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You might be the most patient, bubbly, and social person on the block, however, it’s difficult to stay cheery when you’re deprived of sleep by a pet you love.
Agreed, you love them to bits, but is it too much to ask for them to just shut up so you can get some sleep after a long stressful day? Now you’ll have to face your neighbors in the morning, what a way to start a new day.
You are not alone in this!
Many dog owners get really frustrated trying to figure out why their dog barks at night or how to stop the behavior, especially when it seems like they are making noise for no apparent reason.
There’s good news and bad news.
Addressing the cause of the problematic behavior that’s causing your dog to bark at night will keep the peace and preserve your sanity. However, failure to do so might land you in legal trouble with the neighbors – after all, it’s your dog. You’re supposed to train it!
In this article, we’ll help you achieve the former, but before we go any further, you need to understand something.
Barking is a normal behavior in dogs.
Barking is a normal behavior in dogs, just like meowing in cats.
It’s a no-brainer to expect a dog not to bark. It’s as unreasonable as expecting a child not to cry or throw tantrums.
While it’s true that some dogs bark excessively and children often misbehave for apparently no reason, it’s your job as the adult to figure out what’s causing the behavior. Once you know why your dog is barking, only then will you know how to stop the problem.
So, why do dogs bark at night?
Common reasons a dog barks at night
Fear or alarm.
As man’s best friend, dogs also share the same fears with humans.
There’s a reason your heart starts racing when you hear things that go bump in the night. That’s because we are scared of the unknown, and dogs feel the same at night. A dog that is fearful will bark at any noise that startles them or sounds unfamiliar.
Barking might also be their way of telling you “hey! Something weird is going on and I think you should come check it out.”
Dogs are social animals, and just like most humans cannot stay alone without company or some mental stimulation.
A dog that is bored will vocalize more often than one that gets enough playtime and mental stimulation. If you often leave your dog unattended for long durations, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise when it won’t let you sleep at night.
Although there’s no universal explanation as to why your dog barks at night, loneliness remains one of the top triggers, especially in dogs that are difficult to calm down.
When a dog is left outside at night or in another room, it might attempt to get your attention by barking or howling – which is a dog’s way of expressing loneliness BTW.
If you happen to be a softhearted animal lover, you’ll need to make an important distinction between loneliness in dogs and attention-seeking, else you risk spoiling your dog.
Many times, a dog’s bark is simply to get attention. It could be that it wants a piece of what you’re eating, it wants to be petted, or something else.
While it sounds cruel, you need to identify this kind of barking behavior and totally ignore the dog. Even if you try to “shush”, “quiet”, or give it any other command that’s supposed to make them stop, it still sees this as attention and will repeat the behavior some other time.
If dogs could, they’d turn off their acute hearing to shut out noise and distractions as we do with the help of earphones, or our hands, or the pillow, but they can’t.
That’s the downside of having an acute hearing. The house might seem quiet to you, but a dog hearing is very sensitive to the noise coming from outside the home and will bark in response.
This might be the case if your dog only barks on a certain night or when it is in a certain room. If you notice your dog tilt its head to one side or raise its ear before barking, then it might be reacting to far away sounds.
Dogs and cats are stoic creatures. They’re fond of hiding painful medical conditions until they can’t bear it any longer.
If your dog is barking or whining for no reason, it could be in pain this particular night. Or the affected area gets aggravated when it tries to sleep. This is more likely to be the case if the dog has been displaying other signs of being in pain such as limping or weird walking steps.
Who knows, if it got hurt during play. In this case, the best thing to do would be to see the vet.
Not getting enough exercise.
Ah, exercise… your old frienemy!
I totally understand if you’ve been working all day and you just want to fall inside the bed and sleep away the stress. Unfortunately, your dog doesn’t – and I don’t blame it.
If you’re going to be away all day and you expect to sleep comfortably, then you better make sure your dog doesn’t stay alone back at home. They have pent up energy coursing through their bodies and just want to let it all out so they can have a good night’s sleep too – like you.
Exercise is the best solution for this kind of barking.
If you’re up for it, a run or long walk will do both of you good. However, if you cannot find the time to exercise your dog, you should consider sending it to doggie school where it’ll play with other dogs and have a tiring day – be sure to treat your dog for fleas before it goes out and when it returns.
