Whether it’s a high-pitched whimper or a prolonged vocalization, dog whining is a form of communication that can leave pet parents concerned, perplexed and frustrated.
Adult dogs whine for many reasons, from wanting your attention to being in pain, to urging you to pause your rewatch of “Succession” and get their ball from underneath the couch. The solution to whining depends on the reason behind it.
We spoke with a dog training expert to understand the many possible reasons behind dog whining and how to best support your four-legged companion in such instances.
Why Is My Dog Whining? 7 Possible Reasons
Here are the most common reasons adult dogs whine, according to Traci Madson, a certified professional dog trainer at Pupford.
1. Seeking Attention
Whining can be a dog’s method of getting your attention. Just like a child might tug on a parent’s sleeve, dogs can use vocalizations to express their desire for interaction.
If your dog is whining, they may be trying to engage you in play, ask for a cuddle or simply get more of your time and affection.
2. Expressing Pain or Discomfort
A dog in pain or discomfort will often whine to signal distress. This might happen if they’re suffering from an illness, have sustained an injury or are experiencing a chronic condition such as arthritis.
Their whining could be an attempt to communicate their discomfort or need for help.
3. Expressing Fear or Stress
Just like humans, dogs experience fear and stress, and their whining can be an expression of these emotions. This could be triggered by various stimuli like loud noises, unfamiliar environments or the presence of other animals.
4. Expressing Boredom
When dogs are under-stimulated or bored, they might resort to whining.
Dogs, particularly active breeds, require a certain amount of mental and physical stimulation each day. When these needs are not met, they may communicate their boredom or frustration through whining.
5. Wanting Something
Dogs often whine when they want their human to do something for them, like give them food, take them on a walk or throw their ball.
6. Separation Anxiety
If your dog becomes extremely anxious when you’re about to leave or while you’re gone, they might whine excessively. This behavior, called separation anxiety, is a manifestation of their fear of being left alone and their desire for constant companionship. It is commonly accompanied by other behaviors, such as pacing, destruction and inappropriate elimination.
7. Communicating Excitement
Not all whining is a sign of distress. Sometimes, a dog will whine out of sheer excitement or anticipation. This could happen when they watch you prepare their meal or reach for their leash.
It could also be triggered by an enticing sight, like a squirrel darting up a tree, or when their cherished human companion arrives home. It’s their way of saying, “This is thrilling!”
What to Do About Excessive Whining in Dogs
Here’s a step-by-step approach to go about determining the reason and tending to it.
Rule Out a Medical Problem
First things first, it’s essential to ensure your dog isn’t experiencing a medical issue, explains Madson.
“All the training in the world won’t make a difference if your dog is in pain or uncomfortable,” she says. “We always want to rule out a medical reason for changing behavior before we do anything else.”
Your dog may have a medical condition if their whining:
- Started suddenly
- Is frequent or persistent
- Is intense
- Is accompanied by signs of distress such as lethargy, loss of appetite or other unusual behavior
- Doesn’t seem connected to any fleeting emotion or desire such as excitement or desire for attention, food or a toy
If you suspect your dog’s whining could be due to a medical condition (or you’re unsure), consult a veterinarian ASAP. It’s important to rule out any potential health problems that could be causing your dog’s discomfort.
Identify the Trigger
Once medical reasons are ruled out, it’s time to put on your detective hat and try to identify the underlying cause or trigger of your pup’s whining.
“Because there are many reasons adult dogs may whine, it’s very important to look at the whole dog and their environment,” says Madson.
- If your dog has been in the house for several hours without a pee break, their whining could be due to needing a potty break.
- If your dog whines when you take out their leash, it’s likely an expression of excitement.
- If your dog whines when you put them in a crate, they’re likely expressing dissatisfaction with being confined in the crate.
- If your dog whines when you’re engaged in a conversation, they might be seeking your attention.
- If your dog starts whining around the time you usually feed them, they’re likely expressing a desire to eat.
Understand the Difference Between Critical Issues and Non-Critical Issues
Striking a balance between being a responsive dog parent and not giving in to every little whimper from your dog is crucial. The key to this is being able to differentiate between cries signaling genuine distress and those indicating an attention-seeking pup.
Some instances in which you should attend to your dog’s whining ASAP include:
- Immediate potty needs: If it’s been several hours since your dog has had a chance to go potty and they’re whining, promptly take them outside to see if they need to do their business.
- Signs of pain or physical discomfort: If your dog is displaying signs of pain or discomfort, visiting a vet to understand the issue is imperative. In addition to whining, some signs may include not wanting to be touched; restlessness; excessive licking; limping; walking slower; or refusing to walk.
- Fear from external factors: When a dog’s whines stem from anxiety due to external factors, such as thunder or fireworks, overlooking them can intensify their distress. It’s important to help your dog grow accustomed and comfortable with such stimuli.
Beyond those instances, most other whines signal that your dog:
- Wants something from you (i.e., food, attention, a toy, etc.)
- Is excited
- Is communicating displeasure about something (i.e., being in a crate)
It’s crucial to remember that behaviors that are constantly rewarded will persist. Hence, if you attend to your dog each time they whine in noncritical situations, they’ll learn that whining is the best way to get what they want.
Use Positive Reinforcement Training for Non-Critical Issues
Piggybacking on the last point, it’s important to teach your dog that calm behavior is more effective in getting your attention or action.
Let’s take a look at how to approach a few noncritical situations:
- Wanting to go for a walk: If your dog whines to go for a walk when you arrive home, wait until they’re quiet to pull out the leash.
- Seeking attention: If your dog whines because they want your attention, wait until they’re quiet, then reward them with pets.
- Mealtime anticipation: If your dog impatiently whines for their food, wait until they quiet down before placing their meal in front of them.
The key is to reward quiet moments and consistent good behavior—not whining. Avoid scolding your dog for whining, as this can elevate your dog’s anxiety and erode trust.
Provide Adequate Physical and Mental Stimulation
Whining can be the equivalent of a teenager yelling out, “Ughhh, I’m sooo bored!” To keep boredom at bay, your dog needs to get enough exercise and mental stimulation. Regular walks, playtime, attention from you and interactive toys can help reduce boredom-driven whining.
Desensitize Your Dog to Feared Stimuli
If fear or stress is causing your dog to whine, you can work with your dog to create positive associations with the feared stimulus, Madson says.
Let’s say your dog is scared of fireworks. Here’s how to desensitize your dog to this stimulus:
- Find an audio recording of fireworks.
- Play the recording at a very low volume (one that your dog doesn’t respond to fearfully).
- While the recording is playing, feed them dinner, give them a treat or play with their favorite toy.
- In your next session, play the recording a little louder while you feed them or play with their favorite toy.
- Continue increasing the volume each session over several weeks or months. If your dog displays fearful behavior while playing the audio, stop immediately. Begin your next session at a lower volume that doesn’t cause anxiety and proceed more slowly.
This process essentially changes your dog’s perception of the stressor from “that sound is terrifying” to “I love it when I hear that sound because I get yummy treats,” says Madson.
Work with a Professional Trainer or Behaviorist
If your dog’s whining continues despite your efforts or if it’s linked to a more complex issue such as persistent separation anxiety, consider working with a professional dog trainer or a canine behaviorist. They can provide specialized guidance and techniques to help address your dog’s specific needs.
Patience and understanding are key when dealing with a whining dog. With time, consistent effort and a lot of love, you can help your furry friend feel more comfortable, content and understood.
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