Is your dog barking at night, every night? Is your neighbor’s dog barking or howling in the middle of the night?
Barking is one of the most common nuisance complaints received by local authorities in urban areas in many parts of the world. Ranked in one study above all other suburban noises as a cause of annoyance.
And a dog barking at night is unpleasant for everyone within hearing distance.
An Australian study showed that nuisance barking is most common in younger dogs, especially herding breeds, but many young Labradors bark more than their owners would like too.
Barking at night, and early waking are both common problem behaviors in all puppies and young dogs. And can re-occur in elderly dogs too.
So it’s important for all pet parents and neighbors of pet parents, to have coping strategies
This article will help you to deal with a dog that is barking at night and help to restore peace to your household. And maybe even to your street.
Why do dogs bark at night?
If you are struggling to keep your dog quiet at night, or if your neighbor’s dog is regularly waking you in the early hours of the morning, you are probably thinking “I don’t care why the dog is barking – just tell me how to make it stop!”
That’s understandable, but knowing why your own dog is barking is an important part of resolving the problem.
Dogs may bark at night for a number of different reasons
- Needing ‘the bathroom’
- Alarm / perceived intruders
- Old age / dementia
- Separation anxiety
How we fix the problem will depend on the cause. Let’s take a look at puppies first, because with a young pup, either or both of the first two items on that list are likely to be the cause of your troubles.
New puppy barking at night
New puppies are a special case, they have poor bladder control and may be very homesick for the first few days and nights.
If your pup has just arrived, then some noise at night is fairly normal, especially is you expect your puppy to sleep alone, and you’ll find help with getting him to sleep in our guide to life with an 8 week old puppy
Your new puppy may bark when he needs to be let outside for a pee. But don’t rely on it. Some pups will whine a little and then if there is no response from you, will wet the bed.
Because barking can easily become a habit, it’s best to pre-empt the waking pup and to get up and take him out before he begins to yell.
By around five months of age, most Labrador puppies are sleeping through the night until a reasonable time in the morning.
Some reach this milestone quite a lot sooner. But in the meantime, you should expect to be up bright and early each morning with a young pup in the house
If you haven’t quite got to the ‘sleeping through the night’ point, you might want to check out our information on house training or potty training your puppy
What time is reasonable for Labradors to wake up?
We all vary in what we define as reasonable Labrador behavior, and it will depend on what time you like to go to bed. For me it means remaining quiet until after 6:30 am.
Anything before that is ‘night-time’ in my book. If you like to burn the midnight oil, you might set your morning alarm clock a bit later.
Puppies vary in their bladder capacity and some Labradors can last long enough for you to get a half decent sleep, say around seven hours, even sooner than five months old.
If your puppy is over six months old, and still wakes before 6:30 am, scroll down to the bottom of this post to look at the ‘early waking cure’
How to stop a puppy from barking at night
If your puppy starts to bark as soon as you leave him alone and head off to your own bed, the chances are he’s lonely.
You have a couple of options. Which one you choose might depend on how old your puppy is.
If you’ve only had the puppy a couple of days, your best bet is to put a box or crate next to your bed, and take him up to sleep in your bed with you.
He’s barking mainly because he misses sleeping in a heap with his brothers and sisters. And because your house isn’t the home he grew up in
New puppies can be terribly homesick and a few days of your company at night while they adjust to their new home can work wonders. Once everything stops being feeling so strange and new, you can move the puppy out of your bedroom.
This is often best done in stages, putting the crate further from your bed, then by the door, then on the other side of the open door, etc.
The other option of course, is to leave the puppy to ‘cry it out’. This works well for most puppies, at least it works well for their owners. In that the puppy stops crying at night after a few nights.
However, a significant minority of puppies will bark and howl for well over a week. By then end of which your nerves will be in shreds and you’ll be stumbling through your days in a sleep filled haze.
I have been there and do not recommend this method. Especially if you wish to remain on speaking terms with your neighbours. It has the added disadvantage of giving many puppies diarhorrea through the stress of getting so upset.
