DEAR DIDI: Our nine-week old puppy screams in his crate for three hours at bedtime. We picked him up a week ago and my husband and I are exhausted from taking turns sitting with him. Is this normal? How do we make him happy? -Dog Tired
DEAR DOG TIRED: Ah, the trials and tribulations of raising a young puppy. This is a completely normal behavior. Some puppies are worse than others. First of all, kudos for crate training! That is an important step that escapes many people. Understanding why the puppy is crying makes us compassionate caregivers. Puppies cry for many reasons. They cry because they are hungry, thirsty, bored, lonely, scared, in pain, or need to use the bathroom. Problem solving this situation means ruling out items from the list. If your puppy is healthy and hasn’t had any recent accidents, we can probably rule out being in pain. If he wasn’t crying before bed then he wasn’t hurting in some way. Nine-week-old puppies need to eat two to three times a day and have plenty of water. That last meal and drink should not be after 6 p.m., however, since you are also trying to potty train. This way, by our average bedtime of 10 p.m., the puppy has hopefully emptied his bladder. Make sure that he does his business right before you go to bed. This may mean standing outside for a while but you need to actually see him physically go. This is how you can rule out that particular reason for crying.
When you are laying in bed listening to a fuzzy baby crying in the dark your mind will play tricks on you. Your heart strings will get stretched to their limit. It is not unusual for new parents to be sleep deprived the first week. However, it should not go on past the first week if you stand firm. Puppies get lonely and bored through the night. Remember that every single interaction you have with your baby is teaching him something. I strongly encourage my puppy parents not to teach the baby that every whimper will have mommy running. Every bark will be met with being held in warm, loving arms. Let him cry himself to sleep. Do whatever you must for your sanity. Close doors, wear noise cancelling headphones, or go to bed earlier to allow for the temper tantrum time, etc. You can provide blankets, a stuffed animal or cover his crate if you haven’t seen signs of chewing on those types of things. Some people believe in essential oil lavender sprays for its calming effects. Others have tried ticking clocks, radios, or other noise near the crate which might help the puppy not feel alone. Try moving the crate around in the house. Some puppies do much better when their crate is next to your bed while others will cry worse if they can see you. Either way, if the puppy’s needs have been met then you must ignore the crying. Don’t go check on him. Don’t tell him it will be okay. Don’t yell at him. Don’t go down and rock him to sleep. I know this can be seen as heartless by some people but besides being compassionate caregivers it is also a parent’s job to teach necessary life skills to their children. I promise he will not be psychologically scarred for life. It usually takes about three nights of gritting your teeth and completely ignoring them to break the cycle. Be strong!
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Didi’s Dogs. To ask your dog behavior question, email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.