Why Won't My Dog Sleep at Night? (Causes and Solutions)

From establishing a pleasant bedtime routine to building your puppy's confidence, there are many ways to encourage your puppy to sleep through the night.

Why Won't My Dog Sleep at Night? (Causes and Solutions)
When puppies first leave their mother and littermates, they typically struggle to sleep at night. What can you do about it?


Why Won't My Dog Sleep Through The Night?

"My 9-month-old puppy refuses to sleep through the night. I've tried crating her in a separate room, crating her next to my bed, playing music for her through the night, letting her "bark it out," using a vibrating bark collar, and getting up to let her go outside and do her business.

For the first few months after she came home, she would wake up crying/barking/whining at every hour on the hour (starting around 2am) until I went out and slept on the couch with her on top of me. But that doesn't feel feasible for every day, and I worry that doing that at all only rewards her for bad behavior.

Nothing has worked, and I don't know what to do anymore. It's extra frustrating because two of my friends have two of her siblings, and they don't have any issues sleeping at night. She is crated for most of the day during the week while I'm at work, but I give her lots of exercise in the mornings and evenings.

She is also very destructive when she's loose in the house while I'm there (she'll sit there chewing on the chair legs, the edge of a table, or even the drywall right in front of my eyes). Do you have any suggestions to help her sleep through the night so that I can sleep through the night too?" —Lindsay

Puppies Often Struggle to Sleep at Night

If your puppy won’t sleep through the night unless she’s on top of you on the couch and you have already tried so many things, you’re likely feeling very tired and frustrated. You may also be wondering what’s causing her to struggle to sleep, considering that her siblings haven’t shown any issues. Let’s start by taking a look at some potential dynamics going on.

It’s Tough for Puppies to Acclimate to Their New Homes

When puppies first arrive in our homes, the process is very stressful. Not only are puppies transferred to a new place with new people, new noises, and new smells, but they are also expected to sleep soundly in an unfamiliar place, possibly even alone.

The first nights in an unfamiliar home can be particularly stressful. Puppies will miss their mother and littermates, and they may struggle to fall asleep when they no longer feel the warmth they are used to from sleeping in a pile or next to each other.

It ultimately feels reassuring to puppies to stick together. Scott and Fuller (1965) observed how, by 7 weeks, although a certain level of competitiveness among siblings prevails, bonding among the puppies remains strong. This is readily apparent upon witnessing the distress vocalizations in 7-week-old puppies when isolated even briefly from their littermates.

Elliot and Scott in 1961 also observed how the tendency to protest vocally when isolated tends to peak at around 6 and 9 weeks of age, which unfortunately coincides with when most puppies are first adopted into their new homes.

Each pup serves as a social presence for its litter mates and obtains social comfort for itself by huddling close enough to the other young pups in the brood so that it can feel their touch. If all the puppies in the group try to crowd together to feel the comforting presence of one another, the result is a pile of puppies.

— Stanley Coren, "Do Dogs Dream? Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know"

Puppies often crave our warmth and closeness when sleeping at night, as it simulates their sleeping situation while still with the litter.


The Importance of Reassuring Puppies

New puppy owners are often advised to take steps to reduce stress in their new puppies and help them cope for the first few nights away from their mother and littermates. One important piece of advice is to let the new puppy sleep in the bedroom and reassure the puppy for at least the first couple of nights.

Reassurance is often provided by:

  • Placing the crate next to the bed
  • Talking to the pup/letting him know you are there
  • Offering your hand for reassurance
  • Using a warm bottle wrapped in a towel to mimic the littermates’ warmth

With the above approaches, most puppies will eventually fall asleep and wake up 2 to 3 times for some late night/early morning trips to go potty. Within 3 to 5 days, many pups will have adjusted dramatically, although they typically still require a couple of potty trips due to normal physiological needs.

Cases of Unconsolable Pups

In some quite rare cases, some pups may particularly struggle in adapting to their new environment. These pups will be so anxious they will engage in distress vocalizations no matter what you do.

In these cases, board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman suggests letting these pups sleep on the bed for the first several nights.