Do check out that guide to 8 week old puppies for lots more information and tips if your little one is still very small
Once your puppy is sleeping peacefully for 6 or 7 hours a night, you can give yourself a little pat on the back and allow yourself to feel a little smug.
The battle is won…. Or is it?
Dog barking at night all of a sudden
It is quite common in dogs under a year old, for night waking to begin again after several weeks or months of sleeping well.
When I say ‘night waking’ I mean noisy night waking.
All dogs wake from time to time during the night, but they don’t usually make a song and dance about it once their bladder can hold a whole night’s wee.
With an older puppy or adult dog, barking at night all of a sudden is usually caused by one of the last five reasons on our list
- Alarm / perceived intruders
- Boredom / habit
- Separation anxiety
- Old age / dementia
The dog might be feeling unwell, he may have been disturbed by a wild animal exploring your yard, or snuffling outside the back door. Or by a neighbor’s dog barking
In fact one study showed the sound most likely to cause barking, was another barking dog
Elderly dogs can sometimes start barking due to health issues of cognitive decline. Deafness can increase a dog’s tendency to bark too.
Stop your dog barking at night – step 1
Before you attempt to stop you dog barking you may need to get him checked over by a vet.
One of the first things you need to do when a dog suddenly starts night waking after previously being happy to sleep all night, is ask yourself “could my dog be unwell?”
Any dog that doesn’t seem his usual happy self will benefit from a health check, and this is especially important for dogs that have recently developed some kind of behavioral problem
Other possible health issues can arise in dogs as they become elderly.
So if you dog is a senior citizen – it’s a good idea to run him down to the vet for a good check up.
Dementia in elderly dogs is common. One study showed that over 14% of dogs with an average of 11-12 years showed some degree of cognitive decline, even though only 2% had been diagnosed as having a problem.
If your old friend is suffering from cognitive decline, there are treatments that can help, and that may be enough to stop the dog barking during the night
Step 2: Check for possible disturbances
If your dog is barking at night there may be some kind of disturbance that is causing the problem.
A racoon in the trash can, local cats fighting or mating in the street, or even a neighbor that has started shift work and is leaving the house at 3am. These are all disturbances that might start a previously quiet dog barking.
One of my pups started night waking at nine or ten months old, and it turned out that a family of mice had moved into the kitchen! Getting rid of the mice solved the noise.
A better lid on the trash might reduce the local wildlife visiting your home for a midnight feast, and your dog will probably get used to your neighbor’s new schedule in a day or two.
Disturbances of this kind are often temporary, but they can also be a trigger for a barking habit to begin, especially if your dog enjoys the attention that night barking created.
Obviously you need to investigate the barking if your dog is normally quiet at night. It isn’t unheard of for dogs to save the lives of their entire family by barking when a fire has started downstairs.
But you don’t want to make to big a deal out of your night time visit.
Otherwise, depending on what your initial response to the barking or whining was, you may also now have a dog that has discovered that barking is a very good way to get your attention at 3am.
Step 3: Increase exercise and training
If your dog is healthy, and there is nothing disturbing his beauty sleep, then increasing his physical and mental stimulation is the next step
If you have a Labrador that is getting less than an hour’s vigorous exercise a day, increasing that by 50-100% (combined with step 4), together with 15 to 20 minutes of training, is highly likely to help.
We all sleep better after a day with a decent workout in it somewhere, and Labs are smart dogs that need to use their brains.
If your dog is already well trained that doesn’t mean you don’t need to have some training sessions together. There are lots of tricks you can teach your dog to help exercise his mind and ensure a good night’s sleep for you both.
Step 4 – remove your attention at night
What many people do when their dog starts night waking for whatever reason, is to get up and pay a lot of attention to their dog.
They then continue to provide this attention long after the problem (if there was one) is resolved.
Sometimes they are delightfully kind and sit next to the dog until he goes back to sleep.
We tend to do this because we are basically nice people, and dogs, just like children, find attention very rewarding.
