Vet Q&A: Why do puppies cry at night?

by PDSA Vets | 25 January 2021 #VetQ&As

If you’ve ever had a young puppy, you might be familiar with how unsettling the first few nights can be. Our vets have given their advice on why puppies cry at night and how to help them.

A new puppy can be a great addition to your household, but they are definitely a lot of hard work, especially in their first few weeks. If you’re a first-time puppy owner you might’ve already heard stories about how hard it can be to take care of a new puppy at night.

Puppies tend to cry out or bark when they’re upset or stressed about something. You might be wondering why they’d cry out at night when they’re just sleeping, but think about it from your puppy’s perspective. They’ve spent their whole life up until now sleeping in a pile of their littermates, right next to their mum. This is how they feel safe sleeping. To suddenly have no one there with them at night can be a real shock so it’s understandable that they may cry and bark if they wake up.

You might think that your puppy will be OK when you settle them down to go to bed, but at such a young age they will probably need a toilet break during the night which will wake them up. They’re then likely to cry out because they need to be let out to the loo and they’re frightened because no one is there.


My puppy sleeps a lot during the day – why don’t they cry then?

The likelihood is, during the day, your puppy has someone with them most of the time (at least for the first week or so). They play with you, then fall asleep for a nap, then wake back up and find you’re still there and are ready to play again.

It’s very different at night, when your puppy might fall asleep with you there but then wake up to find themselves alone and in the dark.


What can I do to help my puppy at night?

Bedtime routines can be really helpful. Once they’ve had their evening meal, take them out to the toilet, then give them time for a final play. Let them have their fun, but before they get too tired take them outside for the last toilet before bed. Then you can put them in their crate or bed with their favourite chew or toy and let them play quietly while you’re around.

Prepare their bed so that it’s warm and comfortable – teddy bears can be useful as they’re soft and bulky, perfect to snuggle up to (but make sure they can’t be chewed up and swallowed!). If their bed is too open and exposed, it can make your puppy feel vulnerable. Leave your puppy to play calmly on their own in their bed and once they’re settled you can leave them to go to sleep.

If your puppy struggles to settle then you might want to sleep in the same room as them, but still follow their bedtime routine. This will help to build up their confidence and get them used to not having mum and siblings around them every night, but reassure them that they’re not alone.

If your puppy does wake up and cry, first make sure they don’t need the toilet (many young puppies won’t be able to hold their bladder through the night yet). Then gently settle them back down in their bed. Try not to give them too much fuss and attention – just enough to make them feel comforted.

Gradually your puppy will get more confident and be more likely to sleep through the night. You could try giving them their favourite toy or chew at bedtime (as long as it’s safe to leave them alone with it) as chewing can help soothe and calm them.


Should I ignore them crying? Won’t going to them make them cry for attention all the time?

It’s a common mistake that some owners make to just leave their puppy in their bed or crate to ‘cry it out’. Even if they seem to settle down, this could actually be having the opposite effect to what you want and making them more anxious to be alone, causing them more stress. Just because they’re quiet, doesn’t mean they’re OK!

In their first week or so, your puppy might feel worried being without their dog family. Ignoring them at night won’t help them build confidence and may make them worse which isn’t what anyone wants. They need to be taught how to be independent slowly.

We would never recommend ignoring your puppy when they cry at night, especially in their first few nights. Firstly, they may need the toilet, so it’s important to take them out to check. If you limit your contact with them, e.g. no cuddles, talking (unless it’s to praise them for toileting in the right place) or playing, they’re less likely to associate their crying and barking with your attention. You just being there is likely to help them settle if they’re worried.

For more information on your puppy’s first day and night (and how to prepare) read our free guide.

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