Why Do Puppies Cry The First Night?
Life as a New Puppy
Imagine being a puppy: you have lived with your mom and litter mates from birth in the breeder's home and now you are suddenly catapulted in a new environment after being placed inside a cage and transported possibly for the first time ever in a car.
Then, once in the home, you are exposed to different sights, smells and sounds and the people around you look unfamiliar. They talk in different tones, move in different ways and smell different. You look for your litter mates and cry for your mom, but they no longer respond.
The first night in the new home you are therefore frightened and anxious, and therefore, have a hard time falling asleep without feeling the warmth of your mom and litter mates. (For more on this read: why do puppies sleep in a pile?)
On top of this, puppies on their first nights are often relegated to areas far from owners who wish to have a good nights' sleep and not be bothered by a crying puppy. Being isolated and alone is a very scary experience for a young puppy, so he emits ear piercing cries in hopes of being reunited with his family. This is an adaptive behavior, considering that, in the wild, a puppy of this age would never be left alone (unless under dire situations) as that would put him at high risk of being attacked by predators.
Bringing a new puppy home can therefore be quite a stressful situation if you put yourself in your puppy's "paws." It may be a difficult concept to understand especially when the family is all excited and the kids are eager to play with the new puppy. It helps though to know what to expect: The first nights are almost inevitably going to involve a fair amount of crying just like human babies do.
However, fortunately this situation is short-lived. Your new puppy should adjust in little time and get used to his new surroundings if you do everything right. Just give your puppy a head start by making him feel welcomed by treating him with kindness and consideration the moment he enters the home.
"Your puppy is coping with a situation that you can't even imagine for a human baby-she's suddenly removed from her family and home, the two elements that have made her feel secure her entire life."~ D. Caroline Coile, Pomeranians for Dummies
Now That You Know...
Now that you know how it may feel like to enter a new home, it is time to make some advanced planning prior to your puppy's arrival. Hopefully prior to his arrival, you have purchased a good amount of supplies to make his transition easier. Here is a handy and comprehensive guide new in case you haven't: New puppy Checklist.
It generally takes up to three nights for a puppy to adjust to sleeping in his new environment. Generally, you should see an improvement (reduced whining) by day three.
Of course, make sure your puppy has peed and pooped prior to putting him in the crate so that you know with certainty he's not crying because of a physical need. If your puppy starts crying though a few hours later, give him the benefit of doubt and assume he may need a potty break. In general, 8-week old puppies may need to be taken out about 2-3 times a night.
Following are some tips to help your puppy habituate to sleeping in his new home.
Keep Your Puppy in the Bedroom
There is a school of thought advocating that new puppies should be taught to be independent from day one, and therefore puppies should be sleeping away from their owners and their crying should be ignored. This advice is outdated nowadays and this approach can be counterproductive causing the puppy unnecessary stress.
Remember: your puppy has just lost his mother and his brothers and sisters. The last thing you want is sleeping on your own in an unfamiliar place with nobody nearby to provide reassurance.
Just like human babies, if you foster attention and reassurance when your puppy needs it the most, your puppy will learn to be more independent later on. Without a good initial bond, puppies are less likely to grow up to become happy, independent and resilient dogs.
It is best to keep the puppy nearby as puppies tend to feel comforted by simply hearing their new caretakers breathing. There is nothing more distressing for a new puppy to feel isolated. You might have to talk to your puppy in a soothing tone of voice and perhaps even let him sniff your hand to let him know you are there for him.
So make sure to prepare your puppy's new sleeping quarters beforehand. This will avoid any heartaches associated with relegating the puppy in the garage or kitchen and hearing him screaming all night at the top of his lungs.
Tip: don't put your puppy straight in the crate the first nights. Rather, introduce the bed room and play with him there so to create positive associations with going in this room. Wait for him to tire out a bit and then pet him to help him relax, before putting him in the crate for the night.
Did you know? The amount of daily maternal care 8-week old puppies received from their mothers during early development affects their future behavior. According to a study, puppies who were placed in an enclosure and were previously provided with a higher level of maternal care, demonstrated a higher latency to emit the first yelp; whereas, puppies provided with a lower level of maternal care showed more distress vocalizations and destructive behaviors directed at the enclosure.
Crate or Bed?
