Read time: 7 mins
13 Dec 2023
Advice from our very own Butternut Box Ambassador, Meera. Meera is an IMDT qualified Dog Trainer specialising in puppy training and socialisation, across the Sheffield area.
This is a great question, and I’m going to answer it honestly - whilst basing my answer on a modern understanding of puppy behaviour (so please ignore any outdated advice about your puppy seeking to dominate you / ruin your life / be pack leader / revenge crying - these things are simply just not true).
To understand why your puppy is crying at night, you firstly need to understand the well-intentioned, but massive upheaval you have caused. For the first 8 weeks of their lives, the majority of puppies live and sleep with their mum and littermates. There is safety and security in numbers - with no need to be crying at night, as everyone is too busy snuggling and snoring away.
You’ve now brought your puppy home, with intentions of starting as you mean to go on and setting firm rules and boundaries, which probably means you want your puppy to sleep alone at night. Except your puppy has never been alone at night, which explains why it’s now 3am and you’re both crying your eyes out from sheer upset and exhaustion.
These are some of the reasons why your puppy might be crying at night-time…
It’s night-time in an unfamiliar place and they’re feeling vulnerable
You’ve put them in their crate without spending enough time making their crate a fun place for them to be
Your puppy is feeling nervous or scared - they’re worried about what’s happening
Your puppy is alone - and they aren’t comfortable with being alone
Your puppy needs the toilet - and they don’t want to wee or poo in their sleeping area
Your puppy needs you - and they need you to be calm, patient and reassure them that everything is ok
The easiest way to reduce your puppy crying at night is to sleep near them, help them feel safe, comfortable and confident, and over the next few weeks or months slowly start to increase the distance between you and your pup at nighttime. This is the right way to ease your puppy into stress-free, sleep tight-all night training. Plus it means neither of you are being woken up by the other one crying.
No, you should never leave your puppy to cry at night.
Yes, I agree that you may have read 50 articles or 20 books telling you the opposite, but leaving your puppy to cry at night is not advisable.
Firstly - the sound will break your heart and make you feel like the worst puppy owner in the world. Save yourself the shame and the guilt, and when you hear your puppy cry, remind yourself that a) they won’t be a puppy forever; b) they are crying because they need you to help them and c) you have plenty of coffee in the cupboard.
Secondly, when your puppy cries, it’s a literal cry for help. If you let your puppy continue crying, they learn that help is not coming. Your puppy now has two choices: 1) to keep crying, louder, harder and for longer or 2) to stop crying because they’ve realised that help isn’t coming, so they shut down their emotions. If you want to learn the technical term for this, it’s called learned helplessness. When you repeatedly ignore your puppy crying at night, your puppy learns that crying makes absolutely no difference to their situation - so they stop crying, but make no mistake, they will very likely still feel afraid and even start “acting up” at bedtime - trying to avoid the scary nighttime routine.
Learned helplessness is really distressing, because your puppy is simply masking their emotions. Over time, this can lead to other unwanted behaviours, such as higher levels of anxiety or vocalisation (crying doesn’t work, maybe barking will).
Leaving your puppy to cry at night can also be incredibly damaging to your relationship - your puppy doesn’t trust you to help them when they cry, and you still wonder if your puppy is trying to dominate you by keeping you awake at night. This kind of misunderstanding will hurt your relationship and make it difficult for you to both get some much needed sleep.
I know, and you know, you didn’t bring your puppy home because you wanted to make each other’s lives more difficult. So please trust your gut instinct and your intuition that will likely be telling you to comfort your puppy, providing them with safety, guidance and reassurance too.
In my experience as a professional puppy trainer, there are a few really common reasons why your puppy might cry in their crate.
1. Your puppy isn’t crate trained
Crate training should take weeks, or even months if done properly. Bringing your teeny tiny puppy home and bundling them into their crate, chucking a few treats in, and tossing in something that smells of you, isn’t crate training. Crate training (when done properly) is a very slow and gradual process. It can take weeks before your puppy is ready for you to lock the crate door. Also consider that if your puppy has never slept inside a crate before coming home to you,this is very likely going to be a shock to their system, and they simply may not find it enjoyable.
2. Your puppy’s crate isn’t big enough
In this context, size absolutely matters. Your puppy needs to have enough room for a warm cosy area in their crate, and a cooler area too - imagine not being able to flip your pillow over to the cold side, that would be so annoying wouldn’t it. Your puppy also needs to be able to stand up, lie down, and do a full turn around in their crate. If they haven’t got space to do this, it’s going to negatively affect their experience of being in their crate, and why would they want to spend any amount of time in a space that makes them feel uncomfortable?
3. Your puppy’s needs aren’t being met
If your puppy is craving comfort or contact from you, but they’re locked inside their crate and unable to get to you, naturally they might find this distressing and have a little cry about it. If this happens, it’s important that you comfort your puppy, and not leave them to get even more distressed. Meeting your puppy’s emotional needs is just as important as satisfying their physical needs. Speaking of physical needs, lots of puppy owners make the mistake of not providing fresh water in their puppy’s crate - I’d recommend getting a bowl that clips onto the crate bars, making it less likely that your puppy is going to spill water inside their crate. Please be mindful to choose an appropriate sized bowl - there is a risk of bloat if your puppy drinks too much at once, or too fast.
When your puppy is crying it’s really difficult to think calmly or logically - especially if you’re tired, or feeling frustrated with your puppy’s behaviour. One tip I share with my private puppy training clients is to work on rule-outs. By rule-outs, I mean the process of elimination, to try and figure out what it is that’s making your puppy cry. Here’s how you can do this too:
1. Rule out physical needs first
Does your puppy need the toilet?
Is your puppy hungry or thirsty?
Does your puppy need to stretch their legs?
2. Rule out other needs
Does your puppy need to be comforted?
Has your puppy been spooked by something and do they need reassurance?
Have you left the room and is your puppy anxious about being left alone?
Once you’ve worked out what is making your puppy cry, you can then work on helping them overcome the reasons why they’re crying. If you’re worried that your puppy’s crying isn’t “normal” or if you’re not sure how to teach your puppy to stop crying, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help from an accredited trainer, who only practices kind and positive puppy training techniques.