Hunger or a problem with its diet.
Another possible explanation as to why your dog is barking at night is hunger. Maybe it is not eating enough or it has been waiting too long between meals.
When, how much, and how often you feed your dog depends on its age, temperament, energy level, and some other factors, however, your dog has been cleaning out its plate and rushes towards you on sighting food, then you should consider increasing its rations or one extra meal before bedtime.
If your dog isn’t eating as it should, it could be that there’s a problem with its diet or it has eaten something it shouldn’t have. One of the first signs of a problem is changes in a pet’s eating habits. If this is the case, then visit the vet ASAP.
You’re encouraging the behavior.
You might be responsible for your dog’s bad behavior.
If you’re the type of owner that gives your dog what it wants each time it barks at night, then you’re reinforcing the behavior in the dog. You’re basically teaching your dog that barking will get it the attention it needs.
There are exceptions to this though.
If your dog wants to relieve waste or has an issue with its sleeping environment, maybe it’s too loud, too bright or hot in there, or maybe there’s not enough legroom for it to lay down comfortably, then, by all means, find a way to relieve it of those problems.
However, if it doesn’t have any problems other than needing you to be around, giving it attention will only make it bark more next time it needs attention.
A disruption in its nighttime routine.
Dogs, like most animals, have a set of routines that they follow diligently each day. If you’ve made a change to your dog’s routine and it has been barking its displeasure since then, that’s because it is now confused and trying to figure out what is going on.
It might be struggling to adapt to the new routine if, for instance, you changed where it usually sleeps, or maybe your dog enjoyed roaming the yard at night but you stopped it from doing so.
As I mentioned earlier, dogs are creatures of habit. If the CoVid19 lockdown had you spending more time around your dog, then it will likely get separation anxiety when you return to work.
This can also be the case if you used to let your dog sleep in bed with you, but for some reason you now have it sleep in a separate room. In this case the barking is a sign that your dog is anxious about being left alone. To put an end to the barking, you need to help your dog deal with its separation anxiety.
The scent of wildlife.
A dog’s sense of smell is outstanding.
If we’re to compare dogs and humans’ sense of smell, theirs would have a 5-star rating while ours struggles to get a single star – no kidding.
When a dog picks up the smell of little critters such as squirrels, raccoons, or coyotes, it’ll bark at the source. It’s just natural instincts. This is likely the case if you hear other dogs in the neighborhood barking too.
Now you know why your dog barks at night, how do you stop it so you can get some sweet sleep?
How to stop a nighttime barker
Rule out medical issues.
Let’s assume your dog isn’t barking at night because it is a jerk and wants you to have issues with your neighbors.
Ask yourself “could my dog be sick?”
You need to visit the vet to rule out medical issues. Especially if your dog used to be happy sleeping all night but suddenly changed to barking at night.
If your dog is no longer its usual happy self, then you need to get it checked for possible health issues.
Sometimes your dog might wake at night howling and barking in the night because it has a bladder infection or an upset stomach and needs to relieve itself ASAP. This and dementia are very common in dogs that are elderly.
Whatever the case may be, if it’s a medical issue your vet will offer treatments that can help, and that could be enough to stop the dog from barking at night.
Check for possible disturbances.
Dogs have sensitive hearing and will bark at any disturbance coming from outside.
There may be a raccoon sorting through the trash. A stray cat sitting on the front porch. Someone is returning from a late-night shift. Or a window is partially closed and the wind is making howling noises.
These are all disturbances that will get a sensitive dog barking all of a sudden.
Changing the lid on the trash can might reduce the visits from the neighborhood wildlife and a cat repellant spray can stop the cat from perching on your yard.
Most disturbances are temporary – and your dog will get used to them over time. However, the attention it gets from barking might make your dog persist with the behavior even when the disturbance is no more.
Don’t just assume, check the cause of the disturbance. We’ve heard stories of dog barks alerting their owners of intruders. However, do not make a big deal of your nighttime visit.
Stay calm and avoid raising your voice – dogs can be silly at times, they’ll assume that you’re joining in the behavior.
Try out calming products like white noise generators, Thundershirts, Fedciory Calming Collars, Relaxivet Natural Calming Diffuser, and diffuser. Although they won’t solve your problem, they’re quite helpful.
