Dog whining when we eat?

Question:

My dog whines whenever I sit down to eat — what can I do?

Answer:

This is a common problem. Your dog wants attention and gets it by whining. (It may not be positive attention, but it’s attention nonetheless.)

Promise yourself that you are going to spend two weeks actively working on this problem. It will probably get worse before it gets better because the dog won’t understand why the whining no longer works, and he’ll try harder (whine more) before he gives up. Don’t give in! If you do, you’ll only reinforce the dog for being persistent. Two weeks — you can do it!

To make the initial stage easier, give the dog a chew toy stuffed with peanut butter or cheese when you sit down to eat so that he has something to keep him busy. You may also want to use a leash to tether him across the room with his chew toy so that he can’t come over and nudge or paw at you (be sure to provide him a small mat to lie on).

Put a clock or timer and a small bowl of dog treats on your table. When he whines, ignore him. Don’t look at him, don’t talk to him, just pretend you can’t hear him and keep eating!

If he’s quiet for 15 seconds, toss a treat to his mat. Don’t talk to him, just toss it and go back to your meal. Reward him for every 15-second increment of quiet. After a few days, move this up to 30 seconds, 60 seconds, and then 2-minute increments. Soon he’ll be quiet for the entire meal. The key is to reward often in the first few meals (really, every 15 seconds when he’s quiet) so your dog learns what you expect. Don’t rush it.

If he whines for five full minutes during any meal, say “bingo,” get up, go to him, and escort him to his crate or another room. Don’t talk to him or look at him as you lead him away; be completely unemotional. Go back and finish your meal before releasing the dog.

If you work at this consistently for two weeks, your dog will learn that he can remain in the room with you if he’s quiet, but if he whines, he’ll lose you. Try to give the dog at least two practice sessions per day. If you only eat dinner at home, add a 5-minute snack time as well to get an extra chance to practice. The more you practice with your dog, the sooner he’ll figure out what you want him to do.