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Canine Behavior/Incessant Whining


Hello Ms. Connor.

I have a ten-year old, male, neutered, Border Terrier. He lives in my house and I live alone although when he was growing up my husband was alive, and my children were around. It is clear my children and I remain part of his "pack". I regularly have people over for many hours.

He is well fed, always has water and gets walked. We got him as a puppy so he has never been abused (I do not believe in physical reprimands). When I am alone with him he does not whine except for a clear objective ("share your sandwich with me!" or "I need to go out"). Likewise, when my children are here with me he does not whine. We can, for example, watch TV for a few hours and he rests by our feet, hangs out or sleeps nearby. No whining.

But, when I have any person over (a non-pack member) and in the same room with me, even when they stay for hours, he whines incessantly (literally for hours), usually while focused on the person, and not on me--that is the whining is directed at them. There are a number of different people I employ who stay here for hours at a time. They walk him, give him food some play with him a bit and one of them plays with him a lot. His whining is the same towards each one.

However, if the person leaves the room where I am, he stops whining. Likewise, if I leave the room where he is and he is alone with the person, the whining stops.

It is only the combination of me in the same room with the person where he does this. I have tried giving him treats when he is not whining to reinforce that absence of whining, which has had no effect. I have tried saying "no!" when he is whining--which does work, but only for about one minute, at most. It is driving me a bit crazy and is quite unpleasant.

This behavior started at least three years ago, but it has gotten progressively worse. Do you have any notion about what might be the cause here? Any suggestions for what I might try to alleviate it?

Thank you,


Dear friend, I think you have answered your own question.  YOU are the common denominator.  You said it yourself:  "It is only the combination of me in the same room with the person where he does this."

I would like you to make an attempt to set the dog up:

Have a friend (someone the dog knows and has played with and still whines at while you are in the room) come over for some "casual" visit.  YOU behave as you always do (this is the HARD PART, because you may unconsciously change your behaviors and that will affect the dog and he will stop whining!)  There is some cue you are giving him, not your fault, perfectly normal behavior from a loving dog owner.  You are stressed, anxious, your adrenaline is up (dogs can smell adrenaline on your breath from across the room), and your body language is different.  The dog is "reading" all of these things.  It may have taken TEN SECONDS on ONE VISIT from a friend or co-worker to begin this and the dog has now acquired a "superstitious" behavior.  He is not whining from stress at the presence of another person; he is whining at YOUR stress.  By offering treats when is he NOT whining you have actually reinforced the whining.  Why?  Because you did NOT KNOW WHAT THE DOG WAS THINKING.  His cognition remained on guard and you rewarded that, therefor the whining (his way of demonstrating his cognition, or lack of same) increased.

Let's try this.  Remember:  your unconscious reactions may change so subtly but still sufficiently to stop the whining.  Report back using followup feature.  We can fix this but first I want the results of our experiment.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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