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Why Your Dog’s Whining Is the Most Devastating Sound Ever

A whimpering dog sounds as sad as a crying baby to pet parents. Here's why.

by Claudia Kawczynska
February 24, 2023
Man and golden retreiver laying on stomach looking at each other in bed
Photo: Samantha Gehrmann / Stocksy

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At the golden age of 14, my dog Lola has definitely found her voice, expressing it the loudest in the backseat of the car when she is being chauffeured (along with her other two canine housemates) to the park. She likes to rest her head up near the back of the driver’s head and loudly whimper straight into my ears. Also, in the early afternoons, she’ll whine again to tell me that she simply can’t wait until her evening dinner and must be fed right away. As distracting as it is, this sound goes straight to my heart.

Apparently, there’s some science behind that feeling I get. This research paper focuses on why a dog’s whimpering is the sound that’s particularly evocative and sad to both cat and dog parents. In short, researchers found that a whimpering dog sounds as sad as a crying baby to some pet parents.

According to lead researcher Christine Powers, “Pet ownership is associated with greater sensitivity to pet distress sounds, and it may be part of the reason why we are willing to spend large amounts of time and resources on our domestic companions. It might also explain why we find interacting with pets so rewarding, and are emotionally impacted by both positive communication signals, like purring and negative ones, like meows or whines.”

Researchers collected a major database of emotional sounds — originally developed to test the instinctive responses that parents have to their children. More than 500 young adults were tested, and researchers found that dog whines sounded “more negative” to pet parents than to people with no pets. Cat parents were the only ones significantly affected by cat meows.

Another interesting finding was that dog whines sounded saddest of all — sadder than cat meows. Katherine Young, a collaborator on the study, hypothesized that because dogs are more dependent on their human than cats, “this difference in animal dependence may explain why dog whines are rated as more negative than cat meows by all adults, including cat parents. Dogs may simply have more effective distress signals than cats.”

Either way, I can attest to the effectiveness of my old girl’s whining. I will do anything to appease her. After all, Lola has been a loving and quiet companion for nearly 14 years, and if now it is her time to “ask” for more, she well deserves it. Or as this research shows, it’s just the natural order of how our human-dog relationship goes.

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Claudia Kawczynska

Claudia Kawczynska was co-founder and editor-in-chief of The Bark for 20 years. She also edited the best-selling anthology Dog Is My Co-Pilot.