Dog whining is guaranteed to upset the apple cart of even the most patient dog owner. Dogs are social creatures, and whining is an effective way of communicating to each other and to humans that they either want something, or something is wrong. Puppies learn quickly that their mother responds to a whine, for good reason, but that honeymoon generally ends fairly soon. Understanding triggers of whining in adult dogs is key to address the root cause and by doing so gaining your sanity back. You need to understand conditioning that likely has happened in the past, and apply proper technique for deconditioning and ultimately extinguishing the unwanted behavior.
Your first step must be to ensure that it is not related to a medical problem. Dogs in pain will often whine early on. If your dog has suddenly started to vocalize, it’s important to rule out medical causes at your vet office. After that has been accomplished two basic rules apply: (1) common things are common, and (2) a tired dog makes for a happy owner.
Often, whining simply indicates that your dog is not getting enough of what he needs most: attention, exercise, social and mental stimulus. Your dog depends on you for that and it is your responsibility to provide what he needs. Research the breed’s requirements of exercise and activity and adjust your own thermostat if needed.
Some dog’s whine is motivated by meeting other dogs or people. Any attention or scolding will be counterproductive in such aroused state as this excitement-attention loop tends to escalate. It is better to downplay greetings of any sort by keeping them short, avoiding fast movements as well as excited and loud human voices. Most importantly, completely ignore the dogs unwanted behavior and reward calm and quiet. Your dog will soon learn that silence works well to get your attention or a treat. You may also try to put your dog in a position that is less supportive of whining such as a down stay, and reward that.
Whining can also be simply spillover from separation anxiety, and your dog will display other cardinal symptoms when left alone such as chewing/scratching around doors and windows, pacing and panting, drooling or urinating, to name a few. In a more general sense, fearful and anxious dogs can sometimes develop seemingly involuntary whining. This will be difficult to eliminate as the underpinning of the behavior is often genetic in nature, and more often than not attempts at removing generalized anxiety to decrease stress in your dog will be elusive.
At the other end of the spectrum, some high-drive dogs may develop whining as means of releasing pent up energy and frustration when being jacked up without sufficient release. Such emotional “dumping” can be surprisingly stubborn to correct once having formed into a habit.
Dogs lacking confidence may whine as a sign of submission and appeasement, typically in concert with matching body language such as tucked tail, averted eyes, lowered body and head.
This is normal canine behavior that can be reduced by simply building confidence. Obedience classes, dog sports or playing fun, interactive games where your dog experiences to ‘win’ may help achieving this goal.
Some dogs continue to whine beyond puppyhood, particularly if their humans continue responding. If your dog uses whining behavior to seek attention, rewards or desired objects, your strategy must be to teach that calm and quiet, instead of whining will bring whatever the dog desires. What sound easy in theory often becomes very difficult in practice because we don’t watch ourselves and may unwittingly reinforce the problem behavior. Remember that any eye contact, talking, touching, nuanced body language and even yelling all constitute attention and will reinforce the behavior. Consider hiring a seasoned dog trainer to take the lead.