Ahhh yes, it’s finally the end of the day. You’ve had a rough day at work, and all you want to do is go to bed and get your full 8 hours of sleep, but then it happens….
BARK BARK BARK.
I’m sure most of you dog owners know exactly what I am talking about. At one point or another, just about every dog owner has had an issue with their dog barking at night for “no reason.”
I put “no reason” in quotes above because the truth is dogs don’t bark at night for no reason. We might think it’s no reason because we don’t perceive things in the same way dogs do, but there is always a reason behind your dog barking at night. As a responsible dog owner (and as a responsible neighbor) it’s your job to figure out what that reason is.
Why Do Dogs Bark?
Expecting a dog not to bark is like bringing a baby home and expecting them not to cry. It sure is a nice thought, but it will never happen.
However, if the barking becomes excessive and happens more often at night, there is most likely a particular issue going on that your dog is trying to tell you about.
Dogs bark because it’s one of their forms of communication. We recently published a post talking about how dogs pawing can be a form of communication. The same is true with barking. When your dog appears to be barking at nothing, all they are doing is trying to communicate something to you.
What NOT To Do
Before we talk about what the possible causes of night time barking can be, it’s important to go over what you shouldn’t do.
If you’ve done some of these things in the past, don’t worry too much about it. Just make sure you don’t do them from here on out.
Don’t Give Them Attention
This is an important one, and it’s also a tough one to hold yourself back from dong. When your dog is up all night crying and barking, you probably want to pet them, calm them down, and let them know everything is ok.
However, by doing this, you are rewarding their behavior and the night time barking will increase, not decrease. It’s ok to check on them to make sure they (or you) aren’t in danger, but make sure you don’t sit down with them and pet them. After making sure everything is ok, don’t show them any attention at all.
Don’t Yell at Them
Yelling at a dog for any reason is a bad idea, but it’s a horrible idea when they are barking. Why? Because your dog will start to think you are joining in. They don’t understand words like “shut up,” all they hear is a loud noise so they will continue to make their loud noise. It’s best to train them to understand the word “quiet,” but we will go over that in detail when we get to the long term fix at the end of this post.
Don’t Use a Muzzle or a Bark Collar
I know it can be tempting. Especially when they are keeping you up at night and the cumulative fatigue from multiple poor nights of sleep starts adding up, but this is a bad idea.
Muzzles can be very dangerous when they aren’t used under supervision, and studies show that bark/shock collars reduce the dogs ability to learn new skills and can potentially increase aggression.
Don’t Debark Your Dog
Many in the pet industry consider this inhumane, and unless there is a very specific medical reason to do this, I would agree that it is inhumane. We won’t go into detail about the inhumanity of it in this article, but it’s dangerous and will significantly increase the likelihood of depression in your dog.
Is It a Puppy?
When we get super excited about something, we tend to forget about the potential negatives that will inevitably come along with the thing that excites us. Getting a puppy is exciting, but there are some negatives…one of which is barking and crying at night when everyone goes to bed.
This is completely normal behavior in a puppy for the following reasons:
- It misses its mother
- It’s scared of the new environment
- It feels threatened by the drastic change
- It’s lonely and afraid you’ve abandoned him/her forever
So should you console the puppy or let them cry it out? It’s recommended during the first week to comfort them. Those poor little guys get terrified when alone, you will want to spend some time with them the first week to let them know you are still there. After that first week, it’s essential to start backing off slowly. Maybe spend time with them every other night, then the following week just two nights, and the week after that just one night.
By doing this, you are slowly teaching them that being alone at night is nothing to be afraid of and that you will still be there when they wake up in the morning.
Identify The Potential Problem In Adult Dogs
One of the leading causes for failure when trying to get your dog to stop barking at night is not getting to the root of the problem. You might read about one solution online, but that solution you read about was for a particular problem. This means that solution might work for one dog but can potentially make it worse for another dog.
When it comes to dog behavior training, always remember the order of the two steps…identify THEN solve. You can’t solve before you identify.
Below we will be taking a look at some of the most common reasons dogs bark at night for seemingly “no reason.” Read through each of these and see if any of them can apply to your dog.
Unexpected noise is hands down the most common reasons dogs bark at night. Even if you don’t hear anything, remember that dogs can hear sounds at four times the distance humans can.
