Hearing a puppy crying at night can be very distressing for dog owners. Puppies hate to be alone so, when you leave them alone at bedtime, the whining starts. In this article, I will show you why puppies cry because they don’t feel secure in their new home. With this information, you will be able to train your puppy to stop crying as it learns to feel happy and safe with its new family.
Listening to a puppy crying at night can tug at the heartstrings. Apart from the fact that you feel sorry for the poor thing, losing sleep can disrupt your life. Fortunately, the behavior doesn’t last for long, and there are a few ways you can stop it.
This article will show you why puppies cry, before giving you some tips on how to stop crying by teaching them that it isn’t scary to be alone for a while. With time and a little patience, your puppy will soon know that you haven’t abandoned him.
If you are interested, this is only one of our puppy behavior articles. Trust us, we have many, many more!
She Won’t Stop – I Need Help!
Are you wondering when the crying is going to stop? Of course you are, which is why you are reading this article. Don’t worry, all the help you need is here.
We have included loads of information and if you need help finding your way around, here is a handy guide to take you straight to where you want to be.
We’ll give you useful advice to help you cope with crying at night, crying during the day, whining in the crate, and much more. We’ll also show you what is normal for a new puppy and what is not, and when it is reasonable to expect puppies to stop crying.
What Went Wrong?
When you bring a cuddly new puppy into the family, most owners are prepared for a few bumps in the road.
And they even know there will be a few tears at bedtime. It’s all part of the process as your puppy develops her own personality.
But, what can be shocking to many new owners is the extent to which some puppies scream, especially at night.
Why don’t we look at why puppies cry before looking at how to stop it by making them much happier. Once they feel secure and loved, you are halfway there!
Why Do Puppies Cry?
Just like human babies, puppies cry because they are helpless and want someone to meet their needs. They whine to alert their carers that they are in danger and need protection.
Hold on, we put the puppy in the crate at night to keep her safe. Why does she feel like she is in danger?
From a human perspective, when you put your puppy in her crate, you do it to protect her. We put babies in cribs for the same reason, so it is perfectly normal to us.
However, while you know that your puppy isn’t in danger, she doesn’t! She feels so alone and frightened, so she cries to let everyone know. Now, let’s dig deeper and look at the different types of crying.
Natural and Learned Puppy Crying
All puppies cry, and some puppies cry a lot. But, it is important to understand that there are two different types of puppy crying.
- Natural crying
- Learned crying
In short, natural crying is what small puppies do instinctively when they are frightened or feel in danger. It’s just the same as when a human baby cries.
Learned crying happens when puppies find out that crying brings rewards of some sort, whether food, protection, or comfort. It’s similar to some of the positive training techniques we use with adult dogs to reinforce good behavior.
We deal with the two types in different ways when we are trying to settle the puppy in as quickly as possible. You need to be aware of the different reasons for crying, so let’s look at natural crying first.
Why New Puppies Cry so Much
During the first few days, your puppies crying will be natural or instinctive.
His crying isn’t something that he is doing deliberately or that he can control. So there is no point in trying to punish him, however frustrated you feel. There are much better ways to stop him with a little patience and a few gentle techniques.
Natural crying is simply a response to a strong physical or emotional need. These include:
- Full bladder/bowels
But, by far the majority of new puppy crying behavior, especially at night, is from fear of being alone.
Many newly adopted puppies do this, so crying can be stopped by making the puppy feel safe. New owners often try to soothe the puppy with homemade treats or by giving toys.
While these may work in the short term, studies suggest a simpler, better answer.
Spending Time With the Puppy
A study published in 1977 look at separation distress in 24 young puppies and found that the most effective way to alleviate separation distress in puppies, was human company.
Simply spending time with puppy works better than putting them with another dog, much better than toys, and even better than food.
In other words, your puppy needs you.
Before going any further, perhaps it is a good time to look at some puppy psychology. That sounds scary, but it really isn’t! We just have to think about how your puppy’s wild ancestors behaved.
Why do Puppies Cry at Night?