Many new puppy owners debate over where exactly the puppy should sleep the first nights and what the puppy's permanent sleeping quarters will be.
This is ultimately your call. Many puppy owners allow puppies to sleep in the bed with them the first night and keep them sleeping in the bed for the rest of their lives. Obviously, if you allow your puppy to sleep in the bed some days yes and some days no, expect a lot of rebellion on those "no" days.
If you aren't too much of a fan of keeping your puppy permanently in bed with you, you can always keep your puppy in a Sherpa bag and keep it on the bed with you the first nights (place your arm around it to prevent falls) and then gradually move the Sherpa bag to its permanent spot. Expect some whining in the process, but at least, by then, you'll likely be dealing more with attention-seeking whining rather that the distressed crying of the very first nights.
If you decide to use a crate, you can buy one purposely for the night to keep in the bedroom or use the same one you will use during the day which means you will be moving it back and forth. It is best to use crates with puppies coming from breeders who have already accustomed their puppies to their use. Otherwise you risk dealing with fear of confinement on top of the anxiety associated with leaving the former home. Ask your breeder if your puppy has been positively conditioned to stay in a crate.
Now, while keeping the puppy the first nights in the bedroom is important, as the puppy adjusts and matures, it is possible to gradually move the puppy out of the bedroom (although it would be ideal to keep him there for the rest of his life). Not everyone wants to to have a puppy in the bedroom for various reasons, and that can be understandable.
Gradually is the keyword here; if your puppy is crated, this would mean gradually moving the crate from besides the bed to further away, then in front of the bed, then closer to the door and then in the hallway (but in sight) and then in the hallway out of sight until the crate reaches its final destination. Note that the farther the puppy is from the bedroom, the more likely he may be barking/whining as most dogs want to be close to their families.
Alternatively, if you don't want your dog in the bedroom at all, you can crash on the couch or on the floor using a sleeping bag with your new puppy the first nights and then gradually wean off your presence.
What To Do When the Puppy Cries
When puppies cry the first night you need to consider that they are seeking your help.
Yelling, tapping on the crate angrily or out of exasperation should be avoided at all costs. Remember: you want your puppy to feel safe in his new home and you want him to trust you. This approach will only cause anxiety and make him think you are unpredictable.
On top of this, you'll further raise your puppy's level of stress, when your goal is reducing it. Severe stress in puppies triggers the release of high levels of the stress hormone cortisol which can have a negative impact on the puppy's well being and even long-lasting repercussions on his emotional development.
If your puppy whines, you can be both caring and act matter-of-fact by telling your puppy something along the lines of "What's up pup? You're OK, have a good sleep now!" If the crate is on the floor next to you, it may further help dangling your hand towards the crate to reassure the puppy you are there. You may find yourself repeating this until your puppy realizes that he's safe, not alone and that he'll survive the night.
If your puppy seems inconsolable and cannot fall asleep you can place the crate closer to the bed (like securely on a table so the crate is at your eye level) in a way that your puppy can sense your presence more. A night light can help your puppy see you if he's worried about being left alone.
Did you know? Nowadays, some crates are disguised as night stands! Crates designed as nightstands are available online and help pup owners save space.
Using Calming Aids
You can use several calming aids to help your puppy adjust the first nights. For puppies who are missing their litter mates and mom, a Snuggle Puppy Behavior Aid can help. This stuffed animal is not for puppies to chew on, but is rather a temporary aid that mimics mother dog's heartbeat and provides warmth.
DAP diffusers such as Adaptil plug-ins are crafted to help puppies adapt in a new environment. These diffusers spread out synthetic versions of DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones), special pheromones that are emitted by mother dogs and known for having a calming effect on the puppies. There are also DAP sprays and collars.
Calming music can be helpful too. You can find hours-long music composed purposely for helping restless puppies sleep on You Tube. This can help you sleep too!
On top of calming aids, it helps to bring home along with the puppy a blanket from his previous home. The scent of home can help the puppy feel reassured the very first nights. Ask the breeder if he or she has a blanket or toy that you can bring home with the puppy.
As mentioned, generally, the first 3-4 nights are the most problematic, with the first night or two being the worse, however, with the tips suggested, things should be easier on your puppy and it should then all go downhill from there.