On a scale of 0 to 10, how hard is raising a new puppy? Honestly — when 10 is “What have we done?” there are times when most people will score their new puppy at an 11. Like when there’s a puppy crying at night.
My heart goes out to Petful member Jenny, who recently left a message on our community forum about this topic. The good news is that things do get easier, and hard work early pays off later. As so many clients say to me, “It’s like having a new baby” — and they’re right.
So for all those people out there with a new puppy who are waking up (or not getting to sleep in the first place) to the reality of the patter of tiny paws, here are my thoughts on what to do when things go wrong at night.
Puppy Crying at Night for Attention
Jenny’s cry for help concerned her 10-week-old Labrador, Stanley. He’d go to bed at 10 p.m. and sleep till 5 a.m., when he’d scream — and wouldn’t stop. Even after a toilet break, he refused to settle and would cry…and cry and cry.
Jenny was using a crate and doing the right thing by ignoring him and not opening the door while he was crying. But he cried for 4 hours straight (with a brief comfort break). Now, she feels he can’t be left, and having a puppy is no longer a joy.
Let’s see what we can do to help with a puppy crying at night.
Crate Training 101
Stanley’s mom is crate training correctly, but let’s whizz through a few basics:
- Place the crate where the dog can see what’s going on but rest peacefully, such as the corner of a living room.
- In the crate have a comfy bed, chew toy and bowl of water.
- Partially cover the crate to make it cave-like.
- Seed the crate with kibble or treats so the pup thinks it’s an ace place.
- Never use the crate for punishment.
Be Aware of “Extinction Burst” Behavior
You must ignore a crying puppy — or you end up rewarding the bad behavior. Then he learns:
Crying + Mom gives me attention = Crying works to get Mom’s attention
Then, when you start to correct his crying by ignoring him, he’ll think you haven’t heard and cries harder.
When a puppy cries and the problem gets worse, this is an “extinction burst.” Unfortunately for you, the puppy will put a lot of effort in and will (a) cry very loudly or (b) keep the performance up for several days.
Message: Don’t be discouraged, and keep going.
It’s this puppy’s first night in his new home — and he won’t let anyone sleep until he sleeps:
6 Tips for Teaching a Puppy to Settle
Don’t tear your hair out — have a plan instead. Here are some suggestions:
- Teach the puppy to love his own company: Leave him alone in a room at times during the day (immediately after he’s gone to the toilet to avoid accidents) to get used to time on his own.
- Set a routine: Make sure he’s tired at bedtime by playing during the evening. Pop him out for a comfort break and then into the crate and tell him, “Sleep time,” then leave the room.
- Toilet breaks: A puppy can hold his bladder for 1 hour for each 1 month of age (up to 6 months). Thus a 3-month-old puppy can hold on for 3 hours — slightly longer at night. If puppy goes to bed at 10 p.m., wake him at 1 or 2 a.m. for a toilet break, then again at 4 or 5 a.m.
- Nighttime toilet stops: The trick is not to make a fuss. Don’t talk to him. Don’t turn the lights on. Pick him out of bed, carry him to a toilet spot, let him do his business, then straight back to his crate without a word. This helps him understand this is sleep time — not playtime. And ignore the crying between these stops because you know he doesn’t need the toilet. Invest in ear plugs, if necessary.
- Help him comfort himself: Teach him to love chew toys. Do this by forgetting about feeding from a bowl and instead stuff his food into a feeder chew toy (such as the awesome Kong). Feed the Kong in his crate so he gets used to chewing there. Leave a dog-safe chew toy in with him at night so he turns to chewing for comfort.
- Consider an Adaptil diffuser: Plug in an Adaptil diffuser (affiliate link) near his bed. This gives off the same pheromone as a nursing dog mom and helps the puppy feel safe and secure so he lets himself drift off to sleep, instead of the puppy crying at night.
Sweet dreams, everyone!