How to Stop a Service Dog From Whimpering in Church

By: David Codr

Published Date: December 28, 2016


Barney is a six-year-old Husky mix working as a sensory service dog. His guardian set up a behavior training session to stop dog from crying and whimpering in church.

Although the primary issue his guardian wanted help with was only happening in church, we started the session off at their home as I always want to see how a dog acts in the place its most comfortable to give me a baseline or default behavior.

I could immediately tell that Barney was a service dog based how he reacted when I arrived for the session. Most dogs get over excited, jump up, run around, bark or rush the door. Not Barney. In fact I had to do something different to get him to come over.

I sat down with the guardian to discuss his day to day routine. I wanted to see if there were any interactions that could be confusing him or sending a mixed message.

For the most part, everyone seemed to be on the same page. He did get a little close to his guardian when she snacked or was on the couch, and he was a little nosey with my bag, but that was pretty much it.

Since he was so well trained inside, I started to think that perhaps his protests at church may be due to the cold marble floor so I asked if there was a towel or blanket we could take with us to church.

Before we left, I spent a few minutes teaching the dog a Focus exercise so that the guardian could repeat it to redirect him if he started the whining behavior in church. Training a dog to focus is a great way to redirect your dog’s attention.

This is similar to a Watch me exercise the dog already knew, but my exercise has the ability to hold a dog’s gaze longer which is sometimes something you need to do to to get a dog’s attention.

The guardian will need to continue to practice the exercise and compare my movements to her own in the above video. Its important to move the treat up first so its positioned between the dog and human’s eyes, and then start moving it towards the dog’s mouth.

You want to practice the exercise where there are not a lot of distractions first so the dog can master the skill before we can reliably use it in more challenging situations.

After arriving at the church, I walked with Barney and his guardian from the car and was surprised at how much Barney pulled on the leash. While he is well trained inside and for his service dog needs, his leash training left a lot to be desired; he pulled, walked in front of his guardian and stopped to sniff or mark things. These are all things a service dog needs to be able to avoid when commanded to heel.

Developing control is a crucial skill that service dogs need to master. While they don’t directly impact his working skills, they are indicative of a dog who is not completely focused on his handler. This not fully developed control could absolutely be a contributing factor to his behavior in church.

Once inside, Barney pulled far less and listened better. We spent a few minutes in the church to give Barney a chance to display the unwanted behaviors.

Because there was no mass in service, Barney did not behave the way his guardians described to me. I enlisted the help of a few people to try to trigger the whipping behavior to no avail.

I have found that the secret to fixing dog problems is to recreate situations so that you can practice the right behavior. Usually unwanted dog behaviors happen at times when we are preoccupied so our reaction time and technique are off.

In Barney’s case, Id recommend practicing being quiet in church when no service is going on. The more time Barney spends in church not whining or whimpering, the less likely he will be to do so in the future.

Another suggestion is to practice the Focus exercise. First at home, then outside the home away from church, then in church without service in session, then finally in church during mass. This will put the dog in a position to succeed in the future.

After practicing in the cathedral, we adjourned to a meeting room where his guardian was taking a class. Due to the holidays, the group was serving a meal so I got to observe how Barney did in that situation.

This was another area that Barney got less than a passing grade. He was very interested in the food and his poor leash skills resulted in a dropped plate. Even more alarming was Barney gobbling up some of the felled meat. While this is completely expected for most dogs, a Service dog on duty should never react in that way.

While Barney is a well behaved dog, he would benefit by mastery of exercises and commands that require self control such as teaching him to walk in a heel with zero tension on the leash, teaching him to stay until released and not be pining for table scraps and develop better respect for boundaries when his guardian has food present.

I neglected to ask if his guardian feeds him any table scraps. Based on his behavior, I would guess that has been the case for him in the past. If his current guardian does not, then its possibly this is a leftover behavior from a previous home. Feeding a dog from the table sends a confusing message so it will be important to completely stop any that may be occurring.

One additional training exercise the guardian should look into is a more developed Leave It. This will come in handy in situations such as a dropped plate of food, etc.


  • Stop the leashing process any time Barney walks in front of his guardian or gets excited.
  • Train Barney to walk with a completely loose leash.
  • Put Barney into a sit any time guardian is standing still
  • Teach Barney to Stay until released three ways; for duration, distance then distraction.
  • Immediately disagree or stop petting any time Barney puts his paw on the guardian.
  • Use nonverbal communication cues instead of physical corrections
  • Refrain from pushing barney away physically to disagree as this may confuse him if a medical condition occurs later. We dont want him to think a push is a way of saying move off.
  • Practice the Focus exercise at home, working up to a 20 second treat delivery
  • Practice the Focus exercise outside of the home in progressively more distracting locations.
  • Practice the Focus exercise in the church when no service is going on (Sit in usual seat)
  • Ensure Barney gets sufficient exercise an hour or more prior to actual church service.
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This post was written by: David Codr

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