Question: I recently picked up a stray. She’s a 4-5 month old pit cross. The problem that I’m having is that she whines constantly. Especially when she’s in her crate. I’ve tried everything that I can think of and she just won’t stop. As long as she’s awake, she’s whining. I’m fostering her for a local shelter, and I know that she won’t be here long, but I’m worried that she’ll have a hard time getting/keeping a home if some solution is not found. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. - Jordan
Firstly, Jordan, I want to thank you for putting forth the effort to help this dog out. It sounds like you’re prepared to do some work to help make her more adoptable, which really takes a special person. It sounds like, most likely, your foster is whining for attention/ to demand something. For that reason, most of my suggestions are going to be similar to what I’d suggest for a demand barker. Essentially, these strategies are going to make up a multi-pronged approach, which I find the best way to deal with this issue, because it can be pretty persistent. So, here are the prongs:
1. Take the dog to the vet. While this is probably demand whining, it’s also one of those situations in which it’s entirely possible that there’s a physical cause or component; some type of discomfort somewhere in her body. It would stink to put a whole bunch of time and effort into unnecessary/ unhelpful training and leave the dog in pain or discomfort, so it’s worth it to have her checked out.
2. The most important component to your training regime here is, unfortunately, also the most difficult. At least in practice. In theory, it’s quite simple; reward her for not whining (with either good treats or a life reward that she really wants at the moment, like being let out of her crate, crawling up on the couch to snuggle, or going outside); especially in situations where she normally would whine. One of the reasons this is more difficult than it sounds is because (as I know from experience) whiners do tend to whine fairly constantly and start up almost in anticipation of their triggers. So catching a rewardable (non-whining) moment is more difficult than, say, catching a demand barker not barking. There are a few ways you can approach this.
- One is to interrupt her whining by, say, clapping your hands or banging lightly on the wall, then rewarding her silence. I would use this as a fall-back only, as it could potentially teach her that she gets rewarded for being quiet after you clap your hands or bang on the wall. I could even teach her to whine, in order to get you to clap your hands or bang on the wall.
- Another is to catch her before she whines. This might take a little manipulation. For instance, if she whines as soon as the crate door closes, put her in the crate, don’t close the door, say “yes!”, give her a treat and let her out. Do this a few times, then see if you can close the door and get a whine-free second in which to reward and release her. If she whines to be let out, start to reach for the door, say, “yes!”, give her a treat, then quickly let her out. It may, at times, not require any manipulation. Don’t forget to reward your pity just for being good, calm, and quiet on her own.
- You can simply wait her out. If she’s whining for you to put down her food bowl, wait until she stops whining, even for a second or two, say “yes!”, then put down the food bowl. If you have to stand there for a full six minutes, do it.
3. Give her alternatives. If your pup usually whines to be let out, leash her up and bring her to the door, wait for a whine-free moment, then ask her to sit or perform some other nice behavior. Mark that behavior and then take her out.
4. The flip side of rewarding not whining is penalizing whining. Remember, and teach her, that whining makes the thing she wants go away. If you go to take her out of her crate and she starts whining, give a no reward marker (like “eh-eh”), close the door again and walk out of the room. If she whines for you to put the food bowl down, and alternative to waiting her out is to give a no reward marker, stick the food bowl in a cabinet and walk away.
5. Help your foster burn off her excess energy! A tired dog is a happy dog, is a good dog. Lots of physical exercise and mental stimulation will go a long way toward helping her to feel and act more calm in general. Games of tug, throwing a ball, hiking or jogging, even decent-length daily walks are great exercise. Dogs also need mental stimulation. Do more training throughout the day; try to teach your foster a new behavior every week. Get her a food-dispensing toy which requires that she work for her kibble rather than getting it for free out of a bowl.
6. Be consistent! A lot of the strategies I’ve laid forth here require some time and effort and some serious willpower. Shutting down and walking away from a dog who’s whining to get out of her crate because she wants to be with you is pretty tough. To make matters worse, when started on a training regime, demand whiners and barkers tend to get worse before they get better. But as you said yourself, in the long run, this training will give her a far better shot at finding a forever home. And remember; dogs do not hold grudges (contrary to popular belief). Your foster- in-training will not be any less accepting of or comforted by the freedom/ treats/ snuggling she gets next time, as her reward for waiting quietly to be let out of the crate.
Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.