When your dog is visibly upset, it might make a series of high-pitched whines that sound a lot like a dog’s version of crying. There may or may not be an apparent stressor attached to the high-pitched sound, and you might feel like your dog is expecting you to do something. After a while of comforting or caring for your dog, the high-pitched whining often goes away.
Yet before you can associate this high-pitched sound with sadness or stress, you might notice that your dog makes similar high-pitched noises when it is extremely excited. There might be other reasons your dog makes these sounds. If you are confused and wondering what it could all mean, here are several possible explanations, and what you can do to better understand where your dog is coming from.
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The Root of the Behavior
Dogs communicate in a multitude of different ways, including making different sounds. In this sense, the high-pitched noises that a dog makes to communicate are most similar to barking and howling. Most people describe the sound as a type of high-pitched crying or whining, and in some cases, people refer to the sound as keening. The intended message can have a variety of different meanings depending on the tone, attitude of the dog making the sound, and direction of the sound. For example, a dog making a high-pitched noise while staring at you with its ears up and tail wagging is communicating something vastly different than a dog making the sound by itself while its head and tail are drooping.
In general, the high-pitched cries represent either excitement or distress. The excitement could be a positive nervousness or anxiousness to get going. You might hear this sound while lacing up your shoes before going on a walk, or while you hold a tennis ball behind your back. The other type of high-pitched whining might be the result of frustration, pain, fear, or any type of environmental stress. You might hear this sound if you lock your dog in its cage while you have company over or if there is a lightning storm outside. Generally, a high-pitched sound that rises in pitch is an indicator of stress or negative emotion, while a high-pitched sound that stays constant or drops in pitch indicates positivity or excitement.
These are by no means the only reasons that a dog makes high-pitched sounds. Whining can be linked to behavioral issues or a dog may make the sounds because it has learned that it can get a certain reaction out of you. If you consistently cuddle your dog and show it attention when it whines, it may have learned that whining is a way to get your attention. A dog may start out by whining when it needs food or water but if you give your dog treats or toys when it whines, it may begin to whine as a means of getting whatever it wants. Other reasons that your dog might adopt whining include separation anxiety or cognitive decline. These fall under the category of stress and may indicate that your dog is experiencing a health problem.
Encouraging the Behavior
This behavior is normal in dogs and should only be considered a concern if it happens regularly and without apparent cause. Whining due to excitement is natural and most people are not bothered by this sound. Typically, the whining will cease as soon as the excitement is fulfilled. Occasional whining due to distress should be expected, especially when linked to environmental stressors like earthquakes, fireworks, thunder, or severe storms. If your dog has reached the point where you feel that the whining is a concern, the first thing you should do is seek out a veterinarian to rule out an underlying health condition. This is especially true if the whining doesn’t seem to be coming from an environmental stressor or a shortage of food or water.
If your dog is whining due to a behavioral issue, such as attention seeking or separation anxiety, you may need to enlist the help of a dog trainer to adjust the behavior accordingly. You are an integral part of your dog’s communications. Learning how to respond correctly to your dog’s different communication methods is crucial to getting the most out of your relationship with your dog, and vice versa. In most cases, simply ignoring your dog’s unnecessary whining for long enough will result in a change in your dog’s behavior. Reward silence and try to adjust to a dog’s needs. Just like babies and small children, don’t indulge your dog for whining to get its way.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Oftentimes, owners suspect that their dogs are in chronic pain when they whine constantly, but this is not the case. Dogs that are in chronic pain do not make whining sounds or high-pitched noises once their pain has become constant. They will instead show silent, physical signs that they are in chronic pain. If your dog’s whining has become ceaseless, it may be the sign of a mental health problem, or a behavioral problem that you will need to correct. Dogs that experience strong separation anxiety may cry or whine for long stretches of time, even once you have returned to a room. Similarly, older dogs that whine chronically in their crates may be displaying signs of improper crate training. In these cases, seeking behavioral training instead of trying to resolve the behavior yourself may be the best option.
Once you know what your dog is trying to communicate, you can fulfill its needs or respond to its desires in a healthy way. Similarly, your dog will adjust its sounds to meet your desires, provided that you communicate with your dog in a healthy way, as well. Eventually, your dog will stop associating whining with dining, and you will be free to care for your dog without having to worry about what those high-pitched noises could mean.