Demand Whining in Dogs

My dog whines constantly! She sits and stares at me and whines. Sometimes I know what’s wrong, but often I can’t figure out what she wants. This constant whining is driving me crazy!

Dogs are very social creatures, even more so than humans, and have no desire to be alone.  From the information you have given, I see two possibilities:  mild separation anxiety and demand whining.

Regardless of the reason, you must address demand whining.  All animals do what works and they quickly learn the most efficient means of getting what they want.  In this case, Hilday has learned that whining allows her to be with you.  Also be aware that she may have been practicing this behavior for four years – it may even be why she ended up in a shelter!  The longer a behavior is indulged, the longer it takes to get rid of it.  It is imperative that you NEVER give her what she wants when she is whining – wait until she stops and then let her in with you.  Start with just a short break in the whining (1-2 seconds) and gradually increase the time.  Be on your toes – if you go into a room and Hilday doesn’t whine, you must take advantage of that opportunity to teach her the behavior you do want.  You cannot teach the absence of a behavior; you must replace it with another behavior – in this case replace whining with being silent.  If you sometimes reward her for whining you are on what we call a random reward schedule and a random reward schedule is the schedule used to instill the strongest behaviors (in this case whining).  Las Vegas exists because of random reward schedules!  Another thing to remember is that the dog will have an “extinction burst.”  This means that before the behavior goes away, Hilday will whine longer and louder than she ever has before; but instead of getting exasperated take heart, because this means the behavior is on the way out and if you make it through the extinction burst you’re on the downhill road to ending this whining behavior.

It is quite common for rescue dogs to have some form of separation anxiety.  What you have described, if it is S/A, sounds like a very mild form and you can teach Hilday to be more secure on her own.  If she is not currently crate trained, I would recommend doing this.  Then you can put Hilday in her crate a small distance from you and give her a stuffed Kong or other yummy chew toy and she will be quite content.  Gradually increase the distance between yourself and the crate.  Once she’s content to be in her crate, start going out of the room for 5 seconds then come back (not if she’s whining, though!).  Continue doing this, gradually increasing the length of your absence.  Teach Hilday that being alone is not a terrible thing – in fact it’s a good thing — and that you will return.  If you feel this is a serious case of S/A, you should consult with a behavior counselor.

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.