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Monday, October 10, 2011

Ask the Dog Trainer:
Help Us With Our Whining Greyhound

by Michael Baugh, CPDT-KA, CDBC
I have a situation I'd like to submit for the Ask a Trainer posts. My dog, Desmond, whines nearly all night long.

He's sleeps in our bedroom, in his own large dog bed, right next to our bed. He has a blanket and a pillow, too. When it's bedtime, he starts out fine, sleeping away no problem, but a few hours later, he starts whining and doesn't stop.

At first, we were getting up to see what was wrong. We tried taking him out to the yard to go to the bathroom, but that's never it. We've also tried simply ignoring him to make him stop, but that works only some of the time--and only after quite a while of him whining 45+ minutes. The only thing that makes him stop is when we pet him for a little while and/or recover him with his blanket. Even then, he sleeps for only a few hours and then starts whining again. We've also tried a nightlight, but it didn't change anything.

Sometimes on weekends we let him sleep in our bed withus, and then he almost never whines. We don't want him in our bed on a regular basis.

What's his problem? Is he cold? Does he miss us? Is he scared? Is he just not tired enough (He goes out for a 30-minute walk/run every morning and we try to take him out for another 30 minutes after work but sometimes it doesn't happen. We also play with him in the yard/house.)?

He's 18 months old. Greyhound mix. We've had him almost 6 months. He's done this almost the entire 6 months! We're exhausted. Please help us!
Dear Greyhound owner:

You present an interesting case, and a perfect one for helping us all understand how behavior works.

First, rule out any medical causes. As it turns out, most of the cases I handle don’t have medical causation. Nevertheless, we always want to make sure the dog isn’t in any discomfort or pain.

Second, identify the behavior you want to change. This may seem like a no-brainer, but in some cases it takes a bit of thought. My guess is that in Desmond’s case you want to change the whining behavior. Keep in mind behavior is an action, something your dog is doing. Waking up and whining.

Third, ask yourself what usually happens right after Desmond whines? We call that the consequence, and consequences are what keep behaviors going. Any action with a favorable consequence for the animal (or human animal) will be repeated more frequently in the future. That’s a law of animal behavior science, just like gravity is a law of physics. If Desmond is whining every night, some consequence of that behavior is keeping it going. You’ve given us some hints already. Sometimes you pet him; other times you take him outside. Those are all kind and delightful things, and I don’t fault you for caring about your dog. That said, your actions in response to Desmond’s whining might be working against you.

Fourth, ask what happens right before Desmond whines? This is sometimes called the trigger, the cue, or the antecedent. Is there a sound that wakes him every night? Does the behavior only occur in some settings or on some nights? You’ve provided good information for that last question already. Desmond doesn’t whine on weekend nights when he’s in bed with you?

Now ask yourself, what we can change in Desmond’s life before and/or right after he whines (the antecedent and the consequence). We have influence over both those areas. Remember, the antecedent sets the dog up to do the behavior (whining). The consequence keeps it going night after night.

Let’s look at the consequence first. I don’t recommend scolding, hurting or frightening Desmond for whining. That would be tragically counterproductive. Instead, I suggest you not respond to whining at all. Wow, that’s going to be tough I know. 

One of the things I read in your email is that you tried ignoring his whining. That means you returned to paying attention to Desmond for whining after you ignored him. I feel your frustration, but what you’re describing is called a “variable schedule of reinforcement,” and it’s a very powerful way to increase whining. Ooops. Don’t worry, I’ve made similar mistakes. Let’s not do it anymore. No more attention for whining, period, ever, cold turkey.

Now let’s look at the set up. It’s always better if you can change the dog’s environment to avoid the behavior ever happening in the first place. I’m going to lay out a bunch of options; some you will like more than others.