“It’s really important to cut the puppy a lot of slack at the very beginning in order to help him bond to you in an emotionally secure and stable fashion. Allow your puppy to remain too nervous up front and you’ll have behavior problems down the road. You can truly ruin the relationship with him by disciplining too firmly from the get-go” points out Dr. Dodman in the book Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-Dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Puppy.

Puppies Require Strict and Consistent Rules

At some point, it’s important to make a big decision: Will the puppy always sleep on the bed or couch, or will a different sleeping arrangement be needed?

If the pup will always sleep on the bed or couch, no biggie. If a different sleeping arrangement will be needed (such as letting the pup sleep in his own crate or playpen), then it’s important to stick to this arrangement without fail.

Dogs thrive on predictability as that makes them feel safe. When there are sometimes-yes, sometimes-no rules in place, this can make them very anxious.

Imagine a classroom of kids with no clear rules and then the kids being punished for going too far without ever knowing what ‘too far’ is.

— Stephanie Borns-Weil, D.V.M.

If we only allow our dog to sleep on the couch with us from time to time, this will cause them to feel confused and anxious, and we risk rewarding their persistence if we give in when we can no longer tolerate their barking.

Increased barking and protest vocalization is common when teaching puppies to sleep on their own.


The “Extinction Burst” Phenomenon

Something to be aware of when being inconsistent is what’s known as an extinction burst. If you have always allowed your puppy to sleep on the couch with her on top of you, that day you place her in a crate to sleep will obviously result in some form of “protest” (cue ear-piercing barking, pawing at the crate, whining, etc.).

Your Puppy's Behavior Will Escalate Before Improving

It’s important to clarify that barking and pawing at the crate is not driven by a desire to push your limits or wear you down. It’s just a genuine attempt to restore the sense of security given by sleeping with you nearby.

Your puppy is trying all she can to get her behavior to “work” again if it has worked in the past. When these behaviors don’t yield the desired behavior (reconnecting with you), the puppy will try harder by escalating (barking louder, scratching with more intensity, etc.).

Giving In Will Reinforce the Behavior

If you give in at this point, you will reinforce her persistence, meaning that you’ll have an increasingly difficult time trying to get her to sleep on her own (to the point of feeling exhausted and at your wit's end!).

If you are able to resist instead and stick to the new rule, after the initial escalation or two, the problematic behavior should reduce consistently over time (other than an occasional occurrence of spontaneous recovery). Both extinction bursts and spontaneous recovery are part of the extinction process and are signs that whatever you're doing is working.

It’s important to recognize, though, that extinction bursts aren’t without stress. Having a dog sleep away from us cold turkey after many weeks or months of letting them sleep in close contact with us will lead to intense feelings of anxiety, stress, and frustration.

Lately, many professionals have been questioning whether the practice of letting puppies “cry it out” in hopes of them giving up can cause problems.

The Problem With Letting Puppies “Cry It Out”

The practice of letting puppies “cry it out” is borrowed from the practice of letting human infants cry it out instead of picking them up when put to bed by themselves. The intention was to avoid “spoiling the baby” and causing them to think that the crying worked to get their parent to pick them up.

Lately, though, this practice has been put under scrutiny. Research has revealed that when meeting an infant’s needs, we create a secure attachment relationship which paves the path to normal development and fosters independence and trust, whereas pulling back from an infant’s needs leads to more anxious behavior patterns.

Interestingly, research has found that dogs relate to us in a similar fashion as human infants do with their parents. Dogs perceive us as a secure base and rely on us for comfort and reassurance when navigating a big new world.

So if letting puppies cry it out is counterproductive, how can we get them to learn to sleep through the night on their own? Ideally, this would require a gradual approach with several plans in place so as to reduce their stress as much as possible.

It may take time, patience, and work, but there are many ways to encourage your puppy to sleep through the night.


How to Teach a Dog to Sleep Through the Night

Following are several tips and ideas to help promote sleep while also fostering a sense of independence so as to break the habit of sleeping on top of you on the couch.

Rule Out Physical Problems

A good place to start is to mention this issue to the vet. A lack of sleep accompanied by clingy behaviors may sometimes stem from an underlying medical problem.

