February 12, 2023
* 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?
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.
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.)
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
M.Ed. Humane Education
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner
February 12, 2023
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