By Katherine Tolford
Just like a human newborn, your new puppy communicates many of his needs by crying. But what do you do if youâve met your puppyâs basic needs and he continues to cry and whimper?
Dr. Carolyn Lincoln, a Cleveland-based veterinarian who specializes in behavior medicine, says puppies have to make the difficult adjustment of being away from their mother and littermates, so itâs important to give your puppy time to adjust. âYour dog isnât trying to annoy you. He just has a need and heâll continue to cry until itâs met.â
But Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor with petMD, cautions that how you respond to puppy crying is important. âHow you act when a puppy is crying can dramatically affect future behavior,â she says. âKnowing how and when to respond is key.â
Why Do Puppies Cry?
The best way to get your puppy to stop crying is to get to the root of the problem. Here are some common reasons behind why your puppy is crying and how you can help.
Frequent whimpering and crying could be signs that your puppy is sick, says Lincoln. Some symptoms to be on the lookout for include lethargy, a loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting, dizziness or an increased breathing rate. Excessive licking, biting or scratching in one area could be signs of an allergy, infection, parasites or other skin problems. If your normally affectionate pup becomes anti-social and doesnât want to be touched or runs away or hides from you, he could be in pain or suffering from an injury.
How to help: Itâs important to get your puppy to the vet as soon as possible if you notice any of these symptoms. âPuppies donât have the reserves of adult dogs, so taking a âwait-and-seeâ approach is riskier in younger pets,â warns Coates.
Dogs are social animals. But puppies can be especially needy as they adjust to being separated from their mother and siblings, says Lincoln.
How to help: Lincoln recommends reassuring your puppy by keeping him near youâeven during busy times of the day. She suggests strategically placing crates throughout your house in high traffic areas such as the family room, bedroom, or kitchen. For instance, if you need to focus on fixing dinner in the kitchen your puppy can hang out next to you in his crate. In most cases he just needs to feel your presence and be part of the action.
âIf you need to be more mobile you can also tie your puppy to your waist with a leash and attach it to a harness so youâll always know where he is,â Lincoln says.
Coates agrees that keeping your puppy nearby is beneficial. âThis will let your puppy benefit from your physical presence but reduce the risk of accidents or other problems when most of your attention has to be elsewhere,â she adds.
As your puppy explores his new world, his behavior may range from being playful and daring to being withdrawn and fearful. He may whimper and cower in the corner or under furniture instead of greeting visitors who donât look familiar to him. He may run away from you when you introduce an object such as an umbrella, backpack or hat.
Lincolns refers to these periodic behavioral displays as âfear periods.â During these times puppies can suddenly become afraid of new things or of things that didnât previously scare them.
This typically happens between 8-12 weeks, at 4-9 months, and again at 1 ?-2 years, says Lincoln. âWeâre not sure why but it could be because a puppyâs brain has growth spurts,â she adds. âOr, it may be a survival instinct, as puppies begin to separate from their mom, they learn to be more cautious.â
How to help: This can be normal behavior for a puppy, but pet parents should pay close attention to their puppyâs body language. If he is avoiding eye contact or if his ears are back or his tail is down heâs telling you heâs afraid, says Lincoln.
Dr. Coates advises that if a puppy is showing signs of fear, he or she needs to be removed from that situation immediately. âFears can become ingrained when a puppy is exposed to a fearful situation over and over again.â
To promote confidence, Coates recommends exposing your puppy at a later time with a âless intense version of the experience.â For example, if a puppy barks and backs away when approached by a stranger, repeat the scenario the next day keeping a greater distance from the stranger and allowing the puppy to approach the person rather than the other way around, says Coates. If the fearful behavior persists or worsens, talk to your veterinarian.
If your puppyâs cries occur primarily in the time leading up to meals, it could be a sign of hunger.
Lincoln says itâs common for puppies to experience an increase or decrease in their appetite as part of normal biological changes. âA puppyâs growth phase is not always linear,â she says. âSo you canât always go with the directions on the food package because each puppy is different.â
How to help: If you suspect your puppy isnât getting enough to eat, consult with your vet about adjusting his diet, says Lincoln. Coates agrees and adds, ârather than focusing on the amount in the bowl, it is sometimes better to pay closer attention to your puppyâs body condition. If theyâre looking a little thin, increase the amount of food you are offering. If theyâre getting chubby, cut back a bit.â
Your puppy may excessively bark and cry because heâs bored and has a lot of pent up energy. âPuppies need mental as well as physical exercise,â Lincoln says. All puppies need to expend energy and have mental stimulation at various times throughout the day.
How to help: Lincoln says that exercise and playtime is an important part of your puppyâs day. But in addition to ensuring your puppy gets regular exercise and play with you, you can try adding some food puzzles for those times when you have to be gone. Or try a game of hide and seek, where your puppy searches around the house to find his food. âThereâs nothing that says you have to feed your puppy out of a bowl,â says Lincoln.
Lincoln also likes to fill a muffin tin with kibble then top each cup with a tennis ball. Your pup canât indulge in the treat until he gets the ball out. âItâs a challenge because the ball fits snugly. Itâs also a great way to develop a good relationship with your puppy while entertaining him.â
They Want Affection
Puppies also need connection and affection. Your dog may wait all day to interact with family members whoâve been gone.
âTheyâll cry if they canât get to someone they want to be with like when they see a child come home from school. They want so badly to greet and spend time with them,â says Lincoln.
How to help: Lincoln says that itâs important that you acknowledge your puppy when you walk in the door and be present and pay attention when you are spending time with your puppy. âItâs important to spend even just a minute greeting your puppy when you walk in the doorâthat can be enough to calm him down,â she explains.
But Dr. Coates cautions that you should be deciding when your puppy gets your attention, not the other way around. âPuppies who cry and demand attention when their needs have been met should be ignored,â she says. âOnce they are quiet, you can give them all the attention you want. Reward good behavior, not bad behavior, with your attention.â
Donât Yell at a Crying Puppy
The more your puppy cries the more you may be tempted to yell at him. âNone of it will help. In fact, it just makes it worse. He may stop if you punish him but it just confuses him and ultimately hurts your relationship,â Lincoln says.
Coates notes that some puppies seem to prefer negative attention to no attention at all. âBy yelling at a crying puppy you might actually be reinforcing the behavior youâre hoping to stop,â she says.
Thereâs nothing wrong with taking a âtime outâ when youâre feeling frustrated, Coates adds. Make sure your puppy is in a crate or other safe location, then take a walk outside to calm down until you can address the situation in a more effective manner.