Why Dogs Whine and How to Handle It

dog whining laying on floor
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Does your dog whine? Whining is just one of a few ways dogs sometimes vocalize. Just like barking or growling, your dog's whining is a way of communicating. But what do her whines mean? What if she whines TOO much? Is there something you can do to address the whining?

Why Dogs Whine

Whining is especially common in puppies. They are learning how to communicate their needs and wants. Young puppies whine to get attention and food from their mother (just like how babies cry).

It’s often pretty obvious why a dog is whining. She may be begging for food or asking to be let in or out of the house. Other times, the whining may not be so easy to understand.

Often, certain body language will accompany the whining. This can help you better understand why she is whining.

Here are a few of the most common reasons dogs whine. Note that these reasons may overlap.

  • Asking for Something: If your dog wants something from you, like food, a toy, or a walk, she may whine in an effort to tell you. You may even notice her shifting her eyes between you and the object of her desire while she whines. 
  • Attention Seeking: This type of whining may occur if you are doing something that does not involve her, like having a conversation with someone or focusing on something important. She may even do it if she is jealous of the time you are spending with a person or another pet.
  • Boredom: This often comes across as a "woe is me" sigh-and-whine routine. She whines out of boredom and she may also be trying to get your attention.
  • Excitement: If your dog is very excited, whining may be part of the way she expels all of the energy she has. It may happen along with jumping up and down and running around. Part of this whining may also be about seeking attention.
  • Stress: It's common for dogs to whine when anxious or afraid. The whining is often accompanied by appeasement gestures (calming signals) such as yawning, lip-licking, and averting the eyes. You may notice a whine and yawn occur together. By displaying appeasement gestures (with or without whining) dog is trying to calm herself down and send a signal to others that she is not a threat. Stressful whining is often accompanied by other signs of fear.
  • Pain or Discomfort: Many dogs will whine if they are sick or in pain. If your dog whines when she is sick, she may be trying to get your attention to tell you she feels unwell, Or, she may have no desire to get attention, but is whining in an effort to calm herself (appeasement). If your dog is whining a lot and you have ruled out other reasons, you should ask your veterinarian to assess her. There may be something going on with her health.

Pay close attention to the sound of your dog's whining and the body language that she displays while whining. Over time, you may find that she has different sounding whines for each specific reason. For example, you may become very familiar with your dog's "I want something" and "I'm bored" whines. Then, when you hear a distinctly different sounding whine, it may help you determine that she is stressed out or in pain.

What to Do If Your Dog Whines Too Much

If your dog seems to be whining excessively, it's best to try and learn the reason before you address it. Some owners don't mind a little whining now and then. Others can barely tolerate whining dogs and consider any amount of whining to be excessive. The good news is that you can train your dog to whine less (or perhaps not to whine at all).

Look at the situation objectively and go through the potential reasons for the whining to decide how to proceed. Never punish your dog for whining as that can make a fearful or anxious dog get even more stressed out. It may even lead to aggressive behavior.

If she seems fearful, anxious or otherwise stressed out, see if you can find the source of her stress. There are many fears and phobias that affect dogs. If you can determine the reason for her fear or anxiety, you may be able to work on training and desensitising her so she can get over her fears and worries.

Does Your Dog Need Vet Intervention? 

If you are unable to determine the source, her whining may be about pain or discomfort and you should bring her to the vet. It's always best to rule out medical issues before you dismiss the whining as a behavior problem.

Be sure to approach your dog carefully and handle her gently if she is whining about stress or pain. These feelings can escalate and even develop into aggression.

How to Respond to a Whining Dog

If you are quite certain she is whining about something she wants (like attention or food) then be sure you are not accidentally encouraging the whining. It's one thing if she is whining to go outside to do her business; it's better to let her out than to clean up an accident in the house!

In other situations, when you respond to the whining by giving her what she wants each time, you are encouraging her behavior. Over time, this will inadvertently train her to whine about whatever she wants. This is the most common cause of problem whining in dogs. It's really hard to resist a whining puppy. Unfortunately, if you give into that cute puppy every time, you could end up with a really whiny adult dog.

Be selective about the way you respond to your dog's whining. If you are sure there is nothing really wrong, then it's best to ignore the whining. Once she has a moment of silence, you can reward her with your attention, a treat, etc. You can even work on the "quiet" command

In most cases, you can manage excessive whining with basic training, mental stimulation, and exercise. In more serious situations, you may need to bring in a trainer or behaviorist for extra help. Be patient and consistent and you are likely to see some results. you may not be able to completely rid your dog of the whining habit, but you should be able to decrease it to a more tolerable amount.