If you take your dog into bed with you after an episode of barking, he will find that even more rewarding. And behavior that is followed by a reward, is more likely to be repeated in the future.
Only take your dog into your bedroom if you are happy for that to be a long term arrangement
If you are woken by your dog barking, and come downstairs at night to make sure the house is not on fire, and your dog is clearly fine, don’t be tempted to make yourself a hot drink and have a chat at the kitchen table with your furry friend.
Make your visit brief and uninteresting. Disappear back to bed as fast as you can. If you stop reinforcing the barking behavior, it will diminish and eventually stop
But let’s face it, that may take a few days. And you are hoping for a quicker result, right?
Can I punish my dog for barking?
One solution that some people try is punishment. Squirting barking dogs with water for example, or even smacking them or shocking them with an electric collar.
More and more studies like this one from the University of Pennsylvania are adding to the weight of evidence that shows punishing dogs has some serious downsides, including increasing aggression, and reducing the ability to learn new skills.
Not really what we want for our dogs. And these effects have been demonstrated with quite mild punishments include verbal chastisement.
When it comes to shocking dogs with electric collars, studies have shown that dogs trained this way were more anxious and fearful than other dogs. And that was when the training was carried out by experts.
There is a great in-depth explanation of the findings of this study on the Sophia Yin website
For these reasons almost all professional bodies representing dogs now recommend that you avoid punishment altogether when training your dog.
It is particularly important that you don’t punish a dog with true separation anxiety as you could make things very much worse
Barking at night – does my dog have separation anxiety?
A lot of people do worry that their dog might be lonely at night. After all, you can’t explain to your dog that you are only just upstairs or along the corridor when you leave him shut in the kitchen at bedtime
Loneliness at night is definitely a problem for puppies. But barking at night is less likely to be due to loneliness in an older dog.
Your dog knows whether or not you are at home. He can smell you, and probably hear you snoring!
People sometimes refer to dogs that whine or bark at night as having ‘separation anxiety’ and guilt trip themselves into believing that they cannot leave the dog on his own while they are asleep.
But separation anxiety is not something that just happens at night.
In fact, a dog that becomes very distressed at being left alone is more likely to get upset and bark when the family go out without them during the day.
If your dog has separation anxiety you need to tackle this before the barking. Your vet or a qualified behaviorist will be able to help you
Remember that all dogs are social animals, and Labs are more social than most. If you are out at work all day, your dog is going to be bored and lonely at least some of the time.
It’s worth considering whether or not you might all benefit, as a family, if the dog slept in your room
Should I get my dog a friend?
Think carefully before getting a second dog is your current dog is barking. Having a canine companion might not help
In fact studies have shown that dogs in multiple dog households are more likely to bark, not less.
Should you and your pup be room mates?
You do not need to have your dog sleep on or by your bed unless you want to.
But if you don’t mind, it may be the best solution for a peaceful night, especially if your dog is getting on in years.
Elderly dogs with failing hearing may find it a great comfort to sleep close to their owners, and are not likely to disturb you too early in the morning.
If on the other hand if the word ‘restful’ has never applied to your dog, and if he treats any invite into your bedroom as an opportunity to bounce on the bed and tear around with your slippers, then you might prefer to just ignore any occasional barking (after a brief check for fires and intruders of course) and let him ‘cry it out’
Is crying it out unkind?
If your dog is healthy and confident generally, he will be ok if you just leave him to ‘cry it out’.
If the night waking started as the result of a tummy bug and the bug is now cured, he may grumble for a few nights, but he’ll soon get over it. Just as my puppy did once the mouse problem was solved.
Whilst this sounds a bit draconian and unkind. It is in some cases the best answer to the problem.
A pair of ear plugs will help you to sleep through the fussing and he will learn that people don’t play during the night. Remember: he knows you are in the house.
But what if my neighbors are disturbed?
If you have close neighbors, and have decided to ignore your barking dog, it is better to warn them in advance and to compensate them, in some way, for the disturbance.
