How to Stop Your Puppy Whining
It's normal for puppies to whine for attention when they're hungry, bored, or lonely. But whining can become a conditioned behavior that lasts into adulthood.
Why do Puppies Whine?
As puppies, whining comes naturally. Think of a baby crying. Puppies whine to get attention when they are hungry, tired, or cold. Their mom will react by providing them with milk, warmth and a safe place to sleep.
But as time goes by, the growing puppy makes an association between the two. When he whines, he gets attention. It's like a toddler who whines even though he's developed more sophisticated ways to get his needs met. This automatic association between behavior and reward is known as Pavlovian conditioning. We actually use it to our advantage in clicker training.
Bringing your new puppy home is a key time in his development. Most breeders transition puppies to their new homes at 8 weeks old, and this is when your puppy either learns that whining doesn't work with her new family—or that it does.
If it does, she'll continue to use whining as a way to motivate her new mommy to get what she needs. Unfortunately, this can become a really bad habit that lasts her whole life, making you a slave to your pooch. It's a route you really don't want to go down, but the good news is you can avoid it if you nip whining in the bud.
How to Stop Your Sheltie Puppy Whining
The first night you bring your new puppy home is a major lifestyle change. She's away from her mom, her litter, and her familiar surroundings for the first time ever. She look to you for considerable reassurance and if you stray too far, your puppy will whine.
One our first night with Howard, we encouraged him to sleep in a little box lined with pillows, right next to our bed. But this close proximity was not enough to stop our puppy whining. It was like that scene in Lady and The Tramp. The puppy was persistent. The humans were tired. There was only one inevitable outcome...
And so that's how Howard ended up sleeping on our bed for the rest of his life.
If you allow your puppy to sleep on the bed as a result of whining, get used to it being this way forever. For Shelties, perhaps this isn't a huge deal. They're a small dog breed after all. But if you have a large breed of puppy that's going to get BIG—or you have any qualms about sleeping with a dog on your bed—then you really can't give in that first night. After that, the habit only becomes harder to break.
So if you're not planning to sleep with your dog on the bed, expect a lot of whining on that first night. As sad as it sounds, dog experts generally recommend leaving your new puppy alone on her first night, in a different room. The closer you are, the more likely it is you'll respond to her whining with positive attention like cooing, patting, and taking her out of the crate to cuddle her. This will only reinforce her whining. So brace yourself—it's going to be a tough love approach.
I Can't Ignore My Puppy Whining!
I hear you, loud and clear. But what if you don't want her on the bed and you can't bear hearing her whine? What can you do?
There is a middle ground. Don't feel like you have to cold-bloodedly ignore your puppy all night. A really nervous puppy does need some attention to distract her from her unfamiliar new surroundings. The trick is to attend to her in such a way that she doesn't associate her whining with the attention.
So wait until she stops whining, then initiate contact. Pick her up and cuddle her and make her feel safe and comforted. This fulfils her need for attention without conditioning her to whine.
Having said that, it's not always realistic to wait until she stops whining altogether. Some puppies simply don't stop whining for hours on end. if this happens, you don't have to prolong your puppy's misery. Just wait until she's stopped whining for even a few seconds, then seize the moment. It's not ideal, but under the circumstances, it's the best you can do to support her emotional wellbeing.
Still, the early days can be hard as you seek to care for your puppy, clean up her accidents, and keep her from chewing every power cord in the house, all the while not ingraining bad habits. The joys of puppyhood!
Why do Adult Dogs Whine?
Whining is not a natural form of communication in adult dogs. Most puppies stop whining by six months old, provided you don't inadvertently reinforce the behavior. So if your dog is whining after this age, it means she's learned that it's a great motivational tool to get what she needs from you.
Before you address the behavior, figure out why your Sheltie is whining.
- Is your dog in pain?
- Is she simply bored or lonely?
- Is she anxious or afraid?
- Does she need to go outside?
The appropriate response really depends on the cause, so let's look into these possible causes and the best course of action for each one.
1. Whining in Pain
If your Sheltie starts whining suddenly and then keeps it up steadily afterwards, she may be whining out of pain. This isn't just limited to older dogs: puppies and young dogs can be subjected to some pretty severe growing pains, so don't rule out this possibility on the basis of age.
If you think your dog may be in pain, check her over for obvious signs: is she holding any paws off the ground, or favoring one side of her body? Check her face and body for scratches and splinters. Next, you can palpate her limbs and joints for inflammation (like arthritis) and possible injuries. Be gentle. Run your hand down her tail to check for lumps and bumps, too.
If you think your Sheltie's whining out of pain but can't find any injury, take a trip to the vet so they can identify and treat it before it gets worse.
2. Whining in Boredom
If your Sheltie is simply bored, you'll be able to tell because she'll wander around the house (probably following you around, or pacing about the room you're in) and whine aimlessly and without direction (like she's whining to herself).
The best cure for a dog that's whining out of boredom is exercise: take her out for a brisk walk or run as soon as you can. In general, try to ramp up her daily exercise and dedicate more time to fun and games with your Sheltie. A tired dog is almost never a bored dog.
For a Sheltie that's whining out of loneliness, you'll have to try your best to spend more quality time interacting with her. If you don't have a lot of spare time, make the time that you do spend together really count: play, groom, train and cuddle.
3. Whining in Fear
It shouldn't be hard to detect when your Sheltie is afraid. These sensitive dogs pick up on all kinds of happenings in the environment, so listen out for fireworks, thunderstorms, or other unexplained loud noises that could be spooking her. She may also be reacting to an unfamiliar person in the house, even if they're not in the same room as her.
If your Sheltie is an anxious dog, she might be whining simply because you seem stressed out. She can detect all kinds of cues from your body language, verbalizations, and even your scent. If you're stressed, you're also more likely to put her needs second: has she been fed and walked today? Have you talked and played with her? She may just need reassurance.
If your dog is whining in fear, don't seek to punish or correct the behavior in a negative way. This only increases her stress and puts her in conflict. Equally, though, don't sympathize and coo over her, as this validates her fear ("good girl, keep whining, that's right"). Instead, ignore the whining and create a distraction. Play a game or practice an obedience routine. Show her you're calm and in control, and she'll pick up on your vibe that there's no need to worry. You are her model, allowing her to follow your lead.
4. Whining to Go Out
If your Sheltie's whining because she needs to go outside, no problem! This is the sign of a well-trained dog. She needs to go badly enough that she's resorted to a last resort mode of communication: whining. This is how it should be in adult dogs. She really doesn't want to pee inside thanks to your tireless house training, and whining is her way of raising the alarm.