I sometimes think owners tend to have more patience living with a younger dog who whines than an older one. It makes sense to me. Puppies who whine get our attention because they are so cute and helpless. Adolescent dogs who whine (even though it may be getting a bit annoying) also get our attention because, many times, our attention is a quick fix to stop the behavior.
However, when an older dog begins to whine, or has been whining for many years, we may not be so patient — or at least that is what I’ve observed. In my opinion, at this stage it’s even more critical to be patient and take time to investigate what’s going on, especially with those dogs who never whined a day in their life.
Take my Lucy. Lucy was a rescue dog who came to me when she was 9 months old. She had many behavioral quirks, but whining was not one of them! When she turned around 6, I began to notice that she would occasionally whine when getting off the couch, especially if she got off quickly. Then, over the next few months, her whining became more frequent, especially after engaging in physical activities. After working with our veterinarian, we learned she not only had hip dysplasia, but suffered from arthritis. In this case, it’s easy to see the medical component that contributed to her whining.
Rule of thumb: Always rule out the medical component before you assume the origin for the change is behavioral. Let’s take a look at some of the other reasons why your adult dog(s) may whine and what you can do to address the situation.
As our dogs age, they sometimes get confused and develop signs of cognitive dysfunction. This can also be referred to as doggy dementia or canine senility. Some dogs, as they transition through adulthood, may experience a decrease in sensory perception. Their hearing may not be as sharp, and they may start to develop eye issues that impact their acuity. One response to these changes is to become anxious or stressed. If you think your adult dog’s whining is the result of anxiety due to the normal aging process, be sure to bring your concerns to your veterinarian. He or she will be able to put together an individual plan for your specific situation and help your dog maintain his dignity through the entire aging process.
Yes, You Can Teach Old Dogs A New Trick
I’m reminded of Petey and Buddy, two adult Yorkshire Terriers with a combined weight of 9 pounds. Petey is 7 and Buddy is 6. Yorkies have an average life span of about 13 years. These two dogs were adopted as puppies. Essentially, they got away with behaviors that no owner would ever tolerate from dogs of a larger size. They learned to whine for everything — and they got it! They whined and jumped excessively when greeting guests — because they could. They whined and pulled when walking in public areas. To top it off, their owners resorted to wearing earplugs when traveling in the car because their whining was so bad! When the owners called me to evaluate their situation, they were at their wit’s end. I could see why. The relatively short period of time during which I performed the evaluation (compared to the years they had struggled with the whining) left me feeling a bit twitchy inside. However, the good news is that Petey and Buddy are examples proving that, with a lot of patience and tenacity, you can teach old dogs new tricks. Here are some of the techniques we used to bring their whining behaviors under control:
- Worked with the dogs individually before working with them together
- Increased their daily doses of physical exercise and mental stimulation
- Taught the owners how to reward their dogs for being quiet
- Emphasized the importance of keeping calm in situations when their dogs are more apt to whine
I Whine, I Get Attention; How Cool Is That?
Beware. You might be getting trained by your dog. Many times dogs learn how to use their whining to get our attention. If your adult dog is whining to be petted, whining for a treat or whining to get your attention — you know how quickly this behavior can get on your nerves. Remember, getting angry and yelling at your dog is still considered attention. Also, make sure you do not inadvertently reinforce the behavior by offering a treat or pet, just to stop the whining. What can you do if your dog’s attentional whining is beginning to spiral out of control?
- Ignore the behavior. Turn your back. Walk out of the room if you have to. Make sure you do not offer your dog any physical or vocal interactions.
- Reward your dog’s behavior when he is quiet.
- Ask your dog to perform a basic obedience cue prior to giving him your attention.
- Slowly increase the length of time you expect your dog to be quiet before offering a reinforcement.
I’m So Excited!
Sometimes our adult dogs whine due to excitement or in anticipation that something good is about to happen. This can happen when guests arrive at the front door, when entering a car for a road trip, and/or going into public places. One thing you can do to help reduce this behavior is to keep yourself calm. If you get excited every time a guest arrives, or start speaking to your dog in a high-pitch voice when you are going to a public area or for a ride in the car, chances are your dog will pick up on your energy and respond proportionately with uncontrollable whining. Besides keeping yourself calm, here are some other strategies that can help:
- Offer your dog something else to do that is more motivating and incompatible with the whining.
- Increase basic obedience training and use the cues to increase your dog’s focus on you.
- Teach the skill of touch or target training (redirecting) when faced with a situation that causes your dog(s) to whine.
- Work on increasing your dog’s impulse control — first in quiet, non-distracting situations, before introducing a real-life situation.
Bottom line: If you notice that your adult dog’s whining is increasing and is starting to get on your nerves, try to determine if the change is due to a medical condition. If you are unsure, always consult with your veterinarian. Second, if the whining has been occurring for a very long time, try to identify the reasons, and then apply the appropriate strategies to reduce the whining to a level that is acceptable for everyone.
By: Donna Gleason
Feature Image: Patrick Robbins/iStock/Thinkstock