How To Stop A Dog From Whining
Dogs that whine are horrible.
If you have stumbled upon this post and having a whining dog, then let me be clear about a few things.
First, let’s define whining.
I define whining as an impolite way to ask for something, repetitively. So barking, whining, nudging your hand for pets, sitting on you for attention, or any other annoying way that your dog tries to get your attention is ALL classified as whining.
If you have a dog who does any of these things, I’ve got some bad news.
The real problem isn’t that your dog whines. It’s not even close to your real problem.
The real problem is what I like to call… “Guilt Giveritis”
Guilt Giving is when you give your dog something it wants, out of guilt… (like if he’s hungry, cold or wet)… even if the way he asked you for that thing was unacceptable, i.e., barking, whining, jumping on you, etc.
And the best way to tell if you have Guilt Giveritis is if, when describing your dog to others, you often refer to your dog as spoiled, while giving a sheepish, smiling grin.
If you think you have contracted this annoying disease, please note that there is only ONE cure… YOU have to change! You have to immediately stop giving your dog what it wants, if he’s not asking you nicely.
It’s just like this scene we’ve all witnessed with young children at the grocery store:
Anyone watching this realizes that if the mother gives her kids what they’re screaming for, she’s literally training them to scream every time they wants something they’re told the can’t have. The more the child gets what it wants, the bigger the fit when it doesn’t get what it wants in the future.
But here’s the real question…
If everyone watching knows this, then why do parents give in?
The reason they give in is GUILT!
They may be feeling so guilty that their child is annoying so many people at the store that they’re willing to do anything to make the problem go away, just so they can avoid the embarrassment of the situation.
You’ll see parents of split households do this, when they have their child for the weekend, and they will cave into their child’s poor behavior because they are feeling guilty about the lack of time they’ve spent with their child since a divorce.
Other times you’ll have parents who grew up in extreme poverty, or hunger, who simply can’t emotionally handle the fact that their child says they’re hungry. The adult’s own pain from their childhood overrides their logic and causes them to cave into their child’s desires because they can’t handle even a little bit of hunger.
As you see, the reasons can be very deep. But if we’re talking about how to stop a dog from whining, I’m here to tell you that for your dog, and the level of joy you want your dog to bring you over the course of it’s life, you cannot keep rewarding him for his whining.
But that’s the trouble, isn’t it? It can be hard to stop!
Whining Can Be Caused By Deep Rooted Emotional Issues
I have a dear Aunt in my family who has deep-rooted emotional problems. She’s been divorced, isn’t good with people, has two daughters that won’t talk to her, and is battling severe loneliness. So, when her dog barks its head off when she comes home from work because the dog’s excited to see her, that dog is literally the only thing in her life that fills the loneliness inside her. Because of this, she pets the dog EVERY time it barks at her. Deep down she even likes that it barks at her, because it makes her feel better.
But when people do come over to visit, the dog (who’s excited to see new people) barks at all the new people constantly, too. My Aunt thinks it’s cute that her dog is so LOVING and fails to realize that the incessant barking only makes people NOT want to visit her, adding to her loneliness.
So, my plea to you is…
Don’t be like my Aunt! And don’t be like your Mother, either!
Maternal instincts are also often the cause of Guilt Giveritits, because people feel sorry for a puppy or a dog that whines.
For some reason whining brings about a maternal instinct in many humans; male and female. But just because it FEELS maternal doesn’t make it RIGHT!
Many psychologists like to talk about a term called Rebound Parenting, which is causing an epidemic right now of children being unable to accept criticism because they are raised in a home that is too focused on feelings, at the expense of not teaching kids boundaries of bad behavior. And it’s affecting dog owners too.
Pet owners with this overly maternal mentality towards pet parenting will often say things like, “He sounds so sad, I had to let him out!”
However, this just teaches the dog to whine when he wants something.
And I don’t care what the species is, I’m not a fan of whining.
I mean, what are we rewarding?
I remember when one of my best friend’s children went through this phase (which had clearly been rewarded at some point, since it existed and continued for a few weeks). I used to say, “I can’t hear you when you whine” and since she was like 4, she believed me and stopped whining to me.
If I say “no” I mean NO, whether you are human or K9.
And, if you want something, there are other ways to ask… even if you are a dog!
