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Canine Behavior/Excessive Whining


QUESTION: I have a 6 month old mix (probably German Shepherd Rough Collie) who whines almost all the time unless she's sleeping, eating, or actively engaged in something.
Usually when I get home at 5 we go outside and play for about an hour and then end in a half an hour walk, she comes in, eats and then I expect her to settle down and chew on her toys or play with the cat until about 8:30 when we do our final evening walk and play session before bed.
However she usually just paces the house aimlessly and whines until she gives up and lays down somewhere to nap.
I can't really exercise her any harder than I am right now because she IS a puppy and she whines (and heads to the door) the entire time we're playing in the yard because she knows she gets food after.

I've tried teaching her the command, "quiet" for every time she whines. It's pretty easy to set her up to whine. As soon as I poor food into her bowl she starts pacing and whining. She will whine the entire time I hold the food bowl, or am preparing her food. So I tried clicker training "quiet" but it wasn't very successful in any other circumstance. She even tries whining sometimes because she knows that when she whines and I say "quiet" and she goes quiet, she gets a treat. Kind of counter-productive.

There was one time I took her on a trail off-leash hike from 5-8:30pm and fed her during the walk, making her do tricks and using her brain. STILL when we got home she paced and whined after close to 3 hours of off-leash hiking, walking and jogging.

Everyone keeps telling me she will grow out of this behaviour and it doesn't seem to be becoming less frequent. I don't want to have to actively engage her the entire time I come home.
I plan to start letting her have free roam of the main floor (instead of crated) starting today for the afternoons of work. From 1-5pm.

Giving her a bone for the hour or two that I want her to relax and be quiet seems like a Band-Aid fix to me.

Why is she whining?
How can I fix this behaviour?

Thank you in advance for your time!

ANSWER: It appears (unfortunately, as I have seen far too often) that tainers and so-called "behaviorists" do not understand operant conditioning and therefor "teach" clients to condition and use the clicker inappropriately.  If the clicker is not conditioned properly (chained to a behavior the dog freely chooses, initially), it is confusion and it can actually *reward* the exact behavior you are trying to extinguish.  Sometimes, the misuse of the clicker can increase a dog's anxiety (learned helplessness, as in: HUH??)  I suggest you stop using the clicker.

This is a very young dog; she should NOT be exercised in the manner you describe for reasons of orthopedic development.  It is quite possible that her whining is the result of "superstitious behavior" (try to teach one thing, in the process the dog learns something else that is confusing).  It is possible your reaction to whining (which has been more or less consistent in your attempt to stop it, totally understandable) has actually rewarded and "trained" this behavior.  It is possible this young dog is experiencing ORTHOPEDIC PAIN, hips, other joints.  No dog under age 18 months should be "jogged".

My suggestion:  Find a veterinary specialist in orthopedics or a very expert veterinary generalist.  Have the dog evaluated for orthopedic issues (this might entail x-rays which will require sedation).  Let's be sure this dog is not in any physical pain before we address this behaviorally, or our behavioral approach will not work.  During this appointment, ask the veterinarian regarding over-exercising a young dog and also ask regarding her food.  She should not be eating "puppy food" at this point which accelerates bone growth at a time when that is not what we want to do.

If you get a clear checkup and there is no visible orthopedic issue, use followup feature so I can see original question/answer.  Meanwhile:  if she is whining leave the room, count to ten or wait until the whining has stopped, re-enter.  If she whines during preparation of her food, once you have completed preparation STOP, stand still, back to the dog, wait for her to STOP and immediately put the food down.

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Oh sorry I wasn't clear.
I've never jogged her.
I was walking on the hike and she was running all around the field and rolling in the grass and walking beside me off and on. I just meant jogging in that she was free running part of the time. She chooses her own pace and I'm very aware that she should not be worked too hard as a young puppy. Also hiking in prairies doesn't contain much of anything other than a flat endless field (it's still called a hiking trail though). So by hiking I mean walking on a soft grassy field, and by jogging I mean off-leash running and walking, I just chose the middle ground pace between walking and running.

It's exhausting trying to tire out a puppy that you can't actually TIRE out for developmental reasons.
Even during our one 3 hour hike we stopped quite a few times (though she was always raring to continue and got frustrated with me when I would stop with her) for water breaks, for picture breaks, and just for me breaks because I hate physical activity haha.