Small puppies in the wild are extremely vulnerable. All sorts of predators will see the puppy as an easy target, so it needs the protection of its parents and older siblings. Dogs are usually pack animals and look after each other.
It is vital for their survival that they are never left alone unless in the safety of their den. They are too small and weak to protect themselves.
To a puppy, a den is the place where the puppy was born and grew up, and it represents complete safety.
Your puppy won’t cry in his den, unless her other needs, such as toileting and thirst, are not met.
That’s because she feels totally safe there, even when her mother is away.
Leaving the Den
But, when you bring a new puppy into your own home, she is leaving her den and her sanctuary far away. And, she feels very frightened and exposed.
Even though you have provided her with a lovely cosy bed or basket, she doesn’t yet feel secure.
If, at any time your small Labrador puppy is left alone outside of his ‘den’, he will cry. If there is no response to that cry, he will make a distinctive and piercing alarm call to alert the ‘grown ups’ to his predicament.
This alarm can be extremely loud, and it may seem as though he is screaming or howling in pain.
In the wild, this alarm could save a puppy’s life. In your home, it is pointless and annoying, but your new puppy doesn’t know that. He just wants to feels safe.
Of course, what happens to many puppies on their first night in a new home, with no familiar den, is that when night falls, they feel abandoned. To them, your dark house is full of hidden dangers and things that want to hurt them.
Hence, the howling and yelling. Your puppy is literally screaming for his life. Understanding this is the key to helping them stop.
How to Stop a Puppy Crying at Night
Quite simply, the way to stop the puppy crying and switch off the alarm call is to make her feel safe again.
Really, there are two ways to do this. You can make sure that they are not alone at night, or you can try to ignore them until they learn that they are safe and that nothing is going to hurt them.
Which one you choose is up to you, but both techniques have a downside. First, we’ll look at giving your puppy attention when she cries.
Paying Puppy Attention at Night
As we discussed above, if you put your puppy in a separate room so that he is isolated, this may cause stress and yelling.
The only way to stop a puppy yelling altogether is to let him see a friendly human face, or to leave him in his “safe place” or ‘home den’. Although this is tempting, there can be problems with this.
- You don’t want to be traipsing around the house to show a puppy your friendly human face at 3am. (In any case, it probably isn’t very friendly face at this hour)
- You can’t put your puppy in her den when you go to bed because as far as she is concerned it’s miles away in another person’s house
- You can’t respond too often to a puppy crying at night through isolation because it teaches the puppy that crying is a useful tool (see learned crying).
- Responding to night crying also means tramping about during the night and losing sleep
Of course, some people are happy to let the puppy sleep next to them in bed, or at least in the same room. If that works for you and you are happy with it, that’s fine, and we will give you a few tips later.
So, while paying attention to your puppy will work and stop the crying, it often means a lot of inconvenience on your part. Rather than pay attention, can you simply ignore the cries?
Ignoring the Puppy
You can try ignoring the puppy, and this will work over time as he becomes used to his surroundings and the bedtime routine.
However, be warned that he may get so upset that he soils himself, and if he is crying in crate at night he will probably cover himself in poop by jumping around in it.
I can tell you from experience, that shampooing a puppy in the small hours of the morning is no fun!
In a few days, your puppy will have readjusted his concept of the home den and see his crate as a place where he feels safe. He will be happy in his own bed and will stop crying.
When do Puppies Stop Crying at Night
If you leave a puppy alone and don’t respond to her at night, most puppies will eventually stop crying.
For some puppies this can happen within a day or so. There may be puppies that sleep peacefully from the first night, but I have never managed to own one!
Most puppies take three or four days to adjust.
I have had a puppy that cried every night for over a week, but that is rare, in my experience, and the vast majority of puppies will stop crying at night.
Of course, this assumes that the puppy hasn’t ‘learned’ to cry. I’ll explain how you can avoid that in a minute. Just as a small diversion, some old-school owners think that leaving a puppy to cry makes them tougher. We’ll show you that this is definitely not the case!
