Training Dogs And Humans For A More Enjoyable Life Together

By Susan Smith, East Valley Dog Training

Answers to questions are based on the information provided. It’s always a good idea to have your pet thoroughly examined by a veterinarian when having behavior problems. Although I can give general information and management suggestions on serious behavior problems such as aggression, issues such as these can be a very serious problem and a certified dog trainer should be consulted.

My new four-year-old rescue dog, Hildy, constantly follows me and whines if she isn’t allowed in the same room.

All animals do what works and they quickly learn the most efficient means of getting what they want.  In this case, Hildy has learned that whining allows her to be with you.  Also be aware that she may have been practicing this behavior for four years – it may even be why she ended up in a shelter!  The longer a behavior is indulged, the longer it takes to get rid of it.  It is imperative that you NEVER give her what she wants when she is whining – wait until she stops and then give it to her.  Start with just a short break in the whining (1-2 seconds) and gradually increase the time.  Be on your toes – if you go into a room and Hildy doesn’t whine, you must take advantage of that opportunity to teach her the behavior you do want.  You cannot teach the absence of a behavior; you must replace it with another behavior – in this case replace whining with being silent. 

If you sometimes reward her for whining you are on what we call a random reward schedule and a random reward schedule is the schedule used to install the strongest behaviors (in this case whining).  Another thing to remember is that the dog will have an “extinction burst.”  This means that before the behavior goes away, Hildy will whine longer and louder than she ever has before; but instead of getting exasperated take heart, because this means the behavior is on the way out and if you make it through the extinction burst you’re on the downhill road to ending this whining behavior.

It is quite common for rescue dogs to have some form of separation anxiety.  What you have described, if it is S/A, sounds like a very mild form and you can teach Hildy to be more secure on her own.  If she is not currently crate trained, I would recommend doing this.  Then you can put Hildy in her crate a small distance from you and give her a stuffed Kong or other yummy chew toy and she will be quite content.  Gradually increase the distance between yourself and the crate.  Once she’s content to be in her crate, start going out of the room for 5 seconds then come back (not if she’s whining, though!).  Continue doing this, gradually increasing the length of your absence.  Teach Hildy that being alone is not a terrible thing – in fact it’s a good thing — and that you will return.  If you feel this is a serious case of S/A, you should consult with a behavior counsultant. 

If you have questions for the trainer, please send them to:

Susan Smith, CDBC, CPDT-KA, is a dog trainer in San Tan Valley, AZ, specializing in pet dog training as well as cat and parrot training—from obedience behaviors to serious problems such as aggression. She can be contacted at:

Sue is also the owner of Raising Canine, LLC which provides professional education to animal trainers.