Days of Whine and Roses


Is it common for Border Collies to whine? It all started during my dog's crate training. She would whine and whimper incessantly. I asked the vet at the time and he assured me she'd grow out of it as long as I didn't encourage the behavior by responding. Well, she's nearly 10 months old now and her whining starts in around 5:00am every day. What is she trying to tell me? How can I get her to stop? I go in and yell at her when she starts and she stops for a moment then starts again as soon as I leave. Of the half dozen Border Collies I know personally, she is the only one that does this. However, both my Border Collies will howl and whine like crazy if I venture a tune on the harmonica. Is it me or the harmonica?


I think it's quite common. A lot of the new rescues do when they first come in. It's a dog thing though, not a Border Collie trait in particular.

She's trying to get your attention. And it sounds like it's working. It's the same reason babies cry. To get their parents to pay attention to them. Even telling her to be quiet is enough attention for her to become positive reinforcement. You need to eliminate all positive reinforcement and add some environmental negative reinforcement if it continues out of your presence.

Step 1) Ignore her. It's gonna take a bit to break her of this habit as you've been positively reinforcing her with attention all this time. You'll have to put up with it for an hour minimally. It will decrease over time but you must not give in to giving her attention. This means completely ignoring her and the strict silent treatment. It's hell in the beginning but if I can do it with each of the rescues when they come in, you can do it with a single dog. Take plenty of Tylenol before starting this. :^)

Step 2) If you absolutely can't take it anymore, do the opposite of what she wants. She wants attention from you directly so remove her from your presence. Take her to another room and crate her (if necessary).

Step 3) I guarantee she'll continue to whine from the other room, this time even louder and more prolonged. Don't fear. Now you need to add some negative environmental reinforcement. Stand by the door or just behind the crate and employ the "loud noise" routine or the "earthquake" routine. When the dog whines, slam your hand on the door to the room, bang the wall or pound on the back of the crate. One loud rap in direct response to her whine. She whines, you pound. (Take plenty of Tyenol for this one too :^) They hate the loud noise and pretty soon they get the idea that whining results in a really loud obnoxious sound. If you do it right, you may only have to do this for 15 minutes or so maximum. DO NOT go into the room (or go to the front of the crate - make sure she can't see you out the back either) when the dog is whining, as she will then associate whining with your reappearance. Once she stops for a while, go back and sit down and wait until she does it again. Once she has stopped for 15 minutes in a stretch, THEN go back in the room, take her out of the crate, praise her, and bring her back in the room with you. The earthquake method is the same thing except to lift the back of the crate up and let it drop back down, creating a mini-earthquake inside. Same principle - same result.

This also works for barking too. And if the dog is doing it after you leave the house, simply pick a time when you're not busy, leave the house, and pound on the front door instead of the door to the room. Same principle at work here. Do not reenter the house until the dog is quiet for a 15 minute stretch.

It works. It just takes a bit of patience and a firm hand (literally :-).

About the harmonica - This is no comment on your harmonica skills here but in essence you're howling too. Pack animals like wolves and dogs will howl in harmony as a form of staying in touch over distances and communicating between packs. You begin to "howl" and your packmate simply joins in. It's the reason all those dogs howl on the video shows when their owners play the clarinet, howl, sing, or play songs on the radio. It's an instinctive wolf behavior. Cute but predictable.

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Page last updated June 4, 1997. All material Copyright 2001 Border Collie Rescue, Inc. and Dr. Nicholas B. Carter
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