My Puppy is a Crybaby: Let’s Make Him Tougher
It’s important to recognize that leaving a puppy to cry alone won’t make him tougher. Some people even think that they should shout at the puppy or punish it. This doesn’t make them tougher at all.
Instead, you risk ending up with a frightened puppy that could grow into a frightened dog.
On the contrary, studies suggest that higher levels of maternal care (and in this case you are now the substitute carer) makes puppies braver and more confident.
This is one of the reasons that I no longer use the ‘crying it out’ option with my pups.
Much the best option is to avoid the night crying and the resulting distress to the puppy, altogether in that first week. This is the method I now recommend because I have seen it work, time after time.
Let’s take a look at how I stop night crying in puppies.
How to Avoid Night Crying in Puppies
The answer to stopping a puppy crying at night is to pre-empt the fear screaming that some puppies do during their first few nights away from home. You can do this by keeping them next to you at night.
That means having the puppy in your room while you sleep. The arrangement doesn’t have to be permanent, but lasts from the first night until the puppy has stopped feeling homesick. It’s all a big change for a small puppy and they need a little time to adjust.
During that time, the best solution is usually to have the puppy in a crate or sturdy box next to your bed.
Fortunately puppies don’t need to see your face with the light on in order to feel safe. They are happy to be able to smell your presence, and hear your voice and even your breathing.
The vast majority of new puppies will settle happily at night in this situation. And after a few nights, you can then move the puppy downstairs to his crate or puppy proof room. He may still cry a little, but it won’t be because he is afraid.
How to Stop Puppies Crying During the Day
Daytime crying is often learned crying, but there are some other reasons puppies may cry during the day.
Some puppies will cry if they are very hungry, but many will not, so don’t be tempted to use crying as a puppy feeding guide.
Nor should you assume a puppy is well if he isn’t crying. Sick puppies don’t always make a noise.
Some 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.
Puppy Whining in the Crate
Whining in the crate tends to be because the puppy has learned to whine in order to get the door open. She whines, you open the door, and she is outside.
A puppy crying in crate at night may also need to relieve himself.
It isn’t always possible to tell one reason from the other, which can make life more difficult.
It is essential, if you crate your puppy during the day or at night, to give her a chance to leave the crate often enough to keep herself clean.
And, counterintuitively, you should avoid teaching her to cry so that you let her out.
What you need to do is avoid teaching learned crying where they find out that crying gets attention and what they want. You may well end up with a dog that is too clingy and dependent on you.
Learned Crying In Puppies
Puppies learn through the consequences of their behavior, and they can learn very quickly indeed.
If a good thing happens when the puppy cries, his crying will be reinforced and becomes 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 other things that puppies love.
He will start to whine even when he does not feel threatened or anxious.
One of the most common reasons for puppies to cry in those first few days, as we have seen, is loneliness and fear of being abandoned.
Teaching Puppies To Be Alone
As a dog owner, I think it is great to see that some vet puppy packs are including information on teaching puppies to be alone. Crying puppies can be a problem even for experienced dog owners.
If you go out to work, then your puppy will probably be spending some time alone from an early age. But, not all puppies learn this valuable skill.
One of the things that my own vet’s leaflets stress is that puppies who 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’ is one that puppies need to get used to at an early age. This is all part of the socialization ‘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. However, within a few days of bringing your puppy home, you should be able to leave her on her own for ten minutes without screaming the house down.
One study showed that the majority of puppies left home alone for up to 60 minutes did not exhibit stress related behaviors, and those that were stressed improved with practice.
It’s important to note that this was for a maximum of one hour. Long periods of isolation are not appropriate for young pups. If this does not fit into your lifestyle, perhaps you could look at adopting an older dog. There is no shortage of well-trained rescue dogs needing a home!
I suggest you start leaving your puppy alone for short periods of a few minutes during the day from the end of his first week. At the same time, you can gently discourage learned crying.
How To Avoid Learned Crying
It is really important that you do not ‘reinforce’ crying. In short, this means don’t do anything that the puppy might perceive as a reward whilst he is crying.