Increase exercise, training, and improve comfort.
I can’t stress it enough; exercise is really important for a dog’s overall health.
If your dog has no medical issue, and there’s nothing out of the ordinary that might be disturbing its sleep, then consider increasing the physical and mental stimulation it gets.
If you used to walk or exercise your dog for an hour or less, try upping that by 50% or more. It’s a lot easier for a dog (humans inclusive) to fall into a deep sleep after a tiring workout.
Trust me, there’s almost no excuse for not exercising your dog!
If you can’t do it yourself, maybe a sudden change in routine or something, you can hire a dog walker to exercise it when you’re not available. Alternatively, you can enroll your dog in a doggie school where it’ll get playtime and useful training.
Don’t give it your attention at night.
The number one mistake most pet owners make when their dog barks at night for whatever reason, is to shower the dog with attention to stop the behavior.
Some owners try to pet the dog back to sleep.
This is not a bad thing to do, after all, we consider our dogs to be part of the family, and very few people will stand by and watch their family members in distress without attempting to help.
However, dogs and young children are alike in the sense that both find attention very rewarding.
If you pet your dog to sleep or let it sleep in your bed whenever it starts barking, the dog will quickly learn that barking will get it what it needs – which might be to sleep next to you.
And trust me, any behavior that is rewarded will definitely be repeated another time – heck, why do you think you’re advised to offer treats when a dog behaves well?
You should only allow your dog into your bed if letting your dog sleep in bed with you isn’t bad for your health and it’s something you’re okay with if it becomes a long term arrangement.
If you’re woken at night by the sound of your dog barking, get out of bed and make sure that everything is okay. But do so without interacting with your dog.
Don’t try talking to it or telling it to be quiet. No!
Make your visit very uninteresting and short. If there’s nothing out of the ordinary, go back to sleep as fast as you came. Though it might take a couple of days, the behavior will diminish and disappear – never to be repeated again!
Work with a trainer/behaviorist.
Dog trainers or behaviorists can be quite expensive. However, you should consider getting direct help from a trainer if you’re really stuck. They’ll find the exact problem and design a solution that works for your dog.
Should you punish your dog for barking?
Another mistake many pet owners make is to punish a dog for barking at night. Sprinkling dogs with water, lashing it with a belt or flip flops, or shocking them with an electric collar is a big NO!
Punishing a dog for bad or unwanted behavior has the downside of reducing its ability to learn new skills or increasing aggression, which can result in your dog biting you.
Electric collars in particular, even when used by experts in training, make a dog more fearful and anxious than other dogs.
So please, find ways other than punishment to correct your dog. Punishment of any kind could make things much worse, especially in dogs with separation anxiety.
Should you consider debarking your dog?
Debarking is very controversial and inhumane. I don’t recommend going that way!
Barking is a normal dog behavior. Debarking doesn’t solve the cause of the barking, it only treats the symptom.
It’s a surgical procedure that changes a dog’s full bark into a raspy one. They do this by removing folds of tissue on either side of a dog’s voice box or larynx.
It isn’t unusual for complications, which are often life-threatening, to occur, for instance, ongoing pain, breathing difficulties, and higher incidents of choking.
In a few cases, the dogs regained their full voice months after the surgical operation, in which case the whole thing was just a waste of money. Even if it successfully changes the dog’s voice, you’ll likely be spending on ongoing problems associated with the procedure.
On the other hand, avoid using a muzzle or other constraint to keep a dog quiet when they’re unsupervised. You might be putting your dog at risk.
There are many reasons a dog might suddenly start barking at night.
However, to stop it start by ruling out any medical issues and have a realistic expectation of puppies and elderly dogs. Then make sure that nothing is disturbing the dog at night, and if any, take action to eliminate the disturbance or reduce its effects where possible.
From my experience, a dog that is disturbed at night only barks for a short time. That’s if it has had enough mental and physical exercise during the day.
Exercise, balanced diet, sleep and grooming all contribute to the overall well-being of you and your dog, so make sure to weave it into your daily routine.
Do not wait until your neighbor starts complaining about your dog’s nighttime barking. You will get hit with legal action if you don’t get that dog under control.