You know the scene. You come home from work and Spot eagerly starts whining with excitement to greet you. He also whines when he needs to relieve himself, and when he wants something. You are used to it. Spot doesn't seem to whine all of the time, and you have begun to even predict when his whines are coming. But you do wonder, where did this whining come from? I didn't teach him to whine, did I? Could it lead to any problems down the line? Am I reacting appropriately? In mid-thought, you hear Spot standing by the door whining, you know that face, time to go outside...again.
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The Root of the Behavior
There are many reasons why dogs whine. Their whines might indicate that they need something, they are excited, they are being submissive, or in more rare cases, there is a cognitive or medical impairment. Mostly, dogs use their whines to communicate. Humans are always talking so even though your dog does not recite Shakespeare, he has picked up that he can use his whiny noises to communicate his needs. Dogs also whine to seek attention and express anxiety and fear.
An Australian study that is documented in “Investigating Empathy-Like Responding to Conspecifics' Distress in Pet Dogs” found that pet dogs that whine show complex emotions and concern towards other dogs, especially towards familiar dogs. The researchers studied 16 dogs’ responses to the audio of a cohabiting dog, then audio of an unfamiliar whining dog, then audio of computer-generated whine-like sounds. When the dogs heard the audio of other dogs whining, especially the familiar dog's whine, their cortisone levels rose, and more stress behaviors, like putting tails down, bowing heads, whining, etc. occurred. This study shows that dog whining is usually more of a sign of affection and concern than anything problematic.
It is also common for dogs to whine when they are being submissive and when they just want to appease their owners. Believe it or not, Spot’s whining is actually an indicator that he knows you are the boss. Although it is important to recognize whines, it is also important not to give in to whining immediately, such as whining for food or toys. Instead, acknowledge your dog but do not give in. Wait until he is calm and then give him what he needs. You have still acknowledged your dog's need for something but have also waited for the dog to calm down to give in. This should make Spot's whining bearable and not excessive.
Encouraging the Behavior
As stated above, there are many instances when Spot is whining that is no need for concern. Just like humans vocalize their thoughts, dogs whine to communicate because that and barking are all the vocalization capabilities they have. Your dog’s whines also have been linked to another positive trait and that trait is empathy. A study done by Deborah Custance and Jennifer Mayer of Goldsmiths College in London showed that dog whines are an expressive form of empathy. The study had both pet owners and strangers around a dog. The dog displayed more comfort and affection towards its owner than the stranger. In fact, many times, the dog acted as if its master was the only person in the room.
Then, the study had the stranger mimic crying. When the stranger did this one behavior, the dog usually ignored his owner and nuzzled, licked, and whined at the crying stranger. Researchers concluded that these behaviors towards the stranger proved that dogs are capable of expressing concern and empathy towards humans. According to Cesar's Way Inc., many dog whines are valid and productive ways to communicate the need to relieve themselves, greet you, and apologize. Humans should acknowledge these whines. However, there are some instances in which whining can become problematic.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Sometimes dog whines do become excessive when greeting their owners. This can become an annoyance. If this is the case, you want to make sure to not encourage your dog’s whines when you get home. Instead of immediately petting him, ignore him until he stops whining, then cave into loading on your affection. Sometimes, your dog whines out of boredom. If this is a usual occurrence, and you know that Spot is not getting enough stimulation, then you should make an effort to provide your dog with more affection, toys, etc. Sometimes, excessive whining has to do with a medical condition. If you cannot identify why your dog is persistently whining, as there seem to be none of the reasons stated above, take your dog to the vet where they can analyze your dog's urine and blood.
So, Spot's whining is usually a sign of love and empathy, who knew? Still, you don't want him getting all crazy with his whining so it's important not to give in to him when he immediately starts this behavior. When he greets you with these whimpers upon your arrival home, although you now know it is out of excitement, you might want to cut down on the immediate attention when you walk through the door and wait until Spot settles down. But, be grateful for Spot and his whines when you are feeling down because Spot knows. Although his whines might be one of your pet peeves, his intentions are usually pawsitive.