Puppies are babies, so it makes perfect sense that, if they want attention, protection, or food, they’re going to whine and cry. Like with any “little one,” that noise makes us immediately want it to stop! If your puppy is growing up or is already an adult dog, and they’re still in the puppy whining habit, you’re not alone. It’s all too easy for us dog lovers to accidentally teach a puppy that whining works. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, eh? But this isn’t always the problem. To stop puppy whining habits from growing into a long-term personality defect in your dog, you do need to avoid the habit of “giving in” in response to the whining. However, sometimes your dog might have a legitimate complaint that needs to be found and dealt with – and it’s possible that you wouldn’t know about it, if they didn’t whine about it.
What Causes Puppy Whining?
I call it “puppy whining” because for the most part, even if we’re talking about an adult dog, we’re talking about a leftover habit from the dog’s early childhood. Since there are many different reasons for the puppy whining habit, I’ll cover a variety of them and then talk about ways of curbing the habit.
First and foremost: Don’t reward a habitual whiner! To stop puppy whining, you have to show them that it is not a way to get what they want. Don’t reward them with food, treats, an open door, or attention. If you do reward puppy whining, you are engaging in a training session – you are training your dog to whine more.
What Else Could Cause Your Dog’s Whining?
Maybe you haven’t been rewarding the puppy whining habit. Maybe it isn’t even a habit – maybe it’s just started “out of the blue” and you have no idea why, or you have some idea but you need help.
In this case, you need to know the cause of the whining, and help them deal with it. Here are some of the things your dog might be trying to tell you when he or she whines:
- “You don’t play with me enough.”
- “I’m cold, I’m wet, I’m hot, the air is too dry, or I’m dirty.”
- “Something hurts.”
- “I don’t know if I like this place.”
- “I’m bored right out of my little doggy skull.”
- “I really have to go to the bathroom” or “I made a potty mistake.”
- “I need some exercise and I don’t know how to get it.”
- “My water’s dirty” or “my food is stale” or “I’m out of food and water.”
- “I don’t want you to leave. “Separation anxiety is a big deal to dogs.”
- “I don’t feel like I fit into the family.” “I don’t feel like the pack loves me.”
As you can see, these are legitimate complaints for a dog. The original instinct that drives puppy whining is to get their mother’s attention – it’s what tells the mama dog there are needs to be met. If you think something similar is happening with the dog in your household, here is a partial checklist of essentials that every dog owner must provide so their dog can be happy.
Their “personal space” should have clean, dry bedding, be somewhat private, and should not be drafty.
- Their food should be kept airtight until feeding time, and they shouldn’t have to eat stale food.
- Their water should be clean. Keep in mind that doggie saliva is oily, and a filmy residue will form in the bowl after they’ve had a drink.
- A house trained dog needs enough chances each day to go to the bathroom. Puppies, especially, need this very often because they physically cannot hold their bladder and bowels for very long
- Dogs need toys to keep themselves occupied sometimes. On a related note, some dogs develop a fear of their toys for certain reasons; maybe your dog hates squeaky toys or toys that look like rodents, etc?
- Help your dog burn energy and fight boredom through exercise, play, and training.
Those are the most common “basic necessities” that any dog would whine about lacking. Next are some other things to consider. The following things are not basic necessities, but they may give your dog a lot of comfort and help end the whining habit.
- If there seems to be a certain area in the house the puppy whines about being in, try moving their food and water (not their bedding) to that area. Filling their bellies in that space will help them like it.
- Insecure dogs who whine at night probably wish their bedding was in your bedroom. It’s up to you whether this is a good idea, and if you do move the bedding into your room, you may need to make it a temporary move to avoid other signs of separation anxiety.
- Give your dog something that’s loaded with your scent, such as a piece of cloth you’ve been sleeping with for a while. An old pillowcase or night shirt, for example. (Obviously, I mean “give” it to them, not “loan” it to them.)
- Inspect your dog for injuries or take them to the veterinarian.
- Wrap a ticking clock up inside of a small pillow or a stuffed animal. The clock’s ticking will remind them of laying with their litter of siblings at night.
When Puppy Whining Stems from Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is the number one mental health risk for dogs. It’s not natural for a dog to be alone for long periods of time. The more closely- bonded they are with you and your family, the higher the chance that this is the cause of the puppy whining habit. If you think that could be the source of the problem, read my article: “Separation Anxiety in Dogs.”
How to Stop Puppy Whining
If none of the above are helping curb the puppy whining problem, or if all their needs are being met and then some and they just won’t stop whining, then you’re probably back to square one. You may have taught your dog that whining is the answer to all their whims.
Don’t feel bad. We want our dogs to shut up when they start whining, and moreover, we want them to be happy. If you think this could be the problem, here are some steps you can take to stop puppy whining habits.
- Be firm and consistent about whatever training you use. Do this because dogs need clear-set boundaries and repetition, in order to learn.
- Do not cuddle, pet, play with, talk to, feed, or reward your dog in any other way when they start whining. Never give them the impression that whining leads to satisfaction. Completely ignoring them when they whine is one route to training against the whining.
- Do spontaneously give your dog praise and attention on a regular basis for being quiet.
- This one should only be done if the dog definitely does not have problems with separation anxiety or other chronic fears: Create a loud banging noise the second they start to whine, or slam a door in their face. Add to this a new command training word such as “quiet!” (I normally don’t encourage scary punishment, but training to stop puppy whining is a special case.)
- If stern warnings and loud noises sound risky to your dog’s mental health, use a squirt gun. Avoid aiming for the face, and avoid squirting so much that their bedding becomes wet – there’s a risk of skin infections. Never continue the squirt gun method for more than a few days.
- For both of the above punishments, make sure you issue the punishment instantly after they start whining, and never do the punishment after they’ve stopped.
- I must repeat: Always accompany these training methods, with the habit of praising, loving, and rewarding your puppy when they are quiet. It’s not fair to teach them to stop whining if that’s the only time you notice your puppy.
- Use the advice in the e-book “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer” in the section where they teach you how to train a dog to stop barking.
Final Advice to Stop Puppy Whining
Obedience training is the main key to solving and preventing all mental health problems with dogs, whether the root cause is stress or a simple misunderstanding about boundaries. You’re strong, but kind leadership is a psychological need for your puppy. If your puppy lacks that leadership, that’s something to whine about.
I’ve written a full section about doing obedience training with your dog, and if you need more information, I recommend this excellent, and comprehensive dog owner’s resource: “Secrets of a Professional Dog Trainer.”
Return to the dog and puppy training homepage or go back to the section on behavior training.