• Let Desmond sleep with you. This is easiest solution you presented in your email. Desmond doesn’t whine in your bed. Problem solved. Downside: you may not want to sleep with a greyhound every night. I know my bed isn’t big enough.
• Move Desmond’s bed closer to yours, and give him a small piece of your bedding (like a pillow case). Alternately, you could consider letting him sleep with an article of clothing you or your spouse has worn.
• Consider using a crate in your bedroom. It sounds like Desmond has a great set-up now, but even a minor change like adding a secure properly-sized crate can make all the difference.
• Make sure Desmond is well exercised both physically and mentally before bedtime. A tired dog is a good dog. Remember to exercise his body and brain. I’m a huge fan of reward-based training because I see daily how it helps on so many levels.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, be patient and steadfast. Any behavior, including Desmond’s whining, can be improved. You’ll notice I didn’t say “fixed” or “cured.” We look for changes in your dog’s behavior, not absolutes. For that reason and others I encourage you to stay the course and stay calm throughout. Do not give up and don’t settle back into old ways. Desmond has been learning this behavior for 6 months, maybe longer. It may take that long or longer to learn a different behavior (sleeping through the night). Nevertheless, he will learn. Things will get better. Rest assured.

© courtesy R. Arouty
Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CPDT-KA, CDBC is the director of training and behavior at Rover Oaks Pet Resorts. You may readch Michael at the link for a personal consultation, or write to him at our Ask the Dog Trainer Column @ Michael's advice does not replace an actual consultation with a qualified trainer.

Check out Michael's Archives Page, or these recent articles:


K-Koira said...

I would try having music on at night, to see if that helps. If something happens outside that is waking him up, maybe the music will help keep him from hearing it. Or, it might just be a soothing background noise to him. When crate-training a dog, I will often leave a radio on, either music or a talk show, quietly, in the same room as them. I find it helps them stay calm and quiet

Kolchak Puggle said...

What about putting a wide padding bench at the end of the bed, just for him? He feels like he's "in" bed with you and you have enough space to sleep? Koly used to cry through the night and we ignored it. I practically made myself bleed biting my tongue and some days I didn't get much sleep, but eventually, he stopped. Thank Dog.

Jane Cooper said...

Dogs will whine due to feelings of abandonment or fear, and the whine is their "alarm" so they can be rescued. First we need to know why is your dog whining. Once you do, then you can easily stop the whining. In your case, where you are not able to find out, it's always better to consult a vet.

Vets from are really good. You can get suggestions 24/7.

HoundDogMom said...

Oh, we have a basset that whines all the time. It is not only when he sleeps, but when he walks or does anything. We have determined that he swallowed a squeaker when he was a puppy before we got him. BOL Sniffs, The HoundDogs

Lauren @ Life With Desmond said...

hi everyone, desmond's mom here! thanks so much to carrie and michael for their help and suggestions. and thanks to those who have left comments here.

@jane, we have consulted our vet already, and she says he's healthy. she actually said it's possible the food we're giving him has too much protein and may be creating more energy than we're able to help him burn off. we are going to switch his food soon, so we'll see if that changes anything.

@hounddogmom, desmond is a bit of a whiner at all times. we do our very best to ignore him when he whines whether it's at night or during the day.

@kolchak, we would not be opposed to this (we actually already have a bench--just need the mattress for it), but on the nights when we've let him come in bed, he always starts out at the foot of the bed and winds up literally on one of our pillows by morning. sometimes we realize it's happening and stop him; other times, you just get punched in the face by a paw. :-) maybe we can train him to stay down there though. thank you!

@k-koira, music could work if we keep it low and near him. i have to sleep with earplugs as it is, but i could live with music on if it stopped the whining!

we'll have to try one thing at a time so we can figure out what's going on. changing food and increasing exercise is goal #1. we also bought him a new bed--a cave bed. maybe that will help him since he likes to be covered.

Stephanie Basford said...

I would love to try and help you on this.. I have a few questions about his background.. Was he a rescue? Did you get him as a puppy? How old is he? And a few of the comments on here are some things that I have told my Clients to do for their dogs and puppies.. Whining,to me, is the subtle way to get your attention.. I have one Client's dog that is a barker.. She doesn't really bark with me a lot because I talk to her.. I know that every day is different, but, to me, animals are just as social, talkative, and understanding of emotions as people are.. Please email me because I have a few more questions for you.. Just to get to the root of the problem.. Or at least try..


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