Why yes, he would like some cheese with that whine.
April 4, 2011 10:26 AM   Subscribe

Puppyfilter: 9 month old lab. Will this habitual whining get better with age?

This is Moose. See how sad he is? He's so sad. You could be scratching behind his ears right now, but nooo... you're checking your email. You cruel, cruel dog owner. How could you? Whimper! Whimper! Oh, the dogmanity!

This, intermittently, is our life with the new puppy. We adopted Moose two months ago, and for the most part, he's chill and incredibly well-behaved; housetrained, good with other dogs, loves his crate, doesn't destroy our stuff, and sleeps through the night. My last dog was a lab adopted at age 4, so this is my first time doing the puppy thing. Moose gets long daily walks, frequent trips outdoors, and has someone home all day. He can happily sleep in his crate for 10-12 hours on weekends, but as one of us gets up in the morning - even if it's just to go to the bathroom at 6AM and go back to bed - the whimpering starts.

It's not constant, but it is habitual. He doesn't seem to be hugely distressed or increasingly frantic - it's more than he whimpers because he's lonely. (I let him out of his crate this morning and he was perfectly fine to wait around for 10 minutes while I got ready for work before taking him out or feeding him breakfast, for instance.) Sometimes the loneliness is laughably pathetic - like whining because we have our backs turned, or while lying otherwise-contentedly in his crate with the door open when we're sitting on the sofa. (I suspect he wants us to come pet him, but is too comfy to get up. We try not to indulge this.) Other times it'll be because a dog outside is barking and he wants to go play.

We've pretty much fixed his issues with us leaving the house (peanut butter kong, you're a lifesaver!), but I'm at a loss what to do with what seems to be nearly conversational whining. On a weekend, I'd say we get 8-12 whimpering episodes a day that last 3-5 minutes. In the mornings, it keeps going until you let him out - and we have shared walls, so uninterrupted doggie tantrums aren't an option. Is this normal for a dog his age? Will it go away with time? Should we be doing more to correct/not reinforce it? I've looked through a lot of old Asks, but they seem more geared towards dogs who are uncomfortable with crates or dealing with severe separation anxiety. I'm looking for advice, suggestions, anecdotes and reassurance from your own dog experiences.

(PS - While Moose would love it, a second dog isn't an option for us.)
posted by deludingmyself to Pets & Animals (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
As unkind as it may seem, you may just have to resort to negative conditioning. If he whines, you gently spray his face with water. This method helped me retrain my neighbor's poodles into not biting or whining when I came to puppy-sit them for weeks on end. It's a kinder way to train than to swat him, perhaps.
posted by patronuscharms at 10:41 AM on April 4, 2011

He might honestly need to go out that early in the morning. 12 hours without going outside seems like a lot for a puppy. Does he have water in his crate? If you do let him out that early and go back to bed, does he continue to whine?
posted by desjardins at 10:43 AM on April 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Neurotic. Consider puppy Prozac. I'm serious. We have a border collie who is neurotic and the vet suggested this.
posted by stormpooper at 10:46 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Desjardins, sorry if I wasn't clear: he isn't spending 12 hours in his crate most nights - but he's lasted that long once or twice without whining on a lazy Sunday morning. Usually it's more like 8-9 hours, and outside+breakfast does not quiet the whining. Sometimes I've taken him out super-early (say, 6 hours after bed) and he doesn't even need to go at all - he'll just look at the birds, or stare at our neighbor's door in hopes that their dog will come outside.
posted by deludingmyself at 10:53 AM on April 4, 2011

Please don't give your dog prozac unless you are sure that nothing else will fix this, and I am sure a little training will help fix this.

I would suggest going to talk with a dog trainer to see wht they would suggest. 12 hours in a crate for any dog is a long time, even 8 or 9 hours is a really long time.
posted by TheBones at 10:55 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hmn. I like the distraction method (with dogs and kids!) You might try buying some super duper chewies (some people object to rawhide, my dog loves 'em) and reserve those long-chaw chews for whining time only. Dip 'em in peanut butter or meat juice to make them extra-irresistible and when he starts in, wordlessly get him a chewie.
posted by thinkpiece at 10:56 AM on April 4, 2011

If he hears you and really wakes up, he probably has to go outside. When he whines, are you giving him attention to stop? Even if you are telling him to quit, it is quite possible that even though you are mad it is positively reinforcing his behavior. You could try extinction, but you are likely to get a few outbursts which I know you said is problematic with your neighbors. I have never tried the spray bottle with my Golden, but I have a feeling she would think it is a game.

I hate to be that person, but using a squirt bottle is positive punishment, not negative conditioning.
posted by Silvertree at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Giving him treats when he does something you DON'T want him to do is only going to reinforce the unwanted behavior. Don't do that. Instead, reward good behavior. And maybe "punish" the bad stuff.

