Night Time Vocals

If you have ever raised a puppy you know what it’s like to have sleepless nights. It’s inevitable that to begin with, some puppies have a hard time adjusting to a new home and vocalize their discomfort and loneliness, particularly at night. While this is a very normal behavior in young pups, it is less common for adult and senior dogs to bark at night, especially if the behavior starts without any known trigger.

When a puppy is with his mom and siblings, his basic needs for food, warmth and comfort are met. He can choose when to eat, toilet and play, but everything changes when he goes to his new home. Regardless of how welcoming you are, the transition can sometimes cause anxiety and confusion and is one of the main reasons puppies vocalize at night. 

New puppy parents are often told to ignore their pup’s whining and only give attention when their puppy is quiet. While this technique can be successful in some cases, the potential for fallout is great. There is not much research on the effects of controlled crying in puppies, but there have been numerous studies in human infants.

Controlled crying involves leaving an infant to cry for increasingly longer periods of time before providing comfort. The period of time, rather than the infant’s distress level, is used to determine when to go to the infant or toddler. The aim of controlled crying is to teach babies to settle themselves to sleep and to stop them from crying or calling out during the night.

According to the Australian Association for Infant Mental Health, Controlled Crying is a ‘signal of distress or discomfort from an infant or young child to let the caregiver know that they need help. From an evolutionary perspective, crying promotes proximity to the primary caregiver, in the interest of survival and the development of social bonds.’ While some research suggests that controlled crying works, other studies demonstrate that this process can actually raise cortisol levels in the infant’s brain and too much stress can be harmful.

Holding and soothing a baby helps give a sense of security and creates secure bonds. To deny an infant reassurance during these times can be distressing and may have a negative psychological impact. Because puppies are similar to young babies in terms of brain development, it stands to reason that holding and soothing the puppy when he cries will help him feel safe and secure. Studies have shown that giving a puppy these basic needs leads to greater independence, exploration and more confidence when left alone.

Social sleeping helps facilitate the development of strong bonds and many dog caretakers have their dogs sleep in bed with them. If you prefer not to share your bed with Fido, you can put his crate or bed next to yours so he feels comfortable and safe. Put a warm, cuddly toy in puppy’s bed so that he has something to snuggle up to just as he did when he was with his littermates. If your puppy continues to cry, he could be hungry, needs to toilet or has some medical issue that needs to be addressed.

As puppies grow, they tend to find their own sleeping places and are more used to change. If you don’t want your puppy to sleep in or next to your bed, transition him to his new sleeping quarters slowly and give him the choice of a few comfortable sleeping places.

If you have an adult dog or senior dog that is whining and barking at night, this could be because he is nervous, feels unwell, his awake and sleep cycle has been disrupted or he is responding to a noise in his environment. Senior dogs suffering with Canine Cognitive Dysfunction or doggy dementia often have disturbed sleep cycles and become restless and vocal at night. If your dog is experiencing any unusual behaviors, take him to the vet before you seek help from a vet behaviorist or certified positive dog trainer. You can find great trainers by going to positively.com/trainers.

Do not ignore your dog’s vocalizations, however annoying they might be.  Barking, whining, growling, yelping and crying communicates a dog’s internal emotional state and while it may be irritating at times, if you find out why your dog is vocalizing you will have a better idea of how to modify the behavior.

Keep in mind that night time barking might be just be advantageous to you because your dog is fulfilling an important job. Dogs are highly effective alarm systems. They have been protecting territory since domestication began, and continue to guard homes, crops, and livestock from intruders and predators, especially working dogs that have been bred for that specific purpose. Countless lives have been saved by dogs that have alerted to emergency situations, such as a fire or a person who has become ill. You can expect to see some protective or warning vocal behavior even in the calmest of dogs, including barking at strange noises during the night.

Exercise and mental enrichment can significantly reduce nighttime whining and barking, as well as giving your dog plenty of opportunities to toilet throughout the day. Never use punishment or intimidation to stop your dog from expressing himself as this will just serve to increase anxiety and make the behavior worse. The key to reducing night time vocalizations is to make sure all your dog’s wants and needs are being met, regardless of why the behavior is occurring. A dog that is tired and fulfilled from positive enrichment activities throughout the day is more likely to sleep through the night.

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Positively Expert: Victoria Stilwell

Victoria Stilwell is a world-renowned dog trainer best known as the star of the internationally acclaimed TV series, It’s Me or the Dog. A bestselling author, Stilwell frequently appears in the media as a pet expert and is widely recognized and respected as a leader in the field of animal behavior.


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