How can I get my dog to stop whining?
November 21, 2011 9:04 PM   Subscribe

I love my dog Buddy, and he loves me. He loves everyone, really. But starting a few weeks ago he has become very vocally NEEDY. He will not stop whining, and it's driving us batty. Can you dog-trainer-types out there help me figure out how to help him chill out?

We adopted Buddy from the humane society almost exactly 2 years ago. He is about 10, we think. He's a mutt, with maybe some herding instinct in there somewhere (he occasionally tries to herd the cats, not in an aggressive way, just sort of a "GUYS GUYS ISNT THIS FUN YOU GUYS" kind of way), but we really have no idea what breeds we are actually looking at. He gets along fine with the cats, with other dogs, and especially with anybody he thinks might possibly pet him. I'd say he prefers people to other dogs, most of the time. He has always been very affectionate and sweet since we've had him, and he still is. It's just that now he whines and moans and vocalizes if he's not getting petted. Like, all the time.

For example: I was home from work today and so he spent most of the afternoon curled up next to me on the bed. Whenever I was doing something other than petting him (e.g., touching the computer, knitting, whatever) he would whimper. Just as an experiment, on one occasion I did not respond to him. His whines and whimpers got louder and more desperate until finally he just sort of sighed, scooted over and started licking my face. Which was hilarious, but also suggested to me that he just really wanted me to pet him.

The dog is not unloved. We adore him. But we cannot pet him ALL THE TIME. And yet this seems to be exactly what he wants.

This has been going on since the start of November. During that time, one of our cats has been on a prednisone derivative to treat pancreatitis (she's doing much better, thanks), and my husband started NaNo. His schedule, routine, and food are all unchanged.

He is due for a veterinary appointment this week anyway, so this is an issue we will definitely address with the doctor. FWIW, his behavior is otherwise entirely normal. He eats, poops, plays, and does everything that we would expect him to do. He does not seem to be in pain or otherwise uncomfortable (although we will certainly ask the vet, just to be sure).

Assuming that there is nothing physically wrong with him, what should we be doing to change his behavior?
posted by That's Numberwang! to Pets & Animals (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
This is not going to be easy, but from what I know, the first thing to try is ignoring him without giving in. Buddy may be whining because he knows it provokes a reaction. If you ignore it (hard, I know) for a while, he may learn that whining won't get him what he wants. It has worked really well with my dog, who was a major whiner. She still whines, but much, much less.
posted by ORthey at 9:10 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Definitely get him checked out by the vet to ensure he's not hurting in some way. Could it be possible that he's bored? If one cat's out of commission and your husband's a little checked out because of NaNo, maybe he's not getting as much play-time as he's used to. Can you try giving him chewies or toys or something to occupy him? There's a fun little cube puzzle toy that you can put food in and the dog has to nose around the room to periodically release a treat. They're available at petsmart. My two little dogs didn't show much interest in it, but I've seen other dogs go absolutely batty for it.
posted by lilac girl at 9:15 PM on November 21, 2011

If he whines for you to pet him, get up, leave the room and close the door behind you. Only come back into the room when he's quiet. This is called negative punishment, ie. you're taking away something he loves (you, your attention). At first this will probably make him whine MORE. It will get worse and worse before it gets better, but if you're consistent, it shouldn't take very long for him to figure it out.

You need to be 100% consistent. NEVER pet him after he whines for pets. If you pet him one time out of ten, he's going to know that sometimes whining works, and he's going to keep whining. Dogs are smart that way.
posted by hamsterdam at 9:17 PM on November 21, 2011 [2 favorites]

My dog goes through phases of doing this kind of thing. He knows that his whining drives both me and our other dog crazy and definitely exploits it (my husband manages to ignore it, implausibly to me). Lately he has decided one of the two dog beds in the house is superior and has started crying at our other dog in order to get her to trade. Which of course she does, like an angel. It's very hard to convey to a dog not to encourage another dog to whine in order to get his way (in general it seems like it's a lot harder to enforce dog rules when there are two of them. Also e-collars no longer work because the other dog will lick the offending thing too. Dogs are frustrating).