This includes picking him up, entering the room he is in, feeding him, talking to him, or letting him catch sight of you if he cannot see you already.
All of these things are rewarding to a puppy, but many people find this very difficult. It is sometimes part of our instinct, as animal lovers, to respond to a distressed puppy with love.
However, 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 much lower. This isn’t about ‘toughening up’ your puppy. It’s about setting boundaries, just as adult dogs do in the wild.
Try to pre-empt potential episodes of crying by ensuring that your puppy gets regular periods of company, plenty of opportunity to use the outdoor toilet area, plenty of safe toys to chew, and a safe, familiar place to sleep.
Make sure that you only give treats at certain times or to reward certain behaviors rather than on demand.
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 actually ‘reinforce’ silence by rewarding it.
How To Reward Puppy’s 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. For example, 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.
When the puppy is being quiet, I press the clicker and reward the puppy with a treat or a cuddle.
This is especially useful if a puppy has started yelling when you leave the room. Wait for a pause in the crying, then click for quiet, and return. Just keep trying and she will eventually get there. You can start leaving her for longer and longer periods.
Building Up Time Alone
With a puppy that cries when left, over the space of a few days I wait for longer periods of quiet before I press the click. Two or three seconds, then five, then ten, before working my way up to a minute or so.
Puppies learn really fast, usually 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 in those early days is restricting his space a little to encourage the development of a ‘den’ area. While there are many ways of doing this, crate training is a method I often use.
Crate Training Your Puppy
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 her ‘new den’, the sooner she will be happy to be left there. When she is happy, she will stop crying much more quickly.
Remember, when your home begins to feel like home, your Labrador puppy will stop crying provided she has not learned to cry in order to get a reward.
Giving a puppy the freedom and access that you would to a human guest might seem only fair, but puppies don’t need this freedom. They need security, routines, and boundaries to help them grow into a well-behaved, well-adjusted adult dog.
The Use of Dog Appeasing Pheromone for New Puppies
Mother dogs give off a pheromone when they suckle their puppies, which helps the puppies relax.
It’s called Dog Appeasing Pheromone, or DAP for short, and in recent years it has been possible to purchase DAP for use in the home.
A study published in 2008 found that DAP reduced the vocalizations of newly adopted puppies, and if you want to give DAP a try, you can purchase it online or in pet stores
It comes as a spray or a diffuser. Reviews are mixed but it might be worth a try if you have a very homesick puppy.
So, I gave you a lot of information in this article. It might be useful to give you a quick recap to help you remember what to do!
Being removed from mom and siblings is undoubtedly a stressful experience for a young puppy and this is a factor in crying, whining and barking in pups left alone for even short periods of time. To help them cope and stop crying:
- Try to avoid triggering the puppy’s fear response or teaching him to cry for attention
- Have the puppy by your bed at night for the first four or five nights
- Teach your puppy to be alone during the day for short periods from the second week
- Build up alone time duration gradually
- Provide the puppy with plenty of company, and interaction
Of course, this article laid out the methods I use for my puppies, but there are many other ways. Did pheromones work for you, or did you find another way? Leave a comment with your experiences and together we can learn some great ways to stop puppies crying.
We updated this article in May 2019, and will do so again once we have some great comments and feedback from our readers.
References and Further Reading
- Guardini G et al. 2016 Influence of morning maternal care on the behavioural responses of 8-week-old Beagle puppies to new environmental and social stimuli. Applied Animal Behaviour Science
- Gaultier E et al. 2008. Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone in reducing stress associated with social isolation in newly adopted puppies. Vet Record
- Petitjohn T et al. 1977. Alleviation of separation distress in 3 breeds of young dogs. Developmental Psychobiology
- Cannas Simona et al. 2009. Puppy behavior when left home alone: Changes during the first few months after adoption. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour
- Gaultier E et al. 2009. Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone in reducing behaviours associated with fear of unfamiliar people and new surroundings in newly adopted puppies. Vet Record