How to help a Crying Puppy
What should you do when your puppy cries? He’s crying for help. Help him.
Gone are the days when standard advice was to ignore a crying puppy. “Ignore him,” we said, “until he stops crying. If you go to him while he’s crying, you’ll reinforce him and teach him to cry more.” That’s horrid advice and I regret that ages ago I was guilty of saying it to families too.
Now that competent, educated dog breeders have a much better understanding of the science of behaviour and learning, we won’t tell you to ignore your pup’s cries. You must take action when your pup is in distress. That’s what his cries are – he’s communicating to you that he’s distressed – sometimes very distressed. (Note: This does not apply to “demand barking” – that requires a different response).
While some puppies survive having their cries ignored and grow into normal, healthy adult dogs, others suffer with stress-related behavioural issues for the rest of their lives, including separation anxiety, due at least in part to not having their needs met during times of distress.
Why is puppy crying?
When a puppy arrives at their new home, their world has turned upside down. Their mother and siblings are gone. The familiar sights, sounds and smells of his birth home are gone – replaced with an alien environment. Despite the very best care during the first 8 weeks of life, the stress of rehoming may still trigger distress behaviours. Plan on staying near your puppy at first. Even if he has been previously crate-trained, the stress of relocating to your home can contribute to panic attacks.
How to help your puppy
- Why is he crying. What’s stressing him? After identifying his stressor(s), figure out how to make them go away.
- Anticipate when your puppy is likely to stress-cry, and pre-empt the crying by engaging them in some other activity, food toy, or providing company.
- Keep him near you, and gradually acclimate him to being alone. Isolation is a huge stressor for a puppy!
- Spend time acclimating your puppy to their crate by playing crate games, preferably starting with his first day home (but it’s never too late). Follow link to crate training guide.
- If he is stressed by crating, use an exercise pen alternative (a collapsible wire pen) for confinement.
- If you cannot determine his stressors and alleviate his crying, engage the services of a vet and/or a qualified dog trainer to assist. Blue Ribbon Dog Training.
How to get a puppy to stop crying at night
A pup’s first night home is almost always tough. If you have paid for crate training ($50 additional fee) then your puppy will have been exposed to a crate, during the 6 to 8 week stage. In this situation, you can probably crate your puppy in your room for the night. Crating your puppy in your room will prevent puppy from feeling abandoned. If your puppy is stressed about the crate, use an exercise pen that you can set next to your bed with your arm draped over the edge if necessary, to assure him he’s not alone.
Do not, under any circumstances, crate your puppy away in a room all by themselves.
Give your puppy a good bout of puppy playtime before bed, a last bathroom trip and time to settle before the two of you retire for the night. Have his crate or pen where he can see you. A microwave-heated towel can provide comfort for him. An old, smelly t-shirt, popped into the crate will provide additional comfort. He may fuss for a moment or two. As long as it doesn’t escalate and he settles quickly, you can ignore brief fussing.
During the night, when your puppy cries to go to the bathroom, get up and take them out. It will be a few weeks before your puppy’s bladder will be expanded enough to hold on throughout the night.
If the whining increases to a distressed cry then you need to intervene. Hang your hand in front of his crate or into his pen so he has company. Over time (days, weeks) you should gradually be able to remove your hand without causing distress.