Why Puppies Cry At Night And How To Comfort Them

nine week old yellow labrador puppy in a wicker basket

Is your puppy crying at night? Are you exhausted and desperate for a good night’s sleep? Pippa’s expert tips and techniques will help your puppy settle down and ensure peaceful nights for your family. 

When you bring home a puppy you know that there may be some sleepless nights. But sleep deprivation is always worse than you think it is going to be! So I feel your pain! And I know you are impatient for the cure. But understanding why your puppy is crying at night is half the battle. So let’s look at that first.

Understanding why puppies cry at night

Singleton puppies are unusual, and most puppies have slept in a big heap with other puppies from the day they are born, to the day they go home with their new adoptive puppy parents.

Being alone at night is a very new experience for most 8 week old puppies. And most likely a frightening one. Crying is a puppy’s way of calling for help. And it’s very hard to ignore!

Most breeders provide an area of puppy pads for puppies to pee and poop at night if they need to. So the two most common reasons for a new puppy to cry at night if left to sleep on their own, are loneliness and a full bladder with nowhere to empty it.

Puppies will keep their bed clean if they can. But most newly adopted puppies are unable to last a full 8 hours without emptying their bladder and will cry at night if trapped in a crate.

Does my crying puppy have separation anxiety?

Separation anxiety is not a term usually applied to small puppies that are newly adopted. But rather a long term condition in older dogs that have come to fear being left alone and who may display unusual and challenging behaviors (such as soiling, or destroying furniture) when left.  

In small puppies, night crying when left alone is essentially normal, and does not mean that your puppy has an anxiety disorder.

feeling a bit homesick

However, young puppies that become very distressed at night and whose distress continues night after night may well be at risk of developing separation anxiety. 

Is my puppy in pain or sick?

If your puppy is eating well, pooping normally, gaining weight, sleeping, playing and enjoying life during the day, then night crying is unlikely to be due to any kind of physical problem. 

Is my puppy lonely at night?

This is the crux of the matter. And the answer is, yes, your puppy is probably very lonely at night. 

The good news is that, over time, most puppies do learn to adjust to sleeping alone. The time will come when your puppy will go to sleep at bed-time, and not wake up until morning. 

How soon that time comes depends partly on your puppy’s temperament, and partly on what you do next!

Comfort and company

Puppies need a comforting calm place to sleep, and for the first few nights in their new home they also need company.  Of these two factors: comfort and company, company is by far the most important. 

A puppy doesn’t need much in the way of night time comfort. Some soft vet bed to line the floor of their crate or basket. And a soft toy or two to snuggle up to should do the trick.

There are three ways of providing a puppy with company for those first few nights

  • Sleep downstairs next to your puppy
  • Bring your puppy into the bedroom to sleep next to you
  • Crate the puppy in a room where another dog is sleeping nearby

If you don’t have another dog, then you or another responsible adult needs to sleep next to your puppy for two to three nights, while the puppy adjusts to their new home. 

I much prefer to bring the puppy into my room. I put a travel crate on a chair right next to my bed so the puppy is inches from me. This ensures a good night’s sleep for everyone. 

Then after a few nights, when the puppy is settled in, I move them into a crate (or playpen with puppy pads and a bed if the puppy can’t last for seven hours without a pee) downstairs.

At that point there may be some crying, but if you ignore it now, it usually doesn’t last long as the puppy is no longer afraid. And their new house with its creaky night time noises,  doesn’t seem so strange

Establishing bedtime routines

Before you settle your puppy for the night, you want them to empty their bladder. So it’s a good idea for them to need a pee at your bedtime. That means working backwards a bit to get a good bedtime routine going. 

Make sure the last hour or two of the evening is a calm and sleepy one. 

Have the lights dim and the TV on low for the last couple of hours before bed, so your puppy sleeps during the late evening and is ready for a pee at bedtime.

Take up your puppy’s water two hours before bed, and make sure their last meal is at least an hour before that. 

Soothing a crying puppy

It’s pretty easy to soothe a crying puppy. Unlike babies, puppies don’t sob relentlessly while you hold them unless they are injured. Usually you just need to show your face and the puppy will stop crying. 

The problem with soothing the puppy at night is that it tends to reinforce the crying and prolong the problem. 

That’s why it is much better to pre-empt the crying and keep the puppy company until that initial homesickness has worn off

Why reward based training gets faster results

It’s probably worth saying at this point that getting cross with a puppy crying at night tends to make things worse. 

Your puppy is lonely and scared and you being angry (and I really do get how you feel at 3am in your pajamas) is only going to make things worse.

With any kind of noise issue in dogs reward based training, where we reward the dog for being quiet, is always the way to go.

Ok, so we have mostly talked about night crying in new puppies, but what about older puppies that are still crying at night

What about a 12 week old puppy crying at night?

Many new puppies, if ignored at night and left to sleep alone, will eventually learn that crying doesn’t help and go to sleep. 

If you are still on speaking terms with your neighbors at this point, the cold turkey method can work. However, there is a risk. Because some puppies just get increasingly distressed at night and those first days turn into weeks.

If the puppy has previously been sleeping well and starts crying at around the 3 months old point, then something may be disturbing them at night. And we look at this in more detail in Is Your Dog Barking At Night

But if the puppy has never slept through the night, then your best bet is to turn the clock back, pretend it’s the first week and let your puppy sleep next to you for a week or so. 

After a short period of being night buddies, you may need to move the puppy out of your room in stages to break the association between night times and being sad! 

Finally, sleeping alone!

Once your puppy is sleeping alone, stick to your routine, at least for the first few months. Good habits take time to establish.

Some puppies find a ticking clock or the radio turned down low is a comfort.

And unless your puppy is very small or hairless, they will probably prefer to be cool rather than too warm. So don’t shut them in a very warm room.

When to get help from a professional

Sleep is so important. I am firmly of the view that it is almost impossible to be the dog (or child) parent you want to be when you are constantly sleep deprived. 

The Labrador Handbook by Pippa Mattinson(paid link)

So, if this situation is still dragging on as the weeks turn into months, you really should get some help. First from your Veterinarian. And if necessary, from a qualified pet behaviorist. Your vet should be able to refer you.

Key factors in night-time crying

The top reason that new puppies cry at night is because they are lonely, feeling homesick, and missing their brothers and sisters. Apart from providing your puppy an opportunity to pee at least once during the night, the best thing you can do to prevent and cure night crying is to provide a temporary room-mate for your pup 

Patience wins the day

You’ll find a lot more information on soothing puppies, both at night, and during the day, in how to stop your puppy crying.

Some lack of sleep with a new puppy is usually inevitable. But it shouldn’t last too long, so hang on in there and be patient. If things drag on for more than a few weeks, have a chat with your Veterinarian. With a short spell of night time company, a little luck, and a little understanding, your puppy should soon be sleeping through the night on their own. 

The Labrador Site Founder

Pippa Mattinson is the best selling author of The Happy Puppy Handbook, the Labrador Handbook, Choosing The Perfect Puppy, and Total Recall.

She is also the founder of the Gundog Trust and the Dogsnet Online Training Program 

Pippa's online training courses were launched in 2019 and you can find the latest course dates on the Dogsnet website