Sometimes it happens late at night. Or maybe as you’re on your way to work and locking the door behind you. It often happens when you’re making dinner or eating something that smells especially savory. Sooner or later, usually sooner, your dog will start to whimper, and his reason may not be immediately obvious.
Dogs and people don’t speak the same language. We try to make ourselves understood to our dogs by using a specific tone of voice in certain circumstances - for instance, using a short, sharp tone of voice when our dog is doing something that is dangerous and using a soft, kind tone when we’re encouraging our dogs. Our facial expressions and body language change, too. Consider the way you stand when you’re ordering your dog off the couch, as opposed to the way you stand when you’re teaching your dog to heel. We alter our tone of voice and our body language so our dogs can better understand us. And our dogs do likewise for us.
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The Root of the Behavior
In context, there are four reasons a dog whimpers: stress, excitement, pain, and a demand for attention.
Whimpering is a classic sign of a dog in stress. He may also pace, pant, and lower his tail. His posture will be submissive. All these actions are your dog’s way of telling you he is at his limit and needs relief. If you are training your dog and he begins to exhibit signs of stress, it’s time to take a play break. If you are at the vet’s office, you may ask to take your dog to an empty exam room - or even outside - so he can get away from all of the noise, scents and worry that naturally come with a doctor’s visit. If you are introducing your dog to a new environment, be sure to provide snacks and lots of reassurance.
Older dogs, like older people, will have sensory loss as they age. Their vision and hearing will weaken. They may become confused by formerly familiar situations. That would make anyone anxious! Fortunately, your vet can help alleviate your dog’s anxiety.
Dogs will often whimper when they are excited. You have probably noticed that your dog whimpers when you come home from work, or when you are preparing his dinner. He will whine when he is going on a car ride, or about to begin a walk. This kind of whimpering is an expression of joy and is often accompanied by physical gestures, such as jumping or pawing.
Some dogs will remain stoic when they are in pain, others will whine and bark and raise a fuss. If your dog is suddenly whining for no apparent reason, you should observe him carefully. Is he hesitant to go up and down stairs? Has his appetite changed suddenly? Maybe he whimpers when he gets up from a nap. All of these are signs that your dog is in pain and you should make sure you understand your family member.
A dog whimpers when he wants something, such as his dinner, or perhaps a toy. Often, dogs will whimper when they need to go potty. Whimpering is a way of getting your attention. However, it can be easy to unintentionally train your dog to whimper simply out of boredom. It is important that you not reward this behavior; don’t automatically give your dog attention when he whimpers. Try to determine the reason for it, if you can.
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs are both adorable and stubborn. It can be very hard to resist those big, soulful eyes and the plaintive whimpers. But if your dog is only whimpering out of boredom and a demand for attention, and you give in, you will be rewarding your dog’s behavior. Remember also that even negative attention, such as yelling at your dog to shut up is still attention and provides at least some satisfaction to your dog. Essentially, you will be allowing your dog to train YOU to respond to his commands. And that is probably not what you thought would happen when you added your dog to your family.
The best way to treat a dog who whimpers from boredom is to ignore his whimpers at the time. Turn your back to your dog and walk out of the room. Don’t talk to your dog, don’t pet him, don’t even make eye contact. Only pay attention to your dog after he stops whimpering. Once he stops whimpering, give him praise and treats. Pet your dog, and speak kindly to him as a reward for not whimpering. Going forward, you will need to provide more exercise and stimulation in general. After all, a tired dog is a good dog!
Other Solutions and Considerations
Very often, the reason why your dog is whimpering will be obvious. If he is standing by the door or looks longingly at his food dish, it’s pretty clear what he needs or wants. Be sure that you are meeting your dog’s needs. Make sure that you are keeping to a consistent schedule as much as possible for food and potty breaks. Observe your dog’s moods and make sure that he is feeling confident and comfortable. This may mean preparing ahead of time for stressful situations. Finally, if your dog continues to whimper without explanation, don’t be afraid to talk to the vet about an otherwise unexplained change in his behavior.
Wild canines, dogs, coyotes, and wolves, usually aren’t as vocal as domesticated dogs. Domesticated dogs seem to have developed their vocalizations because that’s how humans communicate. Although dogs may not use words to share their opinions on food or people, they are still expressing themselves, if we just listen carefully.