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Why Dogs Cry and How to Help Your Pup’s Whining

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David Adams

February 12, 2023

Dog Training

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* All Sniffspot articles are reviewed by certified trainers for quality, please see bottom of article for details *

If you love a dog, then you’re probably familiar with their range of canine vocalizations: barking, growling, and of course whining. If you’ve ever heard your dog crying and wondered what they’re trying to tell you — or felt overwhelmed because you can’t seem to get them to quiet down — this article is for you.

Let’s break down everything you need to know about your dog’s cries. Is whining normal? What causes your pet to cry? And what can you do about it to reduce the noise?

Why do dogs whine and cry? Is it normal?

First things first: Whining is a normal dog behavior. It’s most commonly seen in young canines, but because domestic dogs are neotenized compared to their wolf ancestors (a fancy word to say they retain juvenile traits into adulthood) it’s normal for our pets of all ages to whine on occasion.

Dogs don’t shed tears like humans do, but their whining can take many forms from intense cries to soft whimpers. Some people have also wondered whether dogs cry for similar reasons to humans (like experiencing sadness and related emotions). The answer, in some ways, is yes.

There are many things your dog might be trying to communicate when they whine.

Dogs might whine in greeting or out of excitement

Many dogs whine when they’re in a state of arousal, especially during high energy greetings — like when you walk through the door after being gone for a full work day. These cries are often accompanied by loose, excited body language. (You can read more about interpreting your dog’s body language in this article.)

Dogs might whine as an appeasement behavior

Some dogs whine as an appeasement signal when they interact with people or other dogs. They’re essentially trying to say that they aren’t a threat — they feel uncomfortable and want to dispel potential conflict before it starts.

Appeasement displays are usually accompanied by a submissive posture, with head down, tail tucked, and ears back.

Dogs might whine for attention or to express another need

Dogs also whine as an attention-seeking behavior. Many of our pets have learned that humans attend to their cries! Some professionals believe that dogs actually whine more to communicate with people than they do to communicate with other dogs.

Dogs might whine to express a need or want

Your dog’s cries can also tell you something more specific than a general request for attention — like that their favorite toy is stuck under the couch, they can’t reach a treat that fell behind the counter, or they have to use the bathroom.

Dogs might whine when they’re anxious (especially if left alone)

It’s normal for dogs to whine in response to stressful situations. This type of crying often seems involuntary — your dog isn’t doing it to get your attention (and certainly not to drive you crazy) but rather because it’s a natural response to feeling anxious.

Why do dogs cry in their crates or kennels?

Anxious whining is perhaps most common when dogs struggle with separation distress. If your dog routinely cries when you leave them alone in their crate, the culprit is probably some form of isolation or separation anxiety.

Remember that dogs are social, sensitive animals. They naturally want to be with their family members and friends! It’s normal for them to feel distressed about spending time alone, especially if they’re new to your home or you’ve recently changed your routine — but it’s also important they can handle those situations when they do have to happen.

You can read more about separation anxiety — what it is, what causes it, and how to treat it — in this article.

Some dogs might also cry in their crates because they don’t enjoy the sensation of being confined. Appropriate crate training, where you make sure the kennel is the right size and work to build a positive association, can go a long way. You can read more about crate training here.

Dogs might whine because they’re in pain

Canines might cry when they’re in pain, not unlike the way we humans might whimper or moan when we get hurt. It’s especially important to consider this possibility if your dog suddenly goes from whining very little to crying often. New vocalizations can be an indicator of illness or injury!

It’s also important to note that just because a dog isn’t whining doesn’t mean they feel one hundred percent. Canines can be incredibly stoic in their discomfort. While crying certainly is one symptom of physical distress, it’s not the only thing to consider.

Why do dogs sometimes cry in their sleep?

If your dog cries in their sleep, they are probably reacting to a dream. Yes, dogs dream, just like humans do! Their dreams probably involve versions of their daily lives or recreations of that day’s activities. When they are dreaming, their legs may twitch (almost like they’re trying to run), their mouth may move, and they might even wag their tail.

It may be tempting to wake your dog if they start to whimper in their sleep — but as the saying goes, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. Waking a dog from a dream will actually disturb their sleep cycle, which can lead to more waking problems down the line. You also run the risk of startling your companion, which can cause them to react to your presence in a way they usually wouldn’t.

Do certain breeds whine or cry more than others?

There is no research indicating that some breeds specifically cry more than others — but there are dog breeds that have a wider range of vocalization and some that tend to be more “talkative.”

For example, Basset Hounds and Bloodhounds are more likely to howl than other breeds, while Basenjis have a distinctive “yodel.” If you have a more “talkative” breed, that may translate to more whining, but it also may not. Your dog may simply be talkative in other ways. Ultimately: Every dog is a unique individual. Your companion’s breed can give you helpful background context, but it won’t provide any guarantees about how they’re going to behave.

What counts as “excessive” whining?

It would be unfair to expect our dogs to never whine. Remember that your pet’s vocalizations are a normal part of their communication with you!

That said, there is a point where your dog’s crying becomes excessive and might indicate a larger underlying problem (either with their health, lifestyle, or enrichment). There is no official definition or way to calculate what counts as “excessive” whining, but you’ll probably know it when you see (or rather, hear) it. If your dog’s whining prevents either of you from sleeping properly, interferes with your ability to accomplish work or family tasks, or otherwise feels out of control, it’s a good idea to spend some time looking into the cause and treatment options.

Do puppies cry more than adult dogs?