If I’ve got a dog who is whining for pets by leaning into me too hard or bumping my elbow off the arm rest while I’m watching TV, I do NOT immediately start petting the dog.
Instead I train him to sit for pets if he wants them or to sit and lay his head down besides me for a petting.
In my opinion, that is much better than constantly bumping me with his nose and I can easily ignore it if I so choose.
If you have the type of dog who’s been trained that breakfast is given immediately after you get up in the morning, and they whine at a certain time every morning to get their food, by barging in, jumping on your bed, licking your hand or actually whining, then you must INSTANTLY stop rewarding that behavior by invoking a 10 minute penalty; meaning that every time your dog whines you set a timer for ten more minutes, and keep resetting that timer for ten more minutes until your dog realizes that whining ONLY means one thing in your house…
“Whining for Food Means You Have to Wait 10 More Minutes to Eat”
Or make them ask you in a more appropriate way, like with a trick I learned from the breeder I bought my last Golden Retriever from.
How to Train 16 Puppies to Not Whine for Their Breakfast
My most recent dog was born to a litter of 16 puppies! NO, that’s not a typo. There were literally sixteen puppies in the pen when I went to check out the pups for the first time. I’ll never forget what happened…
As luck would have it, I showed up around feeding time (which is actually a GREAT time to check out new puppies, by the way, as you can temperament test them for many more things when they’re anxious to eat and more active vs. full and sleepy).
As I walked into the garage where the puppies were being raised, all sixteen puppies ran over to the side of their pen, instantly sat down, and all stared at me. It was like an act from a circus!
When I asked the breeder why they were doing that he told me that because the puppies’ mother couldn’t nurse all her pups at one time, they had to do feedings in shifts. As you might imagine, in the beginning the puppies were climbing all over each other to be the first in line for a meal. To keep things under control, the breeder decided he would take the pups who were sitting to their mother first.
In the beginning he would have to wait a good 5-10 minutes before one of the puppies would stop fighting for the front of the line, give up, and sit down. But this is what the breeder was wanting to have happen. When he started picking up the first puppy who sat down, and taking him to their mother, it didn’t take long for the rest of the puppies to realize that there was a trick to getting to eat faster. And that trick wasn’t to bark and whine more… it was to HURRY UP and SIT! Which was exactly what a whole litter of pups did for every feeding!
Now that’s a breeder who makes obedience training easier for dog owners, because dog obedience is ALWAYS easier to train once a dog has learned to control its impulses like these puppies were taught.
And if a litter of 16 pups can learn to stop whining for food all at once, you should be able to do it with your dog too!
By making your dog realize that whining only makes it take longer for him to eat, he’ll stop doing it.
This same methodology works for dogs who whine when you go to grab their leash, or get in the car, or “bark whine” to be let in from outside, or whine when they’re in a car knowing that they’re headed to a park to play.
If you have a dog who whines for things like that, try exercises like this, and start making your dog ask for things it wants, like I do with this dog who couldn’t stop whining to be let outside:
As you can see, dog training doesn’t have to be hard! You can teach your dog (even adult dogs like the one I’m training in the video) to stop whining in a matter of minutes!
A Means of Misguided Communication
There is a type of whining (that’s quite a bit different from the whining we’ve already covered) that we need to also address. I’m talking about misguided communication.
For example, when a puppy first wakes up in his crate at night, starts rustling around and whines, only to be let outside.
Or those dogs who whine if they are tethered and bark the whole time you walk towards them to untie them….
We don’t want to inadvertently teach a puppy that whining, or crying, is the means of communication we need in order for him to receive what he wants!
This means he will whine when he wants everything.
It also means he will whine aggressively when ignored.
And, aggressive whining is soooooo much worse (IMO) than aggressive barking.
I can correct and control barking; but this is nearly impossible with whining.
And if I want to utilize a citronella collar to help my dog learn not to bark while I am away, whining won’t trigger it.
Again, I prefer that my dog never learn that it is effective, or a means of communication at all!
I ignore puppy whining like it doesn’t exist at all.
I reward quiet.
Sometimes I capture and/or correct barking.
I NEVER do EITHER with whining.
Even trying to “correct it” brings attention and acknowledgement that it exists.
So, What Do You Do to Stop Your Dog’s Whining?
I know that is your question, right?
What if your dog is crying at night in his crate at 3 o’clock and you know he has to go outside?
