Some puppies cry a lot.
Listening to your Labrador puppy cry can be very distressing.
But there is much you can do to keep crying to a minimum, and help your puppy settle in happily.
Why do puppies cry?
Labrador puppies cry for two reasons
- To get their needs met: instinctive crying
- Because crying has been rewarded: learned crying
It is inevitable that you will experience instinctive crying when you bring a new puppy into your house, we will look at why in a moment, but most ‘learned crying’ can be avoided.
Puppies will cry if they are in pain, but the major cause of crying in young puppies is feeling unsafe.Some puppies will cry if they are very hungry, but many will not, so don’t be tempted to use crying as a feeding guide.
Puppies will also cry if they need to empty their bladder or bowels and cannot get away from their ‘den’ in order to do this.
It is therefore essential if you crate your puppy at night, that you give him chance to leave the crate during the night if he needs to.
Small puppies in the wild are extremely vulnerable and it is vital for their survival that they are never left alone unless in the safety of their den. So if at any time your small Labrador puppy is left alone outside of his ‘den’, he will make a loud and alarming noise to alert his ‘grown ups’ to his predicament.
The screaming and howling which comes out of a tiny pup is quite upsetting to listen to. And you are going to hear it when you bring your puppy home because at some point you will have to leave him on his own.
In your new puppy’s mind, his ‘den’ or place of safety is far away at his breeder’s house. And no matter how nice the ‘den’ you make for him at your home, it won’t seem like his den for several days yet.
When your home begins to feel like home, your puppy will stop crying provided he has not learned to cry in order to get a reward.
Keeping the puppy with you
You may think that keeping the puppy with you all the time is the answer to instinctive crying and to some extent, during the first few days, this can help the puppy whilst he gets accustomed to his ‘new’ den and learns to feel safe there.
But, there can be difficulties with this approach. You need to be aware of the potential for inadvertently creating the second type of crying.
Puppies learn through the consequences of their behaviour. And they learn very quickly indeed. If a good thing happens when the puppy cries, his crying will be reinforced (ie more likely to occur again in the future).
He will learn to use the crying in order to fulfil his wish for more food, cuddles, attention, company and so on. Even when he does not feel threatened or anxious.
Learning to be alone
I received a puppy pack from my vet recently when I had my young Labrador puppy vaccinated. And it was nice to see that it contained some useful advice.
One of the things that the leaflet stressed was that puppies that do not learn to be left alone before they are thirteen weeks old, are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety later on.
In other words, the experience of being ‘alone’ sometimes, is one that puppies need to get used to at an early age. This is a part of the socialisation ‘package’ that we need to work through with our puppies.
This isn’t an excuse to leave a puppy for long periods of time, or in unfamiliar places. But within a very few days of bringing your puppy home, he should be capable of being left on his own for ten minutes without screaming the house down.
How to avoid learned crying
It is really important that you do not ‘reinforce’ crying. This means not doing anything that the puppy might perceive as rewarding whilst he is crying.
Including picking him up, entering the room he is in if you are not there already, feeding him, talking to him, letting him catch sight of you if he cannot see you already. And so on.
Many people find this very difficult. But if you can stick to this rule, and make sure your family stick to it too, the amount of crying in your house will soon be very minimal indeed.
At the same time, it is important to reinforce any periods of silence, so that the puppy learns that being quiet is a better way to get his needs met in our illogical and modern world. We can ‘reinforce’ silence by rewarding it.
How to reward silence
If your puppy has got himself in a state with yelping and crying, any periods of silence may be quite short. By the time you have got to the puppy with a reward, he will probably have started howling again, and you will end up rewarding the noise instead of the quiet. So you need a ‘reward marker’
You can use a word like ‘good’ or a clicker. I have a clicker on a lanyard around my neck for the first few days with a puppy in our home. Each time the puppy cries, I wait for a pause, press the clicker and reward the puppy with a treat or a cuddle. Over a few days I ask for longer periods of quiet before I press the click. Two or three seconds, then five, then ten, and so on. Working my way up to a minute or so. Puppies learn really fast (within a day or two) that ‘quiet’ is rewarding
If you get this right, by the time you get up to waiting one minute, most crying will have stopped and the puppy will be silent most of the time.
One final approach to reducing the amount your puppy cries is restricting his space.
Restricting the den
Many people give the puppy the run of the whole house when he arrives and I feel this can delay the establishment of the ‘home den’.
Restricting puppies to one or two rooms initially helps them feel safe and secure, as well as giving other family members a refuge away from biting teeth!
The sooner your puppy feels safe in his ‘new den’, the sooner he will be happy to be left there, and the sooner he is happy, the sooner he will stop crying.
Giving a puppy the freedom and access that you would to a human guest might seem only fair, but puppies don’t need freedom. They need to feel safe. If you get this right, the crying will stop.
More help and information
If you enjoy Pippa’s puppy articles, you will love her new book: The Happy Puppy Handbook – a definitive guide to early puppy care and training.
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