Puppies, like human children, do tend to cry more than their adult counterparts. Younger puppies especially may need some time to adjust from being away from their mother and their littermates. It’s normal for them to whine during their initial adjustment period settling into your home!

In general, puppies cry for similar reasons to adult dogs. Their vocalizations may be more pronounced, though, for multiple reasons:

  • Puppies go through fear periods as they grow up
  • Teething hurts!
  • Young dogs aren’t fully developed physically or mentally, which means they have less capacity for impulse control

How to reduce or improve your dog’s whining

We say “reduce” instead of “stop” here for a reason — as mentioned above, it’s not reasonable to expect our pets to be quiet all of the time. It is fully possible to minimize their whining, though, especially if it’s due to a specific unmet need or anxiety.

Make sure your dog is healthy

First and foremost, check to see if the source of your dog’s whining is illness or pain. If your dog is whining excessively — especially if this behavior is new — scheduling a vet visit to rule out the possibility of illness or pain should be your first priority.

Make sure you’re meeting your dog’s needs

Once you’ve determined that your companion is physically healthy, think about their basic needs and reflect on how well your current routine meets them. Are they getting enough nutrients through a healthy diet so they don’t regularly feel hungry? Are you providing ample time to sniff and investigate the world around them? How often do they get fulfilling physical exercise?

You can read more about enrichment — which is a way of saying “making your dog’s life better” — in this ultimate guide.

Determine the cause of your dog’s crying

If your dog is healthy, reasonably fulfilled, and still whining excessively, it’s time to dive deeper into the potential cause of their vocalizations.

We can’t say it enough: We know crying can be frustrating and disruptive — but always keep in mind that it’s a form of communication. Your dog is not trying to give you a hard time. (We promise.) They’re trying to express something about their experience of the world.

By understanding the root cause of their cries, you’ll be able to address it — and make everyone happier. Here are some strategies to approach different types of whining.

Training to improve greeting and excitement whining

  • Consider channeling your dog’s excess excitement into a favorite toy.
  • Teach an “alternative” or “incompatible” behavior that you ask for during moments of high arousal. This might be having your dog sit for affection when you walk in the door, or having them touch their nose to your palm.
  • Scatter food for your dog to sniff out. This prevents them from crying in the moment (they can’t whine while swallowing) and can also help lower their arousal in the long run.

Training to address appeasement whining

  • Try to build your dog’s overall confidence through fun training like obstacle courses, nosework, puzzle toys, or other similar exercises.
  • Take inventory of the situations that seem to make your dog feel threatened or uncertain. Do not force them into an environment that makes them uncomfortable!
  • For example, if your dog is nervous when kids try to pet them, consider saying “no” to potential greetings or having your companion show off some tricks in lieu of physical interaction.
  • If your dog is uncertain around other dogs, help them navigate the interactions by recalling them over to you if they get overwhelmed, communicating their needs to other owners, or working with a trainer for safe socialization.

Training to limit attention-seeking whining

If your dog whines for attention, you’ll need to teach them that being quiet is actually the better attention-getting behavior. Often we owners unintentionally reinforce attention-seeking behaviors by paying attention to them — even if we think it’s “negative” attention, like yelling or scolding (more on why you shouldn’t punish your dog later in this article).

  • Teach your dog that being quiet earns them treats and attention. Start by rewarding your dog at random times during the day when they’re already being quiet — give them attention for the desired behavior!
  • Consider giving your dog another way to ask for attention. For example, many trainers teach dogs to sit to “say please”.

Training to improve anxious whining

Anxious whining is often one of the trickiest kinds of whining to eliminate. You have to get to the bottom of your dog’s anxiety and work with them at their own pace from there.

  • If you can effectively determine the source of your dog’s anxiety or stress, you can begin to work on desensitization.
  • You can also do something called counterconditioning where you pair good things (like a favorite treat) with scary things (like other dogs barking) to ultimately change your pet’s association over time.
  • Consider managing your dog’s environment to help them feel safer. If certain things like crowded environments trigger them to whine anxiously, stop bringing them out at such busy times and work your way back up slowly if possible.
  • If you’ve tried training techniques to improve your dog’s anxiety but they still seem to struggle, some trainers and veterinarians might recommend an anti-anxiety medication. You can learn more about this option in our guide to pet medication here.

What not to do when your dog whines

Never punish your dog for whining. We know it can feel annoying — sometimes you can experience a sort of sensory overload when you’re surrounded by too much noise — but remember that your companion is trying to tell you something.

What’s more: Punishing your dog for trying to communicate with you can have adverse effects on your relationship and their behavior. If your dog is whining out of appeasement, scolding them will likely make things worse. Even if they’re crying out of excitement, the last thing you want to do as an owner is be a source of fear in their life.

Professional trainers are here to have your back!

You might feel confident working through some moderate whining on your own with the help of online resources. That’s great!

Don’t hesitate to call in a professional force free trainer, though, if things feel out of hand. Experts have seen countless cases of dogs crying for many different reasons and will be able to help you develop an individualized treatment plan.

Trainer Review of this Article

There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.  

These are the trainers that reviewed this article:

Olivia Petersen, CCS
Owner - Sound Connection Dog Training
WSU Bachelors in Animal Science Business Management
Northwest School of Canine Studies (NWSCS) Certification
Separation Anxiety Pro Trainer
Family Dog Mediator

Shannon Finch
AnimalKind Training
M.Ed. Humane Education
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner

David Adams photo

David Adams

February 12, 2023

Dog Training

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