Yes, I realized very quickly that clicker training this behaviour wasn't very successful. I tried it one day and stopped. She responds to clicker training with every other trick I've taught her, but I must have been miscommunicating so I stopped.

Actually so far what you've said is exactly how I've been handling it. The whining while walking around aimlessly is not solved, but aggravated, when I leave the room. It takes quite a while for me to be able to enter the room with her being quiet and the majority of my night is spent standing in the other room because of how constantly she whines. It's almost as if she doesn't realize she's doing it to begin with. Just kind of a subconscious complaining that no one is paying attention to her.

I've already seen my vet and she checked her out and we've done x-rays she just said, "She's just a puppy and is bored, she will grow out of it."

Same with preparing the food.
I usually finish getting her supper ready and just stand there waiting for her to be quiet. It often takes 15-20 minutes of persistent whining before she groans and lays down and watches me quietly. I immediately give her, her food. This has not helped the situation. I have not noticed the amount of time I wait decreasing over the last week of doing this.
She is not on puppy food because she has problems digesting (constant off and on diarrhea on) 97% of all the brands I've tried her on. She's on a vet-ordered food that is apparently a bland diet food (Royal Canin Gastrointestinal). I've talked to our nutritionist and once this bag is over we're switching her over to a bland senior dog diet, for his recommended reasons.

I've always seen it as an, "I'm bored, play with meee" behaviour.
Or her intense food motivation.
Like when she whines at supper during her exercise time. It helps when I incorporate her food into her exercise time, by adding training before her meals, but it's hard to get her to focus on training without some sort of physical outlet (kind of a vicious circle).
In the morning at 5:30am when she wakes up (I know she doesn't have to go to the bathroom) she just wants to eat and she will whine and trill until about 5:50am. I kind of take any moment of silence as my opportunity to spring downstairs and let her out. So I usually let her out after a minute or so of her silence.
It used to be that when I got up with her at 6am she would attempt to refuse to go pee before her meal. It took an entire week of consistently waiting her out 15+ minutes because all she wanted was her food. She didn't care that she might have to go pee. But now she usually only needs to be reminded once or twice when I take her out, to go pee.

You can imagine that walking around aimlessly and constantly whining get's very... frustrating after a while.
I've asked my vet, a pair of breeders that deal with a lot of puppies, two trainers, and two different sites and all I've gotten is, "She's just a baby she'll grow out of it" or at least the more helpful answer, "She needs to be taught to settle. Give her a place to go and make her settle. Some times puppies don't know how to settle themselves."
Even on her "place" she will sit there and whine off and on.

You seemed pretty professional so I figured I'd give asking your opinion a try! Thanks again for your time so far.

This isn't normal puppy or juvenile dog behavior.  Whining is a communication intended to signal need (neonates use it because it gets the dam's attention) and is also a communication to signal distress.  You seem to have done all the right things (I applaud your staying out of sight for so long!) with very little result.  Will she "outgrow" it?  I don't think so.

I suggest you find a veterinary behaviorist.  This is a veterinary professional who will assess your dog based upon her veterinarian's records, what s/he finds during examination, and your reports of behavior.  I suggest this because it appears to me, quite strongly, that this dog (despite your incredible tenacity and amazing patience) is suffering.  If this suffering is physical, it could very well be orthopedic or it could be something else she cannot communicate to you; if it is emotional, it is very "set" at this point and may require some medication.  So:  find a veterinary behaviorist by calling the veterinary college in your area or from one of the following sites:

During my lifetime, due to the fact that I did a great deal of rehabilitation rescue from kill shelters, have owned "show" dogs, have had dogs for training or boarding in my home, and have had my own dogs, I can honestly say that I have lived with (probably) sixty dogs (maybe more).  I have never had one incident where constant whining such as you describe occurred.  Now: this might be because I had, after all, a "pack" and a top bitch (Ibizan Hound) who ruled (as allowed by me) with quiet, kind determination; also because they were, after all, with me and I rather began to consider myself more dog than human after a while LOL.  (No comments from the peanut gallery).  I have also seen hundreds and hundreds of clients and don't recall any such problem that could not be addressed easily.  You've tried it all.  Now, try the veterinary behaviorist.  Please use followup feature and don't expect miracles at first, the dog may be having temporal lobe seizures, the dog may have had distemper or even parvo (if she came from a shelter environment), you may be seeing neurological problems.

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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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