Have you ever awakened in the middle of the night to hear your dog crying like his or her heart is about to break? If so, you know that the sound can cut right to your heartstrings. Why is your furry little baby so upset? Was it something that you did? And how can you get him or her to stop, so that you can go back to sleep? As is the case with human babies, there are plenty of reasons why dogs cry at night and many different techniques to help them stop. The key to the latter is to figure out the former, and this first requires you to understand what bothers your dog about his or her current sleeping arrangement.
The Root of the Behavior
All dogs' cries are attempts to get their humans' attention. Dogs who sleep alone at night and have a tendency to cry are often expressing concern about being separated from the rest of their pack. This is both normal and natural when a dog comes to a new home, particularly if the dog slept with humans or other dogs in his or her previous situation. If it continues, however, it may be a sign of separation anxiety. A dog with separation anxiety will cry not only when he or she is sleeping alone at night, but anytime he or she is apart from the human family. More intense than loneliness, it causes your dog to fear that something bad is going to happen to you, or that you will not be able to make your way home. If your dog normally seems okay with being away from you but cries out at night, he or she may be reacting to noises that he or she can hear in the house or outside. Dogs have extremely acute hearing and can pick up on frequencies that a human can't perceive. In fact, according to scientific research, a dog has a hearing range of 40 Hz to 60,000 Hz, as compared to a human's range of 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.
Although it may sound to you like your dog is crying out in the night for no reason, he or she may actually be trying to alert you to an animal that he or she has heard outside. Another possibility is that your dog wants to go outside himself, possibly to go to the bathroom. This seems like a simple fix, but if you have routinely let your dog outside in the middle of the night, he or she will come to regard that as normal and will have a difficult time sleeping through the night. Finally, if your dog isn't getting enough exercise during the day, he or she may be crying at night in search of playtime or attention. This is particularly likely if you go to your dog every time that he or she cries, because this habit teaches your dog that crying is the way to get attention.
Encouraging the Behavior
You love your dog, and you want to make him or her feel safe and secure. So when he or she cries, you rush to the pup's side. It feels satisfying in the short term, but then your dog cries the next night, and you go to him or her, and the crying stops. Your dog has learned that his or her cries get the desired response, so the behavior continues. If you want to stop encouraging this behavior, you need to stop going to your dog every time he cries at night. You can start gently by going to where the dog is sleeping and telling him or her through the door or from the other room to be quiet. Once the dog is quiet, you can give him or her a quick pat and go back to bed.
It is important that you only give the dog attention when he or she has obeyed the “quiet” command, so that he or she knows that not crying is the desired behavior. If your dog seems energized as well as whiny at night, giving him or her attention may be the right thing to do, but the middle of the night is not the time for it. Try giving the dog a long walk before bedtime or playing in the yard in the evening. You can also try hiring a walker for a mid-day outing, particularly if you are at work for long hours and your dog is sedentary for most of that time.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog is upset while you are out of the house as well as during the night, particularly if your dog sleeps in a different room, you might need to consider separation anxiety. If the anxiety is mild, you may be able to train your dog to feel more comfortable in your absence by offering him engaging toys when you leave the house. If the anxiety is more severe, however, you may need to consult with a behaviorist or veterinarian. A veterinarian may also help if your dog ha started to cry overnight and there doesn't seem to be an emotional or behavioral issue at play, as the issue may be physical. Look for other symptoms, like retching, frequent urination, or licking at particular parts of the body. Any of these may signal that your dog is in pain.
It is nice when your dog has bonded with you and enjoys your company. That said, it is also nice to sleep. If you invest a little bit of time in finding out why your dog is crying at night and then work to resolve the issue, your dog may start to stay calm through then night, and you won't be so dog tired!