You have just brought a new puppy home to join your family. Congratulations! You are about to embark on a wonderful journey filled with laughter and frustration. And if you can survive the puppy-hood months, you will be rewarded with a beautiful bond with another species. But what do we do about the puppy who is crying at night in her crate? How are we to get sleep? How can we love and bond with a creature who is keeping us up all night???
The first step is to remember that prior to joining your family, your puppy slept in a pile of her littermates, and up against her mom. She had body heat, heart beats, and little wiggles of movement all night long to help her feel warm and safe. Now, suddenly, your puppy is in a new home with strangers, and she has been locked in a crate with nobody close by to help her feel safe and warm. It is no wonder that she wakes up crying. Your puppy is scared and lonely those first nights.
But worry not! We can help our little ones transition to sleeping comfortably through the night. Below is a step-by-step process for what I have done with my own puppies and what I teach to my clients.
- In the early weeks of having a new puppy, I encourage her to doze off at nap time in my lap. This gives the puppy the sensation of warmth and comfort. It also allows you to gently manipulate them – gently stroke them, touch their paws lightly, shift their position a little if you need to shift. The aim is not to be so jarring as to wake her up, but rather to help her get used to typical incidental contact so she doesn’t overreact later in life if you nudge her when she is dozing. When your schedule allows, let her have her whole nap in your lap if you’re just hanging out, watching TV or on the computer. It is a lovely bonding opportunity.
- If you need to put her in her crate, still allow her to doze off in your lap. Once she is clearly drifting (or drifted) off, gently shift her into her crate, but keep your hand on her back with gentle, still contact. Moving the pup to the crate is going to wake her a little, so this constant contact can help her settle back down and doze off again.
- Once Pup is settled, close the crate door, but don’t leave immediately. Wait a minute or two to be sure she is sleeping and then quietly slip away.
In the overnight hours, it is important to remember that young puppies WILL need to go potty at least once (my little terrier was going 4 times per night for the first 9 weeks I had him!). If Puppy wakes up crying, take her out to potty and then sit down at the crate and do the above process – letting her doze off in your lap before shifting her to her crate.
As Puppy is growing and able to get through the night without needing to potty, or if you know she doesn’t need to potty “this time”, you can do the following:
Week One: repeat as above – bring her out to your lap and soothe her back to sleep then transition back to the crate.
Week Two: Don’t take her out of the crate but do slip your hand in there to rest on her back. Soothe her back to sleep where she is.
Week Three: Sit near her, perhaps slip a finger through the crate so she can smell you or you can touch her if she’s close enough to the edge. Transition here to just sitting near her.
Week Four: Sit further away from the crate but talk softly to her and reassure her she is not alone.
Like with human babies, you can give her a few minutes to see if she will settle herself down before you intervene, but do not allow her upset to carry on long enough that it turns into serious frustration or panic.
Other options that can help the process along: set Pup’s crate near your bed where you can reach down and touch her without having to get out of your own bed – this will help your mental health along with helping Puppy learn to be comfortable.
Investing in a Snuggle Puppy Heartbeat Plush toy can be a great help. It has a warmable heat pack and a battery-operated heartbeat. This toy can be put in the crate with Puppy so she has a warm friend to snuggle up with, that has a heartbeat so she will not feel as lonely in her crate.
Play soft music such as Through a Dog’s Ear or even just Soundscapes type music as this can help soothe your pup’s tired soul.
Sing a lullaby (or three) to your puppy – this has been demonstrated in multiple situations to help puppies settle and doze off.
Be kind to yourself and your puppy. She is not trying to irritate you. She is trying to navigate this new and strange sleeping arrangement that is far from normal for her species. Be patient. You’ve got this!