German Shepherd puppy in crate

Our puppy barks at night. She sleeps in a crate, and we’re sure she’s not barking because she needs to pee — she’s either just gone outside or doesn’t go when we take her out. I think it’s just to get our attention. How should we handle this? Is it OK to ignore her or are there better ways to put a stop to the barking?

Your dilemma is a common one for new puppy parents. A small degree of vocalization is normal, especially for puppies adjusting to change. Puppies use whines, yips, barks and howls to communicate needs or let out emotions. Ignoring the barking may mean missing what she’s trying to tell you — fortunately, there are some simple strategies that can help her learn to sleep quietly through the night. If you’ve just brought your puppy home, you need to be absolutely sure that she isn’t barking because she needs to go potty because many young pups simply can’t hold it through the night. She may also be getting used to sleeping in her crate or sleeping alone. She may cry because she feels isolated or lonely. In this case, her cries may be relieved with experience as she learns that time alone is okay. But it is also possible that your puppy may be distressed and crying out in panic. The first step in addressing your puppy’s nighttime barking is to talk with your veterinarian. Underlying issues like urinary tract infections and pain have exacerbated problems for some of the puppies I’ve worked with, and treating these medical issues helped to resolve the dog’s behavior issues. It is also possible that your puppy is displaying early signs of separation anxiety, a condition best treated early with professional help. Your vet can help with this, too. Once you have the all clear from the vet, there are several things you can do to increase your pup’s confidence and security in her sleeping space.

Put a Stop to Nighttime Barking

Teach your puppy to love her crate. Many puppies will initially react to a crate as if it’s puppy jail, because, in your dog’s eyes, the crate is a hindrance to reaching the fun things she enjoys, like people, toys, play and freedom. It is important to introduce the crate to your puppy as a happening place where she gets good things like attention, play, treats or meals. Teach your puppy to love her crate by making it part of her daily routine. Offer treats or indestructible toys in the crate; while your puppy is inside, close the door for short periods. Do this regularly throughout the day to get her used to being in the crate. Make your puppy’s crate a peaceful, soothing place to be. Pheromone spray can help to keep your puppy calmer when she’s in her crate. Items with the scent of the puppy’s previous home or with your scent may also help — toys like Scents of Security have pouches to hold scented items. For many pups, soft classical music or dog-formulated music, like Through a Dog’s Ear, can also be comforting. A lightweight blanket draped over the top of the crate can help reduce the distraction of people moving around outside the crate and may help your puppy relax. Put the crate in an ideal location. Puppies are more likely to be upset if they’re shut away in an isolated area; if they’re close to people, they’ll often calm down. Putting your puppy’s crate in a part of your house that you and your family frequent, such as a quiet corner of the living room or bedroom, may help with nighttime barking (and initially, the crate should be within earshot so you can let your dog out to potty as she needs it). As your puppy gets comfortable with her crate, you can move it to another part of the house if needed. When you do this, move the crate slowly — a few inches each night, rather than one big move to a different room — to give your puppy time to adjust. Establish a regular potty schedule — and stick to it. Most puppies can hold their bladder for one hour for every month of age, plus one. So an 8- to 11-week-old puppy can usually hold it for up to three hours, while a 12-to 15-week-old pup may be able to hold it up to four hours. Keep in mind that this rule of thumb doesn’t account for the size of the dog or other events that may trigger the pup to go more often, like waking from a nap, playing, eating or drinking. Make a written schedule of times when the pup needs to be taken out and follow it. This may require you (or someone in your house) to get up in the middle of the night to take the puppy out, but when the alternative is a potty accident or a crying pup, being proactive is a far better choice. Teach your puppy an alternative behavior to replace the barking. Once you’re on a consistent potty schedule, you can start to work on teaching your puppy to wait quietly to be let out. Never use punishment to get a crying puppy to be quiet. Instead, when it’s time for your puppy to go out, ignore vocalizations and wait for several seconds of quiet before letting her out of her crate. Reinforce the desired behavior with praise and treats. More on Vetstreet: