labradoodle sleeping in a crate or playpen

Help! My Puppy Cries In The Playpen

Many new puppies become very upset when left in a playpen. Fortunately it doesn’t have to be that way, and you can teach your puppy to relax quietly, when left alone for a while. In “My Puppy Cries In The Playpen” we are going to look at why some puppies cry so much, especially when left in a crate or pen. And we’ll look at what you can do to help them.

We’ll give you the information you need to restore the peace in your home, and teach your puppy to wait quietly in their pen.

We’ll look at the causes of crying first. Both in very new puppies, and puppies that are a little bit older. And then we’ll give you a detailed guide to teaching a puppy not to cry in their playpen or crate.

Why Is My Puppy Crying?

There are five main reasons that any puppy might cry.

  • Full bladder
  • Hunger/thirst
  • Pain
  • Learned crying
  • Fear

However, we can eliminate a few of these for very new puppies at around eight or nine weeks old.

Full bladder

New puppies are unlikely to cry for long when they have a full bladder. That’s because they don’t have much bladder control.

In a small crate, a new puppy will try to hold on briefly. That’s why crate training that uses short spells of carefully planned crate time, can help with potty training. But if an 8 week old puppy’s bladder is really full, they will fuss for a minute or two, then they will be unable to hold on any longer and simply will wet their bed.

In a playpen, a puppy that can get away from their bed or sleeping area will just pee wherever they happen to be. And probably won’t cry at all, though some puppies do cry just before they poop. If your puppy does this, the crying will stop after the poop has arrived! So a full bladder or needing to poop is not likely to be the cause of prolonged crying in a new puppy in a pen or crate.

Hunger / thirst

A puppy that is growing well, gaining weight and has four to five meals spread out across the day is not going to be crying with hunger. Even if they seem very hungry at mealtimes and eat their food very quickly. Puppies are used to eating quickly to make sure their brothers and sisters don’t take their food. And often carry on doing this even when there is no longer any competition at mealtimes.

And provided you leave water down where the puppy can easily access it throughout the day (you don’t need to leave water down at night) your puppy won’t be crying with thirst.

Pain

Unlike adult dogs, puppies let you know in no uncertain terms if they are in pain. If your puppy was romping happily around the room before you put them in a playpen, and starts crying as soon as you place them in the pen. Pain is unlikely to be the cause of the crying. That leaves us with learned crying, and fear crying to consider.

Learned Crying

Older puppies that have previously been released frequently from their playpen or crate when they are crying, may cry very persistently when put back in there. That’s because they’ve learned that crying gets them their freedom.

Eight week old puppies that have just left home are unlikely to have got into the habit of crying, and so we are left with the root cause of crying in newly adopted puppies: most puppies that are crying when they have recently arrived in your home, are doing so because they are afraid.

Puppy Cries In Playpen: The Cause

Most new puppy crying – especially in the first week, is caused by fear. “But wait” you say “we are lovely kind people and have made our puppy very welcome and bought them everything they could possible need!”

Don’t worry, this isn’t your fault. It’s just a natural consequence of leaving their brothers and sisters, and familiar home behind them. And with the right approach this is a short lived problem.

Moving House Is Scary For Puppies

No matter how confident your puppy is, or how lovely you and your home are, moving to a new home is a scary time for every new puppy. They don’t know what is going on. They have no idea how to get home or if that’s even possible It’s all a complete shock and they have suddenly lost everything and everyone they ever knew.

Many people aren’t aware of how scary a new place can be for a small puppy. They bring their puppy home and the puppy seems very happy and confident, and friendly. Sooner or later the family drift off to do their own thing. And you need to pop upstairs, or maybe collect the kids from school so you place the puppy in its playpen, or crate, for safety. And within minutes all hell is let loose! The puppy howls and screams, and scrabbles at the bars, and everyone comes rushing to comfort them.

What just happened? Well you just broke the ‘proximity’ rule. Let’s take a closer look

The Proximity Rule

Fear is a natural reaction to being re-homed and usually settles down quite quickly in small puppies, but those first few days they will need lots of support from their new family. Fortunately, new puppies instinctively trust the grown-ups around them. Even if they are strangers.

This instinctive trust is closely linked with an alarm system that the puppy sets off, if the proximity of its trusted grown up is reduced. As you’ve probably discovered the ‘puppy alarm system’ can rival most professional security alarms for volume.

The proximity rule says the puppy needs to be within just a few feet of those important grown ups. That’s their proximity zone. You can see the value of this instinct in wild dogs, where puppies are easy prey for predators if their grown ups are not close by.

The Trust Period

This ‘trust’ period is a very special time and helps all puppies socialise with their extended family. It means that if you keep your puppy very close to you for the first few days, until their surroundings become familiar, they will be able to relax and feel safe.

All you have to do is be calm and gentle around your puppy, avoid any sudden and scary experiences, and your puppy will feel completely safe in your arms, or where they can easily see, hear, touch, and smell you.

But if you step outside the proximity zone, the puppy will panic. And the size of that proximity zone varies from one puppy to another depending on their temperament, their age, and the familiarity of their surroundings.

Will My Puppy Stop Crying If I Ignore Her?

Whether a puppy will stop crying quite quickly if you ignore them, depends on a lot of factors. Including their personality, how familiar their surroundings are to them, and on whether or not they have learned that crying gets them released from their playpen or crate.

