Question from Natalya:
Help! My puppy is 1.5 months and he will not let me sleep at night. He sleeps for 1 ½ to 2 hours and then wakes up and wants to play. And so on all night long. How do I get him to sleep through the night? I’m going crazy from lack of sleep.
Advice from Cheri Lucas:
Pack leaders need their sleep, so here’s my advice on how you can turn this situation around!
The concept of creating rules, boundaries, and limitations is an essential component for any effective dog-training program. This is especially important when it comes to raising a puppy. Having a puppy gives you the opportunity to work with a “clean slate,” to mold your young dog into the canine companion you’ve always dreamed of. Unfortunately, you also have the opportunity to create a confused and dysfunctional pup if you’re inadvertently setting him up for failure.
When a mother dog gives birth to a litter of pups, she immediately begins creating structure and discipline for her pack. Your job as your pups’ new pack leader is to do the same. The good news is that puppies automatically seek direction and thrive on routine. The rules and boundaries you create for your pup now will have a lasting impression on him as he matures into an adult dog.
Your puppy should be eating three times a day until he is about eight months old. You should have a solid feeding schedule that you don’t deviate from. A puppy’s digestive system works very quickly, so plan on taking him out to his potty area immediately after he eats. Stay calm and relaxed and don’t rush him. Once he eliminates, you can spend quality time playing or interacting with him.
Now here’s the important part: Get a crate for your pup to sleep in at night and use it during the day for naptime. A dog crate or kennel is the modern-day equivalent to a wolf’s den in the wild. Once you properly introduce your pup to his crate, you won’t know what you ever did without this phenomenal tool! (For a more extensive explanation of crate use, please see my column on crate training.)
Place the crate in your bedroom and introduce your pup to it gradually. Your energy should be calm and assertive when you take your pup to the crate the first time. If necessary, you can lure him into the crate with a high-value treat such as a tiny piece of cheese or chicken. Have him stay in the crate for a few minutes with the gate closed. If he cries, ignore the behavior until he relaxes and stops fussing. Remain calm and relaxed when you release him from the crate – don’t go into the excited, “praise” mode. Practice taking him in and out of his crate multiple times throughout the day, increasing the time he stays in it.
The last meal you feed your pup should be at least 3 hours before you go to bed. This will allow your pup to thoroughly digest his food for the day before sleeping through the night. Two hours before bedtime, remove your pup’s access to water. When you’re ready for bed, take your pup to his crate while remaining calm and assertive.
If you’ve been consistent with your dog’s feeding ritual, potty breaks and exercise, he should be able to sleep throughout the night, or at the very least, for a good 4 or 5 hours without having to eliminate. He may begin to whimper because past experience has taught him that this strategy has been very effective for him to get his way. By taking him out every 1-½ hours to play, he’s essentially giving you a command and you’re obeying him! From his perspective, crying works! If you cave in and let your pup out of the crate at this time, you will be rewarding his behavior and teaching him to repeat it over and over again. Instead, either ignore the whining or correct him with a sharp sound. Chances are, he’ll eventually stop and fall asleep.
If he doesn’t’ settle down within 20 minutes, take the crate to another room so you can get some sleep. For the next 3 or 4 weeks, you may want to take him out of his crate only ONCE during the middle of the night. This is to eliminate ONLY. If he tries to initiate play, ignore him. You are literally taking care of business and taking him back to bed.
Puppies require more time and commitment than an adult dog in the beginning. Just remember that the structure you’re providing now will be the foundation of a perfectly balanced dog in the future! Now get some sleep!!