He has good months and bad months. Some weeks he will not bug me to be petted at all, other weeks it's incessant. I at this point treat it as a phase.
posted by troublesome at 9:24 PM on November 21, 2011

In my experience, this sort of behaviour indicates an injury of some kind. Perhaps take him to the vet?
posted by KokuRyu at 9:37 PM on November 21, 2011

He may have an injury or pain, or, older dogs can (and often do) develop some serious anxiety issues. Good you are seeing your vet.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 10:24 PM on November 21, 2011

What about getting a second dog?
posted by tacit_urn at 10:25 PM on November 21, 2011

The injury, pain, etc stuff... yeah sure, take it into consideration - but I'd say Buddy likes, REALLY likes the attention and being petted. In a sense, Buddy is training you - especially as a potential herder.

Yes - he's training YOU - cause he's missing something he may have had before. He hasn't changed... in some way you and your partner probably have.

My corgis do it all the time. One of my corgis, PJ, should be on an ASPCA commercial with Sara McLoughlin... "can't you help out a dog like PJ now, who just wants to be petted?" Sad eyes, whining, looking so submissive... until he gets what he wants. And what he wants is one of two things - to be petted or to be fed HAM.

How much do you walk Buddy (especially if he's a herder?)? How much do you play with him outdoors? How much physical activity does he get?

He sounds like an Alpha dog, and he's trying to run the show. What/how/how much do you feed him? Does he eat whatever he wants whenever he wants? I'm betting he gets fed once or twice a day on a strict schedule, and MIGHT be privy to some scraps?

If Buddy is anything like my Corgis, you are being trained. Resist at all costs and good luck!

As for getting a second dog - we tried that as we thought he needed a companion and was 'bored'. HUGE mistake. Sam, the new dog, LOVES PJ... yet PJ hates Sam. It's a comical tragedy, as Sam has cornered in on his territory, i.e. our affection and attention. And yes, we love Sam just as much.

Dogs ain't stupid, yet dogs are animals - they understand emotion, territory, and the need for meeting their own needs. Yup - they're little members of the family.
posted by matty at 10:44 PM on November 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would try teaching the command "all done". Its like the suggestion to leave the room (without leaving the room) -- try doing some petting and then saying "all done", folding your arms in front of you and turning your head away and looking up at the ceiling. If blatant ignoring doesn't make your dog turn away, then repeat the command (without looking at the dog) and stand up, with your back to the dog.

Use the command anytime you're "done with" the dog.
posted by vitabellosi at 2:22 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nthing that once you've ruled out medical issues, you have to be absolutely consistent in not giving him what he's demanding. If whining gets you to give him what he wants, he will keep whining. If you reward the behavior only occasionally, he will whine all the more vigorously -- like a gambling addict pulling the lever over and over for the occasional, unpredictable win; inconsistency creates the irregular reinforcement schedule that really entrenches this sort of behavior. And yes, it will get worse before it gets better. He will pull that lever more and more frantically for quite a while before he accepts that it doesn't work anymore.
posted by jon1270 at 3:43 AM on November 22, 2011

To add to the chorus of don't give in - my superpower is being unable to hear or respond to whiny pleas for attention and bossy whining and you know what, dogs and kids who are "like that all the time" aren't like that with me.

To be fair, if you could give Buddy some structured brain-game time with you every day or two, that might make your love grow. And it wold meet his needs for being an US! With you without letting him push you around.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 4:38 AM on November 22, 2011

Take him for a walk.
posted by thylacine at 7:04 AM on November 22, 2011

OK, not an exact parallel, since dogs and cats are very different beasts -- but I once saw a very similar behavior change in an older cat. My once quiet, chill kitty began vocalizing more and more, as well as insisting on more lap time and attention. When she sat in the middle of the floor one day, just looking at me and YELLING at the top of her little kitty voice, I took her to the vet.

Turns out she had several badly infected teeth. After dental care and three extractions, she returned to her usual quiet self. I felt like an idiot for not recognizing that a critter can't tell you when they hurt -- they just ask for comfort the only way they know how.

Keep that vet appointment and remember you are Buddy's voice.
posted by peakcomm at 7:28 AM on November 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Could there be a new noise that you can't hear?
posted by Mr. Yuck at 8:57 AM on November 22, 2011

Buddy got a completely clean bill of health from the vet -- no problems at all, hooray! So the problem is purely behavioral in origin, boo. We have begun working on reminding him that he's not the boss of us.

Thanks all.
posted by That's Numberwang! at 8:45 PM on November 23, 2011

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