Moose: *whine*
You: NO WHINING. *squirt in the face*
Moose: *silence*
You: Good boy! *treat*

Eventually NO WHINING will get you silence without the squirting OR the treat. But you should still probably give the treat anyway. Cos it's just nice.
posted by elsietheeel at 10:59 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

thinkpiece - then she's just teaching her dog that whenever he whines, he gets a tasty treat. Not exactly the desired approach.

I know it sucks to listen to him, but you have to never, ever reward a dog for bad behavior, and you have to keep them on a routine. The dog doesn't know what a weekend is; he should be let out the same time every morning. If you're in the same room and he's whining, ignore him until he stops, then call him over. Every time he STOPS whining, reward him.
posted by desjardins at 11:00 AM on April 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

But don't you think that would give the whining positive reinforcement, thinkpiece?

I had this dog, by the way. We called him Crying And Eating Dot Com because he was always always always crying. He cried when he was eating and walking and sleeping and pooping. A few things that helped: three hours of exercise (at minimum) per day, busy-making toys (like the Kibble Ball) and eventually, a daily dose of Clomicalm, an anti-anxiety med for dogs. You're definitely not at the Clomicalm stage yet, but you could definitely up the exercise and pick up a Kibble Ball.
posted by kate blank at 11:02 AM on April 4, 2011

We were able to curb our dog's whining by putting a towel over his crate while he's in it, making it more cave-like, and when he whines during the day at an unrelated time, inviting him to "go to bed." He hops into his crate, we close it and cover it, and he gets some quiet dark time. His conversational whining may indicate that he needs comforting, and thinks he can only get it from you. He needs to learn self-succor by hanging out on his own in his cave.
posted by juniperesque at 11:02 AM on April 4, 2011

Alternatively you could say QUIET which is what I say to my lab (it works about 50% of the time, but she's old and I'm an inconsistent trainer) and shake a can of pennies. It depends on what startles him more. Silvertree is right about the squirt bottle maybe being a game. Moose IS a lab, after all. Hooray, water!

Buster cubes are good for distraction too.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:03 AM on April 4, 2011

When my lab whines I just say "STOP IT". It might sound weird, but chances are that your behavior is the cause. Use a firm voice and tell him to stop, Every time he makes a noise you don't like be firm and tell him no.

The other option is that he is a talker and you are mis reading him. I have had labs that try to talk all the time. It sounds something like whining, but more conversational less pathetic. No real need to curb a talker.
posted by Felex at 11:09 AM on April 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yep, I get what you're all saying about reinforcing the neg behavior with the chewy when he whines. I guess my thinking was that he'd outgrow the whining soon enough and you could get some peace in the short-term. And Labs are notoriously single-minded, aren't they? Of course, my dog is Mr. Perfect so I never have to strategize distracting him. Ha!
posted by thinkpiece at 11:10 AM on April 4, 2011

Our dog is a whine-talker. Very preferable to barking. He also likes a lot of attention, but I find that if I really want him to stop, a severe "NO" is sufficient to snap him out of it. That or a short jab to the ribs with a couple fingers - not to hurt him (at all), just to startle him out of what he's doing and make him realize you are not happy with the behavior.

I don't mind saying I'm a little appalled by the anti-depressant-type drug suggestions. For a puppy. : /
posted by Glinn at 11:12 AM on April 4, 2011

i got my puppy from the local humane society shelter. we put her in obedience classes and animal behaviorists are on staff to provide free/low cost advice. looks like the atlanta humane society has similar options. give them a call and see if they have any advice on this. dogs are not like humans. they learn differently and interpret differently. and yes, some dogs talk a lot (my puppy does) and it isn't whining, it's communicating. having an expert help you (and supporting an awesome organization) may be an option for you.
posted by anya32 at 11:13 AM on April 4, 2011

We have a lab/collie mix and he does very much the same thing. The only barking he's ever done has been alert barking but he used to whine constantly (he was a very 'talkative' pup). He still whines every once in a while, but now it's just to let us know that he's interested in going outside.

We took him to an obedience school that used positive reinforcement (no need for spray bottles or anything) an it helped a TON. We're still working on the alert barking, but the whining has all but stopped. You should contact a few obedience schools in your area and find out which ones would be a good fit. Lessons are usually pretty reasonable, cost wise and they give you pretty good insight to your specific pooch. It's really amazing how much an experienced trainers can glean about a dogs personality after a couple meetings AND how much that can help you train your dog in a positive manner.

Moose is a cutie by the way!
posted by furnace.heart at 11:32 AM on April 4, 2011

i have no idea why i thought you were in atlanta!

here is the link for the east bay spca's classes!
posted by anya32 at 11:59 AM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: So, strategies suggested appear to fall into 6 basic categories:

1. Tire out / distract with awesome things (preventative against future whining)
2. Ignore / hope to extinguish behavior
3. Dog-appropriate adverse conditioning (NO! Hush! Loud pennies! Squirt to the face!)
4. Pairing #2 or #3 with praise/rewards for quiet behavior
5. Prozac for puppies (don't think it's appropriate for this situation)
6. Call in the pros

We continue to put as much effort as we can into #1, but we've vacillated between #2 and #3 and gotten mediocre results with both verbal interrupts and ignoring. I'm thinking we probably need to pick one of the two for consistency; I just can't decide which one will be a better fit. #2 is easy to accomplish when he's not in the same room (whining when someone gets up to go to the bathroom at 5AM = ignore), hard to do when he is (if he's lying near us and whimpering purely for attention, even a glance his way may be enough to constitute 'reward' in his head). #3 is almost the exact reverse. These two are really polar opposites, so perhaps our mixed signals are making things worse.