How To Solve: The good news is if this is the cause of your dog barking at night, the problem should take care of itself within a few days. The dog will eventually learn that the noise is no threat and begin to ignore it.
If you’re confident that unexpected noise is what’s causing your dog to bark at night and your dog continues to bark after a week, the next best thing is to use a white noise machine for your pup to distract them from the unexpected sound. This solution works like a charm.
If your dog spots another animal, it’s tough to prevent barking. Animals have a big interest in other animals! Maybe it’s a raccoon, a cat, or even a mouse. Whatever the animal is, it’s going to make your dog bark.
How To Solve: The solution to this one is simple, cover the windows so your dog can’t see outside. However, if your dog is an outside dog, there isn’t much you can do other than putting up a secure fence to keep other animals and rodents out. Also, make sure the lid to your trash can is tightly secured, that’s what typically attracts the other animals and rodents in the first place.
Other Dogs Barking
Dogs are pack animals, there’s a good chance that when a dog hears another dog bark, they will follow suit.
How To Solve: Two possible solutions to this one. The first (and best) is to talk to your neighbors and let them know their dog is barking at night. Ask them if they have any idea why that might be happening. If they have no idea, share with them some of the concepts you’re learning in this article.
If your neighbor is unwilling to do anything about it, we can go back to one of the solutions we talked about above…getting a white noise machine. This will hopefully drown out the noise from the other dog.
Fear or Alarm
We should be thankful for this one when it’s a real emergency! We want our dogs to wake us up if there is a fire or intruder. But what if there’s not an emergency and your dog is just scared?
This happens from time to time, some dogs are a little more timid than others, and when dogs are scared, they will let everyone else in the house know.
How To Solve: The key is to make sure they are comfortable. If they are in a new environment, fear is natural. They will need a few nights of sleeping in a new environment before they feel safe and comfortable.
If that doesn’t solve the problem, you may need to go to the vet for the solution. Some dogs do get severe anxiety which causes them to be fearful when alone at night. Your vet can prescribe medication that will ease that anxiety and help them sleep through the night.
Built Up Energy
This is another big one, and it’s one Cesar Millan talks about over and over again. If you spend most of the day away from home at work while your dog is home alone, they are going to have a ton of built up energy. Even if you are home and don’t pay much attention to them, that energy will still build up.
When that energy builds up, it needs to be released, and this often happens at night when everyone is trying to sleep.
If your dog doesn’t get at least 20 minutes of exercise per day, there is a good chance that built up energy is the issue.
How To Solve: Simple! Make sure they get at least 20 minutes of exercise per day. Part of being a responsible dog owner is taking care of your dog’s basic needs, 20 minutes of running around and playing is one of their basic needs.
If you don’t have the time to play with your dog for at least 20 minutes (even if it’s just throwing the ball around), it would be a wise idea to hire someone to do this for you. There are plenty of services out there that will take your dog on a walk, to the park, etc.
The Long Term Fix
All those situations we talked about above have very specific solutions, but there is also one solution that will fix them all no matter what the cause is…teaching your dog the word “quiet.”
When your dog starts barking, you should be able to merely say “quiet,” and they will stop. Yes, it’s important to get to the root of the problem like we discussed above, but in case they ever start barking again in the future, you need a quick fix. There’s no quicker fix than just saying the word “quiet.”
In a future post we will go into detail on how to teach your dog to be quiet, but for now, give these steps a try.
Step 1) Wait for your dog to start barking
Step 2) Say “quiet” in a relaxing and calm voice (don’t yell at them)
Step 3) Wait until your dog is done barking, even if it’s just for a few moments
Step 4) Praise them and give them a treat. Make sure to show excitement in your voice.
Over time your K9 buddy will learn that if they don’t bark after you say “quiet,” they will get a treat. Just make sure you NEVER give them a treat when they are still barking. Many dog owners will give them a treat just to get them to stop barking. This is a big problem and will make your dog think that they get a treat when they bark.
As you can see, there is no “one size fits all” solution to get your dog to start barking. Go through the common causes we presented in this article and give the solutions a try. In the meantime, work on teaching your dog the word “quiet.” This might take a few months, but it’s one of the most important and most useful words to teach your dog.