeymoon generally ends fairly soon.

Understanding triggers of whining in adult dogs is key for addressing the root cause and regaining your sanity. You need to understand any past conditioning and apply proper techniques for deconditioning — and ultimately eliminating — the unwanted behavior.

Common Causes Of Whining

Your first step must be to ensure that whining is not related to a medical problem. Dogs in pain will often whine. If your dog has suddenly started to vocalize, it’s important to rule out medical causes at your vet’s office. Once that has been accomplished, two basic rules apply: (1) common things are common, and (2) a tired dog makes for a happy owner.

Often, whining simply indicates that your dog is not getting enough of what he needs most: attention, exercise, and social and mental stimulus. Your dog depends on you for that, and it is your responsibility to provide what he needs. Research the breed’s exercise and activity requirements, and adjust your own thermostat as needed.

Some whining is motivated by meeting other dogs or people. Any attention or scolding will be counterproductive in the aroused state which this excitement-attention loop tends to produce. It’s better to downplay all greetings by keeping them short and avoiding fast movements as well as loud or excited human voices. Most importantly, completely ignore your dog’s unwanted behavior, and reward calm and quiet. Your dog will soon learn that silence works well to get your attention or a treat! You can also put your dog in a position that is less supportive of whining, such as a downstay, and reward that.

Whining can also be spillover from separation anxiety. If this is the case, your dog will display other cardinal symptoms when left alone, like chewing or scratching around doors and windows, pacing and panting, drooling, or urinating, to name a few. In a more general sense, fearful and anxious dogs can sometimes develop seemingly involuntary whining. This is difficult to eliminate, as the underpinning of the behavior is often genetic. More often than not, attempting to remove generalized anxiety to decrease your dog’s stress is extremely challenging.

At the other end of the spectrum, some high-drive dogs may whine as means of releasing pent-up energy and frustration when they’re overly excited. Such emotional “dumping” can be surprisingly stubborn to correct once it’s become a habit.

Dogs lacking confidence sometimes whine as a sign of submission and appeasement, typically along with matching body language such as a tucked tail, averted eyes, and a lowered body and head. This is normal canine behavior that can be reduced by simply building confidence. Obedience classes, dog sports or playing fun, and interactive games where your dog can ‘win’ may help achieve this goal.

The Bottom Line

Some dogs continue to whine beyond puppyhood, particularly if their humans continue responding. If your dog whines to seek attention, rewards, or desired objects, your strategy must be to teach that calm and quiet, not whining, will bring whatever the dog desires. What sounds easy in theory can become difficult in practice because we don’t watch ourselves and unwittingly reinforce the problem behavior. Remember that any eye contact, talking, touching, nuanced body language, and even yelling all constitute attention and will reinforce the behavior. Consider hiring a seasoned dog trainer to take the lead.

About North Edge K9

Our team at North Edge K9 is comprised of active police K9 handlers and civilian trainers with decades of street experience. We always advocate knowledge, control, and prevention and are available to guide and assist you in all your dog training needs. Please contact us at northedgek9training@gmail.com with any questions.