Dog Gone Problems is a weekly advice column by David Codr, a dog behaviorist in Omaha. David answers dog behavior questions sent in by our readers. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Dog Gone Problems,
I have a 9-week-old puppy from a litter I had. She is OK in the kennel at night, but when I put her in a play area with her mom she whines. What can I do about it?
First off, my compliments on your kennel training. Usually when I get this question, it's the opposite. The dog is calm in the play area and whines when left in the kennel. To start, let's talk about a few housecleaning items.
First, make sure the play area — we call it a long-term confinement area — is in a room that is used frequently and not in a separated, unfinished room such as a basement or furnace room. For dogs, being separated from the group can be a punishment.
Second, make sure the play area is somewhat quiet. If you set it up in a family room or area where the puppy can see you, she may be whining for attention. I usually suggest setting up the play area in a space such as a bedroom or den.
Third, make sure there are plenty of good chew and play items in the play area. We call this enrichment. You should have an assortment of different types of toys. Click here to see some examples and more information.
Finally, make sure the puppy isn’t whining to tell you she needs to go potty. If in doubt, take her out and give her up to five minutes to go potty. After that, be sure to take her out before putting her in the play area.
Be sure to avoid taking the puppy out when she starts to whine. This very easily can turn into an unintentional training scenario: “I whine and my human comes and rescues me/lets me out. Whining must be the way to ask to get out of the play area."
Puppies are forming behavior patterns for everything they do. The more they do something — good or bad — the more likely they are to do it again. So the more your puppy whines — provided it's not for the reasons listed above — the more likely she is to continue this behavior.
I'd suggest you start being strategic about when you put the puppy in the play area. Start out with times she's tired, such as after puppy class or play time. Get into the play area yourself with a book or tablet so you can read or watch something while you sit with the puppy. This should help her stay calm and relaxed and, as odd as it sounds, practice not whining while she's there.
I'd start stacking up a series of fun and happy experiences in the area, too. Give her high-value chew items such as a Bully Bite, cow knees, ears, plush toys, etc. All of these will be very desirable for your puppy. One important thing to note is you shouldn't allow her to take the chew items or toys out of the play area. If the only place she get it is the play area, it becomes more desirable.
I'd also suggest you feed the puppy in treat dispensing toys in the area. This is another very positive experience for the puppy.
Once your puppy has enough positive experiences in the play area, it should become a positive, happy place she will enjoying being in without whining.
Good luck and remember — everything you do trains your dog. Only sometimes you mean it.