Saturday, 25 June 2011


A constantly whining dog can be terribly annoying and frustrating, but whining is a way for dogs to communicate their needs to us, and is not always a bad thing. How much and when a dog whines depends to some extent to their temperament, confidence and health, but to a very large part it is a behaviour that is learned. We are often unaware that we are actively teaching our dog to whine when we really don’t want them to. Often we try to stop whining, but end up encouraging it. On the other hand, if you have a dog that never ever whines, how do you know if they feel pain or worry, or if they need the toilet when you are sleeping at night?

Eddie and Cassie are two very different characters when it comes to whining. Eddie is quite vocal and will voice his discontent, boredom or excitement through whining. He was also quite a whiner when dealing with the stresses of settling into our home. The first night he paced and whined for a long time before quieting down, out of exhaustion, no doubt. Although I have since realized that crating him may have made the transition from kennel to house easier for him, at the time my only strategy was to ignore him and let him get used to his new situation, which he did relatively quickly. After a week with us he was no longer whining in the evenings when we went to bed, leaving him downstairs.

However, as soon as he heard us waking up, or even just our alarm going off, he started whining intensely with the excitement of having us back down and getting to go outside. He made quite some noise, making us stress and hurry downstairs to get him out and quiet. Not an ideal situation. Of course, we were immediately reinforcing his whining, as he was rewarded every morning by us coming downstairs after his performance. It was difficult not to, as we had to get up – we couldn’t stay in bed until he became quiet which would have taken quite some time, and he probably did need the toilet too.

I decided this had to be nipped in the bud. At a weekend, when we had some leeway with time in the morning, as soon as he started whining I went downstairs and told him very firmly, “no” and “go back to bed”. I had to physically push and herd him into bed, at first, but he very quickly understood my body language (determined stance, moving towards him). Once he was lying back in bed, I left to go back to mine. Of course, at fist, as soon as I turned to go back up, he followed me to the bottom of the stairs and resumed his whining. So I repeated my correction, coming down, saying “no, back to bed” and making him go.

After a few repetitions he followed me to the stairs but did not whine. When he had been quiet only a few minutes I went downstairs, praised him profusely and took him outside. The next morning he was whining again, but less intensely. However, he got told to go back to bed again. This time he remained quiet very quickly. In fact, after the weekend, I only had to correct him a couple of times, and usually only by voice from the top of the stairs. Now he does not whine at all when he hears us get up, but waits patiently and quietly at the bottom of the stairs.

In fact, the “no, go back to bed” correction has proved very effective in several situations, but more on that elsewhere. I was, however, a little worried that discouraging Eddie from whining would stop him from telling me if something was really wrong, or if he needed to go out during the night. So when he did start to whine a little tentatively on a weekend when we weren’t awake, but the time was reasonable for us and him to wake up, I did get up and take him out. This way, I was hoping, I was rewarding him for telling us when he really needed to go.

On the other hand, I didn’t want to encourage him to start waking us up, however gently, earlier and earlier. I have therefore tried to make a distinction between toileting needs and morning walkies. He gets to go for a little walk in the mornings once we’re out of bed, but if he whines earlier than we are ready, I go downstairs and open the door to the garden, so that he can go if he needs the toilet. Then I go back to bed. This seems to have worked very well to discourage him to whine for walkies too early, but has let him know that if he needs to toilet I will come and open the door. Indeed, the few times he has had a bad stomach in the night, he has let me know, and I have let him out, he’s done his thing and quickly gone back to bed, with a little tail wag on the way back as if to say “thanks”. My strategy seems to have worked.

Cassie was very different, however. When she came to us she didn’t whine at all. She slept through quietly from the first night. She was still in bed when Eddie was waiting at the bottom of the stairs in the morning. In fact, she was so quiet I was worried she wouldn’t tell me if she needed to go out, but just go. Thankfully she turned out to have a stronger stomach than Eddie and she is very regular in her toilet needs. We have had only one accident, and only pee.

Over time, however, Cassie has become more vocal. I think she is partly taking after Eddie and whining when she is really excited about a cat or a squirrel, and partly coming out of her shell more, and learning that communicating with us pays dividends, by getting our attention. The real test was a bad stomach at night, however. Usually she shows me that she wants to go out by pacing around the door, but quietly. The other night, however, I heard some whining, and I could tell it was her. Indeed she needed to go out and relieve herself. I gave her a lot of praise, to show her I was very pleased and proud that she had alerted me!

Although some thought and care has to be taken to encourage the right kind and discourage the wrong kind of whining, it is a behaviour that I don’t think should be suppressed entirely, at the same time as it should be managed. It is one of the ways that a dog can use to communicate its needs to us, and for a happy canine and human cohabitation, we have to listen to them sometimes too. 


houndstooth said...

Oh, you've hit on one of my pet peeves that we've struggled with for years. Blueberry is our whiner, and she whines outside because she wants to come back in. She'll start before she's even done out there some days. All tactics to quiet her have failed, and I don't want her to be a nuisance to the neighbors. We've tried waiting her out, but once she gets started, it doesn't stop. I love her dearly, but oh, that drives me nuts! She seems to just be a girl who has a lot to say. The thing is, she's so good the rest of the time, I guess I can't expect her to be perfect, but it'd be nice! lol

E.A. said...

Yeah it is a tricky one - it is so difficult not to reinforce whining in these situations, and they can go on forever if you try to wait them out. Have you tried going out and doing something annoying to her every time she whines, say poking your finger in her ribs (I do this to Eddie when I am correcting him, firmly enough to be uncomfortable, but not too hard). Then go back in again. If she whines go out - no other communication, just poke her, and go in again. Let her in when she has been quiet for a little while (don't wait too long!). The idea would be to get her to associate whining with annoying poke.
Just an idea...

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houndstooth said...

One summer I tried squirting her with the water hose, but it didn't really seem to deter her enough to get it stopped, and the other Greyhounds really didn't appreciate it so much! lol