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Why is my dog crying at night?

Dog howling next to shed advice © Pixabay

A dog crying at night is never nice to experience. Not only do we lose sleep at night but we also feel sorry for the animal. Learn why your dog cries at night and what you can do to quieten her down.

By Nick Whittle

There are many different reasons for a dog to cry at night. Like her crying during the day, it is not always about being sad or in pain; sometimes it will be a cry for attention or because she is hungry. Here are the main reasons why a dog would cry at night:

  • Separation anxiety: some dogs do not like to be separated from their owners; others do not like to be separated from everyone else. To be isolated goes against the dog’s nature.
  • Young dogs and puppies may not be used to spending the night alone. Young puppies are used to sleeping alongside their mother and littermates.
  • A dog will naturally not want to soil her own bed. A dog that is not fully toilet trained will become anxious when they need to go to the toilet and don’t have a suitable place to go. 
  • Noises at night will disturb a dog and make her cry. If she can hear sounds outside, she may also be exhibiting her protective nature.
  • Old dogs may be in pain when they lie down but they may also be incontinent. Old dogs with dementia can become scared of the dark and of being alone.

How to treat a dog that cries at night?

There are many ways to treat a dog that is crying at night, but dog owners should never punish their dogs. Telling her off will only exacerbate the problem. She will become even more anxious and scared, and the original problem will not have gone away. As a family you should be consistent in your handling of the overnight crying and be persistent with your training.

Remember: overnight crying does not last forever, and if handled carefully, with patience and love, you WILL soon achieve a good night's sleep - for everyone!

You should also avoid doing the following:

Do NOT give in and offer them your arms to cuddle into. If you do this, even if you have waited three hours beforehand, your dog will then know that she can eventually get a cuddle.

Do NOT let them sleep with you in the same bed, unless you decide you are ok with your dog sleeping in your bed with you on a permanent basis.

What to do with dogs crying overnight

How do you best treat a dog that cries overnight? When you have worked out exactly what it is that causes her to cry, you will be best placed to treat the problem.

Often, the causes of the crying are self-limiting. For instance, a young pup that misses its mother will become more settled in time and be able to sleep by itself.

Here are some ways to treat the biggest causes of a dog crying overnight:

Separation anxiety

A dog that feels isolated from its pack (i.e. your family) will be anxious. A wolf isolated from its pack will not be able to share the food that the pack finds nor the warmth of the pack and will be vulnerable to attack. For the wolf, this is about as bad as it gets and the dog will feel pretty much the same.

Some dogs are more prone to separation anxiety than others. Dogs that belong to breeds that are used to being around people, especially lap dogs, will hate being alone. Here’s what you can do as the owner of a dog with night-time separation anxiety:

  1. Bring the dog’s bed into your room for a few nights
  2. Over the next few nights move her bed away from yours by gradual steps
  3. Do this until the bed is in the place you intended it to be

 

Being alone overnight

Young dogs and puppies will be used to sleeping next to their mother. When they are left alone they will miss her warmth and the sound of her breathing and heartbeat. They no longer have her to protect them and will feel vulnerable.

  1. Place something warm and familiar in your dog’s bed
  2. Sleep near her on the first night (but decide whether or not to do this before she starts crying) 
  3. Move further away on the next night
  4. Eventually move back to your own bed

Toilet training

Young puppies and older dogs will be more prone to making a mess of their surroundings. Toilet trained dogs that cry for the toilet will be doing it as a ploy to be with you. However, if you suspect your dog might need the toilet during the night, you should take him/her out as late as possible at night and as early as possible in the morning. If you are able to, you should even set up 1-2 toilet breaks a night during the first few weeks, so that your puppy learns never to toilet inside the house.

Disturbances

Some dogs will be very alert to what is going on around them. At night, when everyone is asleep and the house is quiet, her sense of hearing will pick up the slightest sound. She may interpret a sound as nothing special or as an intruder and her heightened fear or protectiveness will cause her to cry. This, she will do until you come to her aid. Unless you are certain that someone is trying to get into the house (which is usually unlikely) you should adopt the following training for this circumstance:

  1. Move your dog’s bed away from doorways and windows where sound travels more
  2. Cover doors and windows at night
  3. Make your dog feel as though the dangers of an intruder are not her concern

Remember, if you think your dog is under a lot of stress and you’re not sure how to handle it, you can always consult a vet or animal behaviourist.

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