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Have you ever heard your dog crying, and wondered why? Or maybe you have more than one dog, and one of them cries more than the others. Why do dogs cry, and what can be done about it?
Why do dogs cry?
Crying, also known as whining or whimpering (they all mean the same thing), is a somewhat common behavior in dogs. Dogs don’t cry tears like humans do, but they make a whining or whimpering sound. Some people have also wondered whether dogs cry for similar reasons to humans. The answer, in some ways, is yes.
What are dogs trying to tell us when they cry? Dog crying happens for a number of reasons. Some dogs may whine as a greeting behavior when you come in the door because they are very excited to see you.
Some dogs may also whine as an appeasement behavior when they interact with people or other dogs. (This is usually accompanied by a submissive posture, with head down and tail tucked.) Other dogs may whine as an attention-seeking behavior, or to tell you something, like “my toy is stuck in the couch cushions!”
Another common cause of dog whining is separation distress. Some dogs express this distress through whining or whimpering, and may do this especially when left alone. If you’ve ever heard a dog crying in their crate, separation distress might be to blame.
An important consideration if you hear your dog cry: Dogs may cry if they are sick or injured. Make sure to eliminate this as a possibility, especially if this is a new behavior for your dog. Sometimes, dog whimpering is an attempt to tell us “I don’t feel good.”
Do certain breeds cry more than others?
There is no research indicating that any breeds specifically cry more than others, but there are some breeds that have a wider range of vocalization, and there are also some breeds that tend to be more “talkative.” For instance, Basset Hounds and Bloodhounds are more likely to howl than other breeds, and Basenjis have a distinctive “yodel.” So if you have a more “talkative” breed, that may translate to more whining, but it may not: your dog may simply be talkative in other ways.
Do puppies cry more than adult dogs?
Puppies, like human children, tend to cry more than their adult counterparts. Younger puppies especially may need some time to adjust from being away from their mother and their littermates, and may cry a lot during this adjustment period. Puppies generally cry for similar reasons to adult dogs, but it may be more excessive: they are probably experiencing more loneliness and fear than an adult dog usually does.
Why do dogs cry in their crates?
If your dog cries in their crate, the culprit is probably separation distress If your dog is in their crate, they are not with you, and they may feel distressed about this. However, a dog who is properly crate trained should not cry in their crate. If your dog is crying in their crate, they are not truly crate trained. The Humane Society of the United States has a handy guide to crate training.
Similarly, if your dog cries at night (and you are not sleeping with them), separation distress is probably to blame. This is especially true if the dog is new to your household, or if they have a new sleeping arrangement. We’ll get into what to do about separation anxiety-based whining below.
Why is my dog crying in their sleep?
If your dog cries in their sleep, they are probably reacting to a dream. Yes, dogs dream, just like humans do! Their dreams probably involve versions of their daily lives, or recreations of that day’s activities. When they are dreaming, their legs may twitch (almost like they’re trying to run) and their mouth may move.
It may be tempting to wake your dog if they are whimpering in their sleep, but as the saying goes, it’s best to let sleeping dogs lie. Waking a dog from a dream will actually disturb their sleep cycle, and dreams, even if they cause your dog to whimper, are an important part of your dog completing their sleep cycle.
What counts as excessive whining?
There is no official definition or way to calculate what counts as “excessive” whining, but you’ll know it when you see (or rather, hear) it. Most dogs will probably whine occasionally throughout their lifetime, but if the whining starts interfering with your daily life and/or your dog’s, that’s when it can be labeled “excessive” and you should look into ways to stop it. It’s probably excessive if it seems like the whining is “out of control” or it occurs at inappropriate times of the day or night, according to PetMD.
How to get a dog to stop whining
Although whining in dogs can be annoying, you do not want to punish your dog for whining. Instead, think of it as an opportunity to get to the bottom of the source of the whining.
First and foremost, check to see if the source of your dog’s whining is illness or pain. If your dog is whining excessively, and especially if this behavior is new, scheduling a vet visit to rule out the possibility of illness or pain is your first priority.
Here’s what the ASPCA suggests to stop different types of whining:
How to stop appeasement whining: Your dog may display appeasement behavior when they perceive a threat. To help put a stop to this cycle, the ASPCA suggests building up your dog’s confidence by doing some positive reinforcement training. You might try something like dog agility courses or other interesting activities. Interactive games can help build up your dog’s confidence, and will help you bond more with your dog.
How to stop greeting whining: Dogs who whine while greeting you are doing so out of excitement. Try to divert their attention to a favorite toy. You may find it’s useful to teach her an “alternative” behavior that is her go-to move when you come in, such as sitting.
How to stop attention-seeking whining: If your dog whines for attention, you’ll need to teach them that being quiet is actually the better attention-getting behavior. Often, we unintentionally reinforce attention-seeking behaviors by paying attention to them (even if we think it’s “negative” attention, like yelling or scolding). When your dog whines for attention, dramatically turn away from them and do not make eye contact. Fold your arms across your chest and ignore her until she is quiet.
You’ll also need to teach your dog that being quiet earns them treats and attention. Start by rewarding your dog at random times during the day when she’s already being quiet, and give her attention and treats. Do this often until the dog begins to understand that quiet = treats and attention. (You might need a trainer to help you with this—more information on that below.)
How to stop anxious whining: Anxious whining is probably the trickiest kind of whining to eliminate, because it requires getting to the bottom of the source of anxiety. If you can determine the source of the anxiety, you can begin to work on desensitizing the dog to it. The Spruce Pets has a list of common dog fears and phobias, which is a good place to start. However, determining what your dog is afraid of or anxious about can be difficult. This is another good time to call in a trainer.
For all of these steps, you may feel confident doing the training yourself, or you may benefit from calling in a trainer. If you decide to bring in a trainer, try to find one who only uses positive reinforcement training, and ideally is fear free certified. The ASPCA has a guide to finding behavioral help for your pet.
In addition, if none of your training for your anxious dog has worked and your dog still seems overly anxious, you might want to consider looking into anti-anxiety medication for your dog.
As a reminder, never punish your dog for whining. Remember that they are trying to tell you something, and try to work together (possibly with the help of a trainer) to find a solution.
Trainer Review of this Article
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
M.Ed. Humane Education
Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner
Certified Tellington TTouch and TTEAM Practitioner