You’ve just gotten a new puppy and you’re delighted to have a friendly, furry companion by your side – until the first night comes. Your pup won’t stop whimpering, whining, and crying, and both you and your new friend have a sleepless night. You’ve just moved, and your normally calm, well-adjusted dog begins whimpering and crying. Perhaps they start pawing at your door or howling unexpectedly. Maybe you’ve just gotten a new dog, and both your dogs howl and cry at each other in the evenings. Or perhaps you have an older dog who’s begun to whimper and cry in their sleep.
Why do dogs do this? There are a variety of reasons your dog may whimper or cry at night, some more concerning than others. Let’s talk about why your dog might cry at night, and how to stop that behavior.
The Root of the Behavior
There are a few main reasons your dog may start whining or crying at night. First, they may need to go potty. If your dog is very young, very old, or simply isn’t fully potty-trained, you may find that they whimper and cry at night to alert you that they need to use the bathroom. However, most mature dogs will be able to easily control their bladders and bowels until morning. Make sure that your dog has a potty pad or designated potty area in the house, and you should be able to last the night without having to get up to let your dog out. Second, they may have separation anxiety. Perhaps your dog has just left their litter or is used to being with their humans overnight. Maybe they have higher anxiety and get nervous when they can’t see you, as you’re their “pack” and they want to be sure that you’re okay!
Also, if your dog’s bed is close to a door or window, they may wake in the night to wild animals disturbing their “territory.” Your dog may whine or bark to alert you to this disturbance because they feel the need to do something – perhaps they want to chase the other animal off, or they want you to go outside and reassure them! In addition, older dogs who are suffering from anxiety or dementia may whine or cry due to their disorientation. They may go so far as to howl, especially at night, because they may be uncertain of where they are or may be scared that they can’t see you. Finally, a usually quiet dog may whine, cry, or howl if they’ve managed to injure themselves somehow in the night. This cry is often quite different from the whimpering and whining associated with separation anxiety or fear of being alone and is one that should usually be attended to as quickly as possible. As you can see, dogs whining or crying – while not necessarily a common behavior – can be triggered by fairly common doggy feelings!
Encouraging the Behavior
No dog owner wants their dog to whine or cry at night; you want to sleep, and you want to make sure your dog gets some rest too! That’s why it’s important to obey one rule when trying to break your dog of their habit. Unless you have reason to believe your dog may be injured, do not respond to their whining and crying with attention. While whining and whimpering at night can be instinctual, it can also be learned. If your dog learns that their whining and crying brings them attention, they’ll be more motivated to continue the habit – and their anxiety over the negative attention they get (like scolding) may make them even more likely to whimper and cry, wanting reassurance.
Your best bet is to provide your dog with comfort and reassurance during the day, letting them know that you and your family are safe without them. If you’re working with a dog who’s never been separated from you before, consider crate training them; this will give your dog a safe space that’s theirs at night and will help them feel reassured despite being away from you. And reward your dog for being quiet all night or for holding their bladder to encourage these behaviors. Soon, you will both be enjoying quiet, peaceful nights of sleep!
Other Solutions and Considerations
As we mentioned earlier, age and injury are two reasons your dog may whimper and cry that are worth paying attention to. An aging dog who’s suffering from memory loss or physical and mental issues deserves to be accommodated; after all, they’ve been your faithful friend for years. However, you may want to have them checked at the vet if they’ve only recently started whimpering or crying; it may be a sign of something that can be resolved, giving your dog many more happy years! If it can’t be easily resolved, and your dog is soothed by your presence, move your dog’s bed into your room with you and make sure they know you’re easily accessible. That will often help soothe older dogs, letting them sleep peacefully.
While there are many reasons your pooch might cry at night, you can often train them to be quiet and content with a little bit of patience and caring. Every dog is different, and each deserves their own special treatment. Pay attention to your dog’s needs, and both of you will be getting plenty of rest!
My dog is 2 years old and he has a lot of behavioral issues, I work in the ABA field with people so I have been working hard to define his behaviors antecedents and train him through the issues. One thing I personally can’t pinpoint, that makes me sad and worried is that sometimes at night when it’s bed time he will curl up with me in bed and get comfy but then he’ll whine a few times but I know he’s comfy and tired so I just can’t find the function, is this something I should be worried about?