You missed the first signal (getting up and being restless) so you wait until the whining subsides for a moment or two.
I personally put my dog’s crate right by my side of the bed when I’m crate training or potty training and I listen for a puppy that gets up or walks around in his kennel; then I immediately get him outside BEFORE he whines or barks!
I admit, this can be a little brutal during the first few weeks and months of your puppy’s life, but it’s so worth it, especially if you also have a desire to potty train your dog at as young of an age as possible.
I view it as my job, and my responsibility, to reward the behaviors I prefer.
If I take my pup out for whining or barking, I am telling, or miscommunication (in many instances), that this is what I want my puppy to do when he wants something.
Instead, it is up to me to wait and find a behavior I would like to reward.
OR, for those of you who sleep soundly, set an alarm and take your pup out every few hours.
Yes, that is inconvenient, but so is teaching your puppy to whine and ruin your sleep, your car rides, and your sanity!
How to Fix Whining and Crate Crying During the Day
One game we like to play with dogs we are training to be comfortable in their crate during the day is called the Peek A Boo Game.
As you’ll see later, this game isn’t just for use in a crate. But the act of not giving the dog what it wants (i.e., freedom from the crate) unless it acts nicely is a formula for stopping all sorts of whining problems in dogs.
This game does have its limitations, though.You cannot expect this game to fix your dog’s crate crying or whining if you do not provide enough mental or physical stimulation during your puppy’s day to keep him from being bored out of his mind. Spend time training your dog to retrieve, so that you can burn off lots of energy with things like ball throwers to wear out energetic dogs. Or for older dogs, find foraging toys or puzzle toys that keep them working hard to solve puzzles. Mental stimulation is just as tiring as physical.
Ideally, if you must constantly leave your dog while you work, you can find a local doggy daycare service or dog walking service who can provide the mental stimulation that being in a crate all day obviously denies them.
How to Fix Dogs Who Whine When They Don’t Want to be Alone
Let’s face it, sometimes we have to leave our dogs alone. We can’t take them everywhere with us, so they need to learn how to be tied up, left alone in the backyard, or even how to be ok when left alone in the house when you head off to work.
I’ve had all these types of dogs. Some were so obsessed with the ball that I could not have them out while playing wiffle ball with my kids in the yard because they’d chew the ball.
Other dogs I could not let outside because they had not yet learned how to properly come when they were called and would run off into the forest.
These types of dogs often build up a lot of anxious energy when they see you doing something they want to do, and they often bark because they feel like they’re NOT being included.
That’s why you need to approach this type of whining from two angles.
The first thing you should start working on is FIXING the behavior that is causing you to have dog behavior problems in the first place.
If you’ve got a dog who you can’t be let outside because he gets too excited and plays too rough with children, here’s a great game to play. I call it the WWE Game.
The WWE Game for Teaching Dogs How to Play Nicer – So You Don’t Have to Tie Them Up in the First Place
The WWE game is all about creating an environment that is OVERLY stimulating for your dog and that he wants to be a part of with all of his being.
The Set Up:
Create a space where you can roughhouse with kids or grand kids, or do whatever activity your dog is getting too worked up about not being included in. For me, that’s when
I wrestle with my kids.
If my dog would see me wrestling, he’d get way to excited, start jumping all over us, pulling on our clothes, and play biting. This was unacceptable behavior.
I like to set this game up by using one of those REALLY long baby gates to section off an entire portion of a room, where I can have all my children wrestling while my dog is locked out of that space and on the other side of the fence.
Make sure you have your dog on a leash, have several toys ready to stuff into his mouth if he starts to get too nippy, and several children who are eager to wrestle. If you have a puppy who’s really a nipper, it’s a good idea to give everyone a toy they can offer the puppy if he starts to get nippy. Tough plush toys are what worked best for my Golden Retriever, and they last FOREVER compared to other brands.
Get Your Dog Worked Up
In this game we want to create a situation where the dog is so overanxious to play that it’s driving him to “beg bark”. We do that by wrestling, and this causes the dog to bark his head off (i.e., whine) because he wants to play with us. Notice how that’s exactly how my dog is whining in the image.
Once your dog starts barking, what we are going to do is continue wrestling until we notice the dog STOP barking for a few seconds. And our goal is to teach our dog that dogs who whine about wanting to play by barking do NOT get to play. Instead, they can only play with us if they sit quietly.
