It’s late at night and you’re trying to go to sleep, and outside your door you hear your dog whining or ‘crying’. Maybe you let them in, maybe you don’t. Either way you wonder why they’re crying. Perhaps you haven’t even heard it first hand, but you’ve only heard it from the neighbors, telling you that your dog cries all day while you’re gone.
The answer to why dogs do this is actually pretty simple. Dogs are social animals and thrive on constant contact. This behavior is seen far more commonly in puppies than it is in older dogs. When it is puppies crying, the concern about behavioral training is far less important than it is in older dogs.
Puppies are almost constantly with their mother in their first few weeks of life. They depend on her for everything. They need her to keep them safe. So when they are young, they will cry out whenever their mother is not nearby. Even shortly after the dogs are weened, they will still want to be near their mother.
So a puppy that is being taken home shortly after will cry for its mother. When they are that young, they will cry regardless of whether you are there or not. During this time it is important to take over the role of leader and caretaker. They soon come to understand that it is you that they must depend on.
It is at this time that it is determined whether this behavior will continue. If the dog sees you more as ‘mother’ or ‘sibling’, rather than their leader, they will continue to cry when you are away. It won’t matter if you are in the next room or in the next state, they will miss you.
While you do want your dogs to miss you, this is an unnecessary stress for these animals. They get upset when you are gone and sometimes will develop separation anxiety. Separation anxiety can cause them to act out, tearing apart the house, going to the bathroom indoors, and stealing articles of clothing.
It is important at this point to distinguish yourself as the alpha as well as the caretaker. If the dog sees you as a leader instead of just a ‘mother’, they will still miss you when you are gone, but they will also not feel the need to depend on you every moment.
Dog’s wild cousin, the wolf, is a good example of this. While the pack will depend on the alpha wolves for much of their care, food and leadership, if the alpha is out, they can usually fend for themselves for the time. They understand that, as a unit, the alpha needs to be out doing other things on occasion. If they do not see you as an alpha, and instead see you as a mother, they do not make that same connection.
Dogs will stay in the ‘puppy’ mindset for as long as we allow them. If the dog is older and it is still crying, then behavioral training may be needed, depending on the severity. While not all dog owners mind their dog sleeping in the room with them, some will and will not like this behavior. Ignoring it is rarely the solution.
However, if it is an older dog who has started to cry at night recently, then there may be a different reason behind this. The dog may find it hard to see, and may be frightened. As dogs age, their eyesight will get worse, and many dogs will get anxious when they are older. If they are left alone at night, in the dark, they will become frightened as they will not be able to see. While training will help, sometimes these dogs must either be kept in your room at night (where your presence comforts them), or you must leave on a night light for them so that they can see.
Dogs of all ages will cry if they are left alone for too long. If you are out of town, they will miss you and it is important to have a pet sitter who will do more than feed them and let them outside at night. A dog that cries is unhappy and usually lonely or frightened.