A new puppy is fun and games all day long. However, what happens when the light goes off but your puppy won’t settle? If your new puppy cries at night, what should you do? Today we will be discussing the various strategies you can make to help them settle. 

Why Does My Puppy Cry?

Before discussing what you should do about them crying, it is important to identify why your puppy is crying, as obvious causes can be easy fixes.

Hunger or thirst are obvious causes of crying, and easily are addressed

However, a puppy fed adequate amounts of food regularly throughout the day (most puppies should have multiple smaller meals throughout the day) shouldn’t be that hungry overnight. As for thirst, prevent this by ensuring your puppy always has access to fresh water.

At the opposite end of the dog, are they crying because they need to toilet? 

Not all puppies can go the whole night without needing to wee or poo. So crying may alert you before they make a mess! Most puppies learn not to toilet where they sleep (which is why crates can be useful – more on this later). But some very young puppies may not have learnt this yet. Unfortunately, you may therefore be more likely to wake up in the morning to a quiet puppy and a smelly mess in the corner! So it is still better to check if a crying puppy needs the toilet by taking them to the garden anyway.

Is your puppy in pain or discomfort? 

It is really important that either gets identified and corrected swiftly. Some common causes in young puppies may be intestinal worms, vomiting and diarrhoea diseases, growing pains, viruses and more. You will often see other symptoms of unwellness, so ensure you speak to your vet ASAP; in young puppies, disease can quickly become severe.

Perhaps their crying is because they are scared. 

Puppies spend the first 8 or so weeks of their life with their mother and other littermates, so aren’t generally on their own. Coming to a strange new environment alone can put a lot of stress on them, so crying may be how they express this. It can be especially bad in environments that aren’t quiet or have other pets already. In a similar vein, puppies can cry for attention or boredom, as they no longer have many littermates to play with, and we cannot play all night!

Can I Ignore Them?

The traditional advice for crying puppies has been to ignore them until they stop. And even today whether this advice is sensible or not is hotly debated, with arguments made both for and against. Let’s discuss these now.

The main argument for ignoring a puppy relates to how puppies learn

As we’ve discussed in previous articles, puppies learn by reinforcement and association. If a puppy cries and you go to give them attention, they learn to associate crying with receiving attention; potentially increasing the frequency of crying. It makes sense in theory, and certainly ignoring some puppies may encourage independence.

However, there are also a number of issues with ignoring a crying puppy. 

The biggest that we want to emphasise is that it may lead to owners missing the reasons for a puppy crying, such as pain or needing to toilet. If you elect to ignore your crying puppy, at the very least you must always check them for problems before putting it down to just wanting attention. This is particularly true in the first few days in a new home. Never ignore a puppy during these first few days, as their crying is more likely to be caused by stress or fear which shouldn’t be neglected.

Ignoring a puppy may also teach the puppy that you aren’t there to help them when they are distressed, causing further fear and distress. It can even lead to a puppy that has separation anxiety and becomes difficult to leave alone. These kinds of behaviours can lead to destruction, self-trauma and even illness, so should be prevented if possible. 

What About Using a Crate?

Many owners of new puppies use crates to train them. They can be used to good effect to reduce crying. Training your dog to use a crate creates a quiet safe space for them to be in during the night. They cannot wander off and are less likely to toilet in it. It can also be used as secure transport if you ever travel with them.

Training your puppy to use a crate is a whole different matter we won’t discuss too much here (and it can worsen crying if not done correctly). For puppies that cry for attention or because they are afraid, having the crate in your bedroom to start can reduce crying, so they know you are close by. As they get more confident, you can gradually move the crate further and further away until they are able to sleep the whole night away from you. If they do cry in the crate, you can interact with them without encouraging crying. A quiet ‘shh’ will let them know you are there without reinforcing crying.

You can also add toys or treat balls to your puppy’s crate so they can entertain themselves at night instead of waking you up. However, keep these minimal, as it is important for your puppy to know that nighttime is sleeptime. Similarly, if your puppy has something that they are very attached to like a blanket, consider giving it to them to calm them down, particularly at night.

Other Tips?

If your puppy is restless at night and doesn’t seem to want to sleep, are they getting enough exercise? Puppies have a lot of energy, so a big play session just before bedtime can tire them out and get them to sleep throughout the night. Sometimes, sleeping during the day means they have more energy later on. So try and keep them reasonably active during the daylight. Similarly, a last-minute snack and toilet break can also reduce crying late at night.

There are also pheromone diffusers and sprays on the market which are designed to calm down nervous puppies. Some dogs find them very effective, and others not so much. They are quick and cheap method to try, but aren’t a replacement for proper interaction.

And don’t forget how puppies learn and to praise them when they are good. This means if they get in their crate quietly to sleep, praise them for it with a fuss or a bedtime treat. 

What’s the Verdict?

Unfortunately, there is really no one answer as every puppy is different. In general, it is best to not ignore your puppy, particularly in the first week or so. If you choose to keep intervention to a minimum, go check them for obvious issues quietly, such as hunger or pain, so your puppy will learn you are there when they really need attention, but not every time they want to play throughout the night.

However, I think it is probably kinder and better for your puppy to receive at least some form of acknowledgement when they cry, so they don’t become fearful. Crates can help keep your puppy in one place and provide comfort if placed nearby to you, at least early on. Over time, they will associate the crate itself with comfort and will hopefully use it at night with no crying; giving you a good night’s sleep. If you are still struggling to calm your puppy at night, it may be sensible to speak to a vet or a clinical animal behaviourist to see if they can identify any triggers. And as always, persistence is key – your puppy won’t learn to be quiet in one night!

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