When dogs feel ill, they may get cranky and clingy, so this would be the first avenue to explore. It’s important to rule out a physical issue, as no amount of training or behavior modification can change a behavior that is rooted in a physical problem.

Consider Calming Aids

If your vet finds nothing physically wrong with your pup, discuss whether they recommend any calming aids to help your dog sleep or at least to reduce her anxiety as you work on teaching her the ropes on how to become more independent.

Your vet may recommend some over-the-counter calming treats or supplements. Studies have shown that the use of pheromone-based diffusers, sprays, or collars (like the Adaptil collar) may also be helpful in stressful situations.

Record Your Dog’s Behavior When Left Alone

If you have a chance, record your dog’s behavior when left alone. This can help you gauge how she’s doing emotionally when you are away. Some pups suffer from separation-related distress, and this causes them to be extra clingy. They may also suffer when they are placed in a crate, as they associate it with being left alone. The recording will also give you an idea of how much she is sleeping during the day.

Provide Your Scent, Warmth, and Closeness

Why is your puppy so determined to sleep on top of you on the couch? Most likely, it’s a matter of warmth and security, perhaps reminiscent of when she used to sleep in a pile with her mom and littermates. It may therefore help to recreate this environment when encouraging her to sleep alone in a crate next to your bed.

  • Place a worn T-shirt in the crate. Your pup will likely be comforted by your scent, and this may help her feel a little more at ease.
  • Wrap a warm bottle (never hot!) in a blanket and tuck it in your pup's crate at bedtime. This can help provide some warmth.
  • Try a Snuggle Puppy Behavioral Aid. This stuffed animal has helped many of my young pups adapt to sleeping alone, as it provides warmth and features a "heartbeat."
  • Lower your hand to pet her through the crate and let her know you’re there the first few nights.

Add Some Enrichment to the Bedtime Routine

Make a bedtime routine of taking her to her crate and giving her a long-lasting treat to enjoy (e.g., a stuffed, frozen Kong or a long-lasting edible chew like a bully stick or Himalayan yak chew). Ask your vet for suggestions based on your dog's individual health.

Build Your Puppy's Confidence

Pups of this age may lack confidence and may look to you for support and comfort if they don’t know how to cope on their own. Confidence-building exercises and positive reinforcement training can help foster a deeper sense of security while keeping them mentally and physically busy.

Make sure your pup is offered mental stimulation as well through food puzzles, brain games, sniffing adventures, and environmental enrichment.

Prevent Destructiveness

Excessive chewing is often seen in dogs who are bored, seeking attention, or stressed. You can help curb this behavior by preventing access to commonly chewed items. Consider putting her in a large exercise pen and providing her with plenty of appropriate items to interact with, such as Kong Wobblers, Lickimats, and Snuffle Mats. You may also want to train her the “leave it” and “drop it” cues.

Good luck!


  • Horn, Lisa & Huber, Ludwig & Range, Friederike. (2013). The Importance of the Secure Base Effect for Domestic Dogs - Evidence from a Manipulative Problem-Solving Task. PloS one.
  • Miller, Patrice & Commons, Michael. (2013). Why Not "Crying It Out" Part 1: The Science That Tells Us That Responsiveness is Key. Clinical Lactation
  • Gaultier, Emmanuel & Bonnafous, Laurence & Vienet-Legué, D & Falewee, C & Bougrat, Laurent & Lecuelle, Céline & Pageat, Patrick. (2008). Efficacy of dog-appeasing pheromone in reducing stress associated with social isolation in newly adopted puppies. The Veterinary record. 163. 73-80
  • Elliot et al. The development of emotional distress reactions to separation in puppies J. Genet. Psychol (1961)
  • Puppy’s First Steps: The Whole-Dog Approach to Raising a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Puppy.
  • Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University: I’ll Never Yell at My Dog Again

If your puppy or dog shows signs of potential aggression (lunging, barking, growling, snapping, biting), please consult with a dog behavior professional for direct in-person guidance. Articles, videos, and general information provided online are not meant to replace in-person training/instruction. By using this service, you are waiving any liability claims or other types of claims related to any of your dogs' behaviors against you or others.

© 2023 Adrienne Farricelli CPDT-KA, Dip.CBST

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