It can be quite annoying when your dog whines or cries at night, preventing you from getting enough sleep! But as upsetting as it is for you, think about it from your dog’s perspective: he’s crying because she’s distraught. The key to ending the fuss is to alleviate his distress.
In years past, dog training professionals have advised clients to let the dog cry. “If you get close to them,” we said, “you’ll reinforce them for crying and they’ll just learn to cry harder and louder.”
This was very bad advice. I suspect that the anxiety of many dogs with mild separation-related stress turned into pathological separation anxiety by ignoring their cries of distress.
I myself was guilty of giving this bad advice on some occasion in the past (a long time ago). But when we know better, we do better and teach better. We now know that a dog that cries for more than a few minutes is trying to tell us something. Most of the time she tells us that she is distraught and that she is crying out for help. This dog needs calm and stress relief from him, not ignoring him.
What to do with a crying dog
The first thing to do with your crying, crying dog is to comfort him. Remove him from the situation that is causing him distress and do whatever is necessary to relieve his stress. caress her Hold her. Lie down on the floor with her. Talk to him softly. Play soft music. Massage. If he wants to play, he plays with her.
Then, address the environment that is causing you distress through monitoring and behavior modification. The most common cause of continuous crying is separation-related behavior. If you have a dog that stays up all night whining and crying, I bet you’ve probably locked it away from you in another room, maybe a crate. Take her to your bedroom. Then, work with a non-strength professional to address your separation angst. (See “Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms and How to Modify Behavior.”)
Generalized anxiety can also be a cause of persistent vocalization. Again, management is to reduce your dog’s exposure to anxiety-causing sights, sounds, or other stimuli, along with modification to help change your dog’s perception of those stressors.
Your dog could also be in distress as a result of a medical condition of some kind, so a full veterinary exam is necessary if you cannot identify other obvious reasons for his distress vocalizations.
For persistent vocalization, especially if it is determined to be related to anxiety, anti-anxiety medications may be appropriate, either short-acting or long-acting, depending on the circumstances. You’ll want to have this conversation with your behaviorally-savvy vet or a veterinary behavior specialist. Do it sooner rather than later. For an anxious dog, medication should be a first line defense, not a last resort.
Help your crying dog
Bottom line: Your crying dog is in distress and is asking for your help. Help her. It is what you would like someone to do for you.