You love your dog to pieces, but is it too much to ask for them to shut up at night? If you’re trying to figure out how to stop your dog from barking at night, you know what a frustrating situation it is — especially when it seems like they are making noise for no apparent reason.
But your dog probably isn’t barking at ghosts that roam the halls of your haunted house. He or she might actually be trying to tell you something.
Up all night
But first the good news. If your dog continues to keep you up at night, even after you have tried every humane method to calm it down, you’re far from alone. As the owner of two Chihuahuas, the notoriously “yappy” dogs, I have been woken up many a night from a deep and restful sleep for no good reason at all. In fact, Chihuahuas were named by the Houston Chronicle as one of the loudest dog breeds — along with breeds like beagles, huskies, dachshunds, terriers and basset hounds.
The bad news is that if you just can’t get your dog to shut up in the wee hours, you’re probably not the only person who has a problem with it. In a 2,000-person survey conducted on dog barking in New Zealand, 75 percent of the participants indicated that they would be bothered by a dog barking at night. Dog barking and howling ranked highest among all other forms of suburban noise pollution. A New York Times article on the same topic confirmed that a nonstop barking dog is one local disturbance that can pit neighbors against each other.
The point is this: Dealing with a dog that won’t stop barking day or night is frustrating for everyone. Figuring out the behavioral problem that is causing your dog’s barking could save your sanity and keep the peace.
Here’s what the animal experts have to say about why your dog won’t stop barking at night.
Just like any human left alone for too long, your dog gets bored, too. And as Heidi Ganahl, founder and CEO of Camp Bow Wow, explains, “If a dog is bored, they are likely to vocalize more often. If dogs are left alone for long periods of time, they can become very bored, especially if there is nothing for them to do. Dogs who are bored should be provided interactive toys such as a KONG or any of PetSafe’s Busy Buddy toys to keep your dog occupied until you get home.”
2. Fear or alarm
There’s a reason we get scared of things that go bump in the night — as humans, we fear the unknown, and dogs also feel the same nighttime anxiety. “If a dog is fearful, they may bark at any noise they hear that is scary to them or startles them. They may also bark as an ‘alarm’ to tell those around that something is going on that they should be aware of,” says Ganahl.
While Dr. Rachel Barrack of Animal Acupuncture explains that there is not always a universal cause for night barking, loneliness remains one of the top triggers she sees in dogs that can’t seem to settle down. Dr. Barrack says, “Dogs are pack animals, so if left alone in another room at night, they may bark to try and get attention. Allowing your dog to sleep in your room should help to eliminate barking due to separation anxiety. If sleeping in your bedroom isn’t an option, maybe you need another dog for a source of companionship.”
4. Looking for attention
Here’s an important distinction to remember as a softhearted animal lover: Attention seeking is different from loneliness in dogs, says Ganahl. She explains, “Many dogs bark for attention, whether they want petting, the food you are eating or something else. It is important that you completely ignore your dog if you feel they are barking for attention, otherwise the barking will continue. If you tell your dog ‘quiet,’ ‘shush’ or any other vocalization to tell them to stop, that is considered attention to your dog.”
5. Noise sensitivity
Unlike their human companions, dogs aren’t able to shut out noise and distraction as easily before bed. According to Dr. Barrack, this is because dogs have such acute hearing. “Although your home or apartment might be very quiet to you, a dog can be extremely sensitive to outside noises and bark in response. Putting on a TV, radio or white noise machine might help block out some of that external noise and hopefully eliminate this cause of bedtime barking.”
6. Not enough exercise
This point is a biggie that even Cesar Millan can get behind. Barrack says that if your dog spends all day at home alone while you’re at work and has just a few hours of freedom before bed, it only makes sense that it’s restless at night. “They have pent up energy, are excited to see you and just want some attention. Exercise is the best solution for this cause of barking. One option is sending your dog to doggie day care where they can have a tiring day, running around and playing all day with other dogs. Alternatively, you and your dog can exercise together. A long walk or run will help tire both of you out before bedtime,” she explains.
How to quiet a nighttime barker
While all of these causes can trigger dog barking at night, for Joel Silverman, professional dog trainer seen on Good Dog U on Animal Planet, the solution is simple. When asked about the main culprit behind nighttime barking, Silverman says, “Just stand up and take a look in the mirror.”
He continues, “As I have always stated, the completion of the bad behavior is a reward. So you letting your dog play out actions like barking is actually reinforcing it to your dog. It also makes sense that the longer your dog has had this problem, quite often the more difficult it will be to correct.”
Fortunately, all hope isn’t lost if your dog’s barking has been going on for longer than it should. Silverman advises interrupting nighttime barking in a way that does not scare, startle or hurt your dog, while still getting the message across. He explains how to turn a nighttime distraction into a training tool. “You want to make sure that you start off with your dog in a place where he starts to notice, or is aware of a distraction, but is not going crazy. You want to find a way to correct the dog just as he barks. Once your dog responds to the correction, you can move a few feet closer the next training session. Over the course of time, you can see that as he understands to not bark and play out that action, you will eventually be next to the distraction that is making him bark.”
A version of this article was originally published in October 2015.