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Until someone invents a software program that can translate dog-speak into English, we’ll have to keep guessing at the meaning behind canine barks, howls, growls and, yes, whines.
Puppies quickly learn that whining is rewarded with attention and comfort from their mothers. It works so well for some of them, in fact, that many dogs continue to whine into adulthood.
A whine from an adult dog can mean a number of things, including the following:
I’m frustrated . . . because my toy is stuck behind the couch.
I’m hungry . . . so please drop a morsel of that cheeseburger in my direction.
I’m happy . . . because you’re home!
I'm anxious to do my business . . . so open the door before we both regret it.
I’m excited . . . because there’s a squirrel in the yard who needs to know who’s boss.
I'm in need of some loving . . . so rub my belly!
I’m anxious . . . because there’s a new baby in the house — and it’s annoying me.
I’m protecting you . . . from the letter carrier who's here with more bills for you to pay.
I’m scared . . . about that thunder.
I’m sorry . . . about digging up your flowerbed. Please forgive me.
For the most part, these are all examples of attention-seeking whines. The key to interpreting a whine is to ask yourself when it happens most, what's occurring at the time of the whining and what makes the whining stop. If you’re lucky, your dog will give you a hint, such as whining while staring at his food bowl.
Sometimes, however, whining can indicate that your dog is in pain or feeling excessive anxiety. A dog who has torn his cruciate ligament, for example, may hold up his limb and whine when you touch it. A dog with separation anxiety may begin to whine when you pick up the car keys to leave the house. And an older dog with cognitive dysfunction or senility may whine and pace around the house because he feels disoriented.
If you feel that your dog is experiencing any kind of discomfort or distress, it's important to consult with your veterinarian, who can determine if there's a medical issue behind the whining — and recommend behavior modification, medications or other treatments that can help.
If there’s no medical or anxiety issue at play, you may be inadvertently encouraging the attention-getting behavior. Whether you look at him, tell him “no” or offer that snack he’s begging for, you're rewarding him with what he wants — your attention.
The best thing you can do to discourage attention-seeking whining is to ignore your dog — don't make eye contact or talk to him when he whines. If need be, move to another room. Once he's quiet and calm, then you can reward him with praise or treats.
If your dog is especially vocal, a veterinary behaviorist or a certified dog trainer may be able to help.
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