If your dog is NOT sitting quietly, and refuses to calm down, it can be helpful to reduce the intensity of the wrestling or playing that is causing your dog to bark.
Keep lowering the intensity until your dog sits quietly or stops barking. In the beginning, it’s ok if your dog stops barking because he’s distracted. We don’t care why he stops barking, we just want to teach him that the second he stops barking he is let in to play.
Here’s a look at my dog finally sitting down quietly.
Once your dog is sitting down quietly, you let him in to play with you.
Make sure you have several of his favorite toys handy, so he has an appropriate way to play with you vs. just jumping or play biting.
Ramp Up the Play Intensity
As you play, spend some time playing with your dog, then some time NOT playing with him. This will most likely cause him to want to engage with you or your children in play. When we do this, what we’re looking for is whether the dog is following the rules for how we want him to play with us. For me in this game, I’m teaching my dog that if his paws step on anyone, or his teeth touch skin or pull clothes, he gets kicked out of the game immediately.
Here he is stepping on one of my kids.
You might be thinking that it’s a pretty harmless behavior to correct in a puppy, and why if he’s just a puppy is it not ok for him to step on someone? My rebuttal is that this dog will be 70 pounds one day, and I don’t want people who come over with their young babies or toddlers to ever have my dog not care about where he steps, trampling young kids and forcing me to have to crate him when guests come over for the rest of his life.
And the second reason is because adults do not like to have wet muddy paws touch them when they come over. So, keep those things in mind if you’re thinking that I’m being too harsh.
When the puppy breaks your rules, kick him out of the game
Notice how I reach for and use my dog’s leash to pull him out of the game. I use a leash, instead of grabbing for my dog’s collar, because I do not want to train my dog that every time I grab for his collar he is in trouble. Also, as the dog gets bigger, having a leash you can step on without directly confronting him is INCREDIBLY helpful. There’s no need to add more punishment by putting him in a crate, tying him up or anything like that. We don’t want to teach a puppy to associate any negative feelings with a crate; not being allowed to play is his punishment.
Simply and calmly use the leash to remove your dog from the game.
Once you’ve removed your dog from the game, go back to playing with your children and keep repeating the process of letting your dog in every time he’s quiet, and kicking him out every time he nips or whines. Pretty soon you’ll teach your puppy that it’s unacceptable to whine or bark just because he feels left out.
This has the added benefit of meaning that you don’t have to leave your dog locked up, tied up, or crated as much because he knows how to properly interact with people.
That’s really our number one goal with whining… eliminate the root cause of the problem that’s making the dog whine in the first place.
Now sometimes we can’t eliminate the root cause of our dog’s whining. When working with a dog like that, who’s been tethered or crated all day and is just so excited to see you come home from work he’s barking incessantly to be let free, you need to play games like this one:
We must realize that it is those short moments of weakness where our dogs are whining for things we would love to give them, that giving in UNFORTUNATELY means our puppies learn how to manipulate us with whining.
But, through games like the ones in this article, we can train dogs to “ask nicely” for what they want, by sitting or being quiet, and we can choose to only reward those behaviors we want to continue to see in the future!
But Please Be Warned – This Won’t Work for Separation Anxiety
Many dog owners are quick to label their dog’s whining and crying for long periods of time as separation anxiety just because their dog starts whining and crying the second the crate door closes and they leave the room. While this may be true, separation anxiety is actually a lot more serious than an excessive case of whining and is meant to describe a practically debilitating level of anxiousness that leaves a dog unwilling to function normally when not in your presence.
Separation anxiety is more like a panic attack, where the dog is literally unable to maintain its mental composure when out of your presence. If you think you have a dog with separation anxiety here’s an example of a gal who cured a very mild level of separation anxiety.
If your dog’s separation anxiety is more severe than this, you should look into working with a Veterinary Behaviorist who can help you manage your dog’s anxiety through both medication and a training plan. Working with an expert is absolutely the approach you should take if your dog is constantly, uncontrollably whining and crying, soiling themselves, or having a panic attack the second you leave them alone for even the smallest amount of time.
Veterinarians Should be Consulted for Any Pain-Related Whining
Lastly, if you have a dog who is howling in pain or discomfort, take him to the vet. Always try to treat medical conditions sooner than later!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.