How you do this will depend on your neighbors and your relationship with them, but flowers and wine or chocolates are generally well received!
What if the neighbor’s dog is barking all night
Of course sometimes, the barking is coming from someone else’s house. And it can help if you are sympathetic.
Bear in mind that your neighbor is probably as fed up with the noise as you are. Show them this article and offer some support.
Hopefully, you’ll get wine and chocolates, and peace will be restored nice and fast.
My dog wakes up too early
What about the dog that is not really night waking. He is just waking up too early.
In his view “it is morning, why isn’t everyone up?”
He has been a good dog and slept all night. It’s just that his idea of morning, is slightly out of sync with yours.
You think 7:30 is a reasonable time to get up. He begs to differ and prefers 6:45. If you don’t get up he gradually gets noisier and noisier.
He can’t go back to sleep as he now has a full bladder and is getting hungry. What should you do?
This can be quite a frustrating problem, because even if you get up and let the dog out for a wee, and give him some breakfast, and even if he is happy to go back to bed. You can’t, because you have to get ready for work.
The solution here is to pre-empt the dog using a signal that he can hear.
The early waking cure
So you need to set an alarm that will wake you before your dog. Set the alarm to go off half an hour before he normally wakes up.
Get yourself downstairs before he start to make a noise and reward him for being quiet. Be very calm, and avoid getting the dog excited.
The following day, repeat the process but after getting downstairs, wait a few seconds before greeting the dog, giving him a treat and letting him out. And ONLY give him a treat if he is quiet.
The next day, you can bring the alarm nearer to your preferred waking time by a couple of minutes.
Keep going until you get an acceptable ‘wake up’ time.
Repeat, each day either increasing the time you wait before greeting the dog and letting him out, or, bringing the alarm forwards a few minutes.
The objectives here are two-fold.
Firstly you are teaching the dog he doesn’t need to make a noise in order to get you up. You get up when the alarm goes off, and he is not responsible for waking you.
Secondly, you are teaching him that you getting up is not a big deal. It isn’t something worth getting all hot and bothered about.
He needs to know that early mornings are boring. Nobody wants to play or chat at 6:30.
Many dogs, if put through this process, and if you make yourself boring enough, will actually start ‘sleeping in’ and ignoring you when you get up.
You’ll know you have won this battle when you come downstairs at 7:30, and your Labrador opens one eye and then goes back to sleep.
How to stop a dog barking at night – summary
Start by sorting out any underlying health problems and being realistic about your expectations of small puppies.
The next step is to ensure your dog is not being disturbed at night and take action to reduce any disturbance where possible.
Getting the dog to stop barking is then best achieved by making sure he or she is well exercised, mentally tired, and ready for sleep. Together with minimizing any attention you give to a dog if you do have to go and check on them in the night.
Very tiny puppies, old dogs, and dogs that are left alone for much of the day probably need to share their nights with a human being.
Loneliness is real problem for dogs that fall into those categories. Most other dogs will simply adjust to sleeping alone given time.
Let us know how you get on, in the comments box below, or join us in the forum for a chat.
References and further reading
- Cross N et al 2009. Risk factors for nuisance barking in dogs. Australian Veterinary Journal
- Flint E et al 2014. A survey of public attitudes towards barking dogs in New Zealand. New Zealand Veterinary Journal
- Herron M et al 2008. Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science
- Adams G & Johnson K 1994. Behavioral responses to barking and other auditory stimuli during night-time sleeping and waking in the domestic dog. Applied Animal Behavior Science.
- Adams G & Johnson K 1994. Sleep-wake cycles and other night-time behaviors of the domestic dog. Applied Animal Behavior Science.
- Schilder, M & Van der Borg J. 2004. Training dogs with the help of the shock collar: short and long term behavioural effects. Applied Animal Behavior Science,
- Salvin H et al 2010. Under diagnosis of canine cognitive dysfunction: A cross-sectional survey of older companion dogs. Veterinary Journal
This article has been extensively revised and updated to reflect the latest research. Comments from the previous version have been included