When Buffy, a Cocker Spaniel mix, wants food, she cries. When she wants petting, she cries. When her owner leaves the house, she cries. This results in her owner providing her food, attention, and frequently returning to the home to try to calm Buffy down, which of course only makes the crying worse. After all, it worked, didn't it?
Dogs cry or whine to express their distress at being alone, not getting attention, or to get other needs met.Dogs are social, pack animals-- being alone is not comfortable for them, but our pets need to become comfortable with being alone sometimes, or waiting to have their needs met, such as waiting for play time, or food. The catch is, if you respond to your dog crying by providing attention and closeness, you reinforce the behavior, which creates a vicious cycle.
A dog that cries when you are unable to provide him attention, such as when you are engaged in another activity or when you leave the house, is annoying to you and others. The solution is to teach your dog to be comfortable and confident with being alone, or not being the center of attention, and that crying does not result in getting what he wants. New puppies, especially, are subject to whining and crying behavior, as they have always felt the companionship and attention of their littermates and mother. It is normal for there to be an adjustment period when a new puppy is separated from their birth family and adopted into yours, or for an older dog that has experienced a difference in living situations, such as a move or a rehoming, to start crying due to anxiety associated with the change.
If an older dog that did not previously cry starts crying, you may want to have him checked by your veterinarian to make sure that he is not experiencing a medical condition that is causing him to experience pain or anxiety. If no medical condition or urgent need is present, there are several strategies you can use to teach your dog that being alone or waiting to have their needs met is OK, and that there is no need to become anxious and vocal due to a temporary withdrawal of attention.
Always make sure your dog's physical needs are met before training them not to cry. Has your dog had the opportunity to go to the bathroom, does your dog have water, is he hungry, does he need exercise, did he get enough attention and affection today? If all your dog's needs have been met and crying is just a demand for more attention, or an objection to being alone, then training to teach your dog to wait quietly can be initiated.
You will need a lot of patience and self-discipline, as training your dog to stop crying will necessitate ignoring annoying crying and not responding to it, even with negative attention such as punishment. This will require a lot of willpower on your part, and possibly earplugs! Treats for rewarding a dog for alternative behaviors to crying may be part of your training routine. Crate training to desensitize your dog to being alone, and to provide a comfortable safe place for him to be calm and quiet, is often used to address crying behavior. You may also want to set up a schedule, to make sure your dog gets lots of exercise, play, and attention, and possibly engage other family members, or neighbors, in ensuring your dog has “no excuse” for crying, by ensuring that all his needs are met, albeit on your schedule, not his.