I left the original question pretty open to get a wide range of responses, but as a follow-up I'd definitely appreciate add'l thoughts on how to decide which approach (#2 or #3) we should pick and stick with - in combination with lots of exercise, stimulation and good-behavior rewards per #1 and #4. We'll also take the idea of seeing a professional trainer under advisement, although he's been pretty quick on the uptake with clicker training for almost everything else. Honestly, I'm still hoping this is a puppy phase that he'll grow out of soon, but I don't want to be wrong and end up having to spend even more effort training him out of it a year down the line.

Thanks everyone for your comments so far - you guys are great.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:01 PM on April 4, 2011

We also used to put a blanket over the crate when our dog was a puppy and inside it to signal nighttime. It quelled outside stimulation for her, and made it darker whenever the sun was up and we were still trying to sleep.

I'd also suggest ignoring because any kind of response is attention, which is Moose's goal (love your description in the first paragraph, by the way).
posted by questionsandanchors at 12:04 PM on April 4, 2011

I disagree with the negative reinforcement strategy because there may be times when you really DO want him to whine, e.g. if he genuinely needs to go outside. If you're confident that's not what he needs, then I'm in favor of ignoring bad behavior + positive reinforcement of good behavior.
posted by desjardins at 12:26 PM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: Anya, your post made me realize I had forgotten to change my profile. Then I changed it. You're not insane!
posted by deludingmyself at 12:34 PM on April 4, 2011

I would go with #2/#4 - basically no attention for whining, but attention/praise/treats for not whining. Trying to negatively reinforce the whining is really difficult: if his goal in whining is to get attention, being yelled at will be a positive reinforcer because it's attention. This was definitely true with my dog: he would bark or whine and then look at me for a reaction. Once I stopped giving a reaction (and that really means no reaction, not even looking at him) and rewarding silence, things got much much better.
posted by medusa at 12:40 PM on April 4, 2011


if you're not looking for humane society support/pros just yet, i am definitely on desjardin's side on this one. but i have also been trained by the humane society to use only positive reinforcement (doggy obedience training is more about training the humans than it is the animals).

we crate train/ed our puppy. she can whine all she wants, even if it is the appropriate time to get her out of the crate. but we will not acknowledge her or open the crate until she is silent. this means that if she is really whining and we do not expect her to stop, we can make a loud noise to distract her and in that second when she is quiet we open the crate (a technique the humane society recommended as an alternative). it has worked really well with her.
posted by anya32 at 1:03 PM on April 4, 2011

I dog sat my friend's whiny dog once. I found that a blanket on the crate so she couldn't see fully out (a bit but not fully) quelled the night/early morning whining because we got up to go the bathroom. Doesn't help during the day, but is an idea for night sleeping.
posted by katers890 at 1:17 PM on April 4, 2011

Nthing the blanket. Ignoring may work for you, but it has never worked with my needy dog. Squirting does. It actually calms him down because he has to give up and relax. I doubt it will make Moose not whine when he needs to go to the bathroom or something urgent, and it doesn't sound like he uses his whining for that anyway.

Moose is SO CUTE.
posted by walla at 2:22 PM on April 4, 2011

My dog (a bichon frise) is a very vocal whiner. He's been this way since we first got him when he was 2, and he's turning 15 now. Though he's all but completely deaf and blind, and very slow, the whining has never ceased. 13 years of this means I no longer notice, but I wouldn't suggest "get used to it" as a viable option.

He doesn't care if we ignore him; that's why he's whining in the first place.

We tried the spray bottle, and it's something we still use to this day. It only makes him wine from the next room, or from behind a large object. Giving him a light rap on the snout had the same effect.

I know it's perhaps not the easiest or cheapest option, but you might what to consult the professionals on this one.
posted by CitrusFreak12 at 7:03 PM on April 4, 2011

Response by poster: 10 months later puppy update!

Morning whining reduced ~50%, but dog is still super talkative as soon as we get out of bed, regardless of whether he's been in the crate 5 hours or 10. (The blankets, they did nothing, and as for not letting him out until he's quiet... well, now he goes quiet as soon as you come within 20 feet of his crate.) He makes all kinds of whimpery yowly sounds to indicate he wants to go outside, but has learned to sound less like he's being tortured. In return, we've learned to be flexible with his best attempts to communicate with us given that hey, hey's a dog.

Oh, and spray bottles were helpful on other fronts, but we tried not to use them if he was whining to go outside, just for attention-whining.
posted by deludingmyself at 11:09 PM on January 25, 2012

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