A dog that’s crying through fear is unlikely to just stop if they are ignored, because the cause of their crying is hasn’t gone away. It’s true that if you don’t respond to a puppy’s cries at all, then eventually the give up in the belief that no-one cares, and no-one is coming. In times gone by this was the recommended method because people were afraid that crying would become a habit.

However, a much bigger problem can arise if a young puppy is left to cry in a playpen or crate without being taught that the playpen is a safe and happy place. That problem is a transference of fear.

Transference Of Fear

When you place a new puppy in a playpen and walk out of their proximity zone they panic. Now in normal circumstances the proximity zone gets bigger and bigger. And puppies quickly grow out of being afraid when you are not near them.

The problem is, if you repeatedly place the puppy in a playpen and then trigger this powerful fear of being left. The playpen itself becomes a place of fear. The puppy is conditioned to be afraid of the pen. And will now panic, simply because you have placed them in there. This can be a real problem that escalates and contributes to separation anxiety. And because the puppy will become increasingly resistant to going anywhere near the pen.

This is obviously not want we want to happen. Our objective with young puppies is to raise a puppy that is confident and happy to be left alone. And for that reason, leaving young puppies to cry it out in a playpen is not a great idea.

Not all puppies will react this way. Some are very relaxed about being left from the start. It does depend to some extent on your dog’s temperament. But fear reactions to being penned are very common and can make it really difficult for you to use a playpen or crate going forwards.

Should I Ditch The Playpen?

So we’ve said that puppies that are regularly released from a pen when they cry may learn to cry to get there own way. And we’ve also said that puppies should not be left to cry in a pen. So how does that work in practice? Should you ditch the pen altogether?

The answer is no. There is no need to give up on the playpen. In fact playpens and crates are really useful tools if used cleverly. This is about you being Playpen Smart, rather than Playpen Free.

So let’s talk about how to get your puppy to love their playpen and leave all that screaming behind. It’s all about creating Happy Places and teaching alone time, in easy stages.

Happy Places – First Puppy Game

The very first game we play with our new puppies, starting on the day we bring them home, is Happy Places. The game starts even before you collect your puppy.

Before you set off, set up your puppy crate or playpen in your kitchen. Leave your crate or playpen door open so that the puppy will be easily able to get in and out, and sprinkle some puppy food inside.

Then when you arrive home with your puppy they will find food there as they explore their new home. Remember to confine a new puppy to one room at first so that they can thoroughly explore that and settle in there. And each time they wander away from their playpen, without the puppy seeing you do so, scatter a few more treats inside the pen.

Make sure there is a cosy place for your puppy to sleep inside the playpen and gradually focus your food scattering in and around this place. Don’t shut the puppy in the playpen yet! That comes when your puppy has adjusted to the dramatic change that has just taken place in their life.

Helping Your Puppy Adjust – The First Few Days

When you bring your puppy home, it’s important to do your best to stay close to them around the clock. That may sound like a tall order. But it’s only for very short time.

Taking the puppy to the bathroom with you or persuading a friend to cuddle your puppy while you take a shower won’t be forever. And it will really kick start your friendship with your puppy. Rather than making your puppy more dependent on you, keeping your puppy very close for a few days will give your puppy confidence and make them bolder. Your puppy’s proximity zone will grow fast and they will soon feel safe in your home.

For the first few nights, have a travel crate, pen or sturdy box next to your bed and put your puppy inside it to sleep. If you get this right, by the end of the first week, the chances are, your puppy will be sleeping quietly at night, with maybe just one bathroom break. And taking naps happily in their playpen during the day.

If that ship has sailed for you and your puppy, and your are past the first week or two don’t panic. The techniques we use for teaching puppies to be happy in their crate can be started at any age. It will take you longer if your puppy has already developed some fear of the playpen. But in every case, the first step is to play the Happy Places game until your puppy is entering the playpen of their own free will and is relaxed about being in there. To achieve this you’ll need to use plenty of food.

Puppy Games & Puppy Food

Well designed puppy games will give you a huge head start with your puppy. They build confidence and help you bond closely with your puppy. You can find out more about puppy games over at the Dogsnet Training website, but at the heart of the puppy games approach lies the clever use of your puppy’s food.

If you are trying to overcome an established problem, you’ll need to use more food than if you are starting from scratch with a puppy that’s never been shut in a pen and left alone. It’s fine to use your puppy’s entire daily food allowance (spread out over the course of the day) to achieve the result you want.

You don’t need to buy or feed special treats for the Happy Place game, or for any other puppy game, you can use kibble from your puppy’s own food allowance. In fact it’s important that you do so as puppy kibble is a complete food and will provide your puppy with a balanced diet.

Being playpen smart is not just about making the playpen a Happy Place though. It’s also about building playpen time up gradually. Because being happy in the pen is just the beginning. The next step is to teach your puppy that the pen door can be closed and they won’t come to any harm.

Shutting The Puppy In A Playpen – The Right Way

One of the most common mistakes new puppy parents make is to try to teach a puppy to go into a crate and stay there quietly, at the same time as teaching the puppy to relax about being left alone. These are two very different things.

Teaching a puppy that it’s okay to be shut in a playpen, or a crate, should not be done at the same time as teaching a puppy to be left alone. Otherwise you are simply doubling up the stress for your puppy and scuppering your own chances of success.

What you need to do is sit next to the pen while your puppy gets used to being shut in there. So you’ll need a book or cell phone to amuse yourself with. Place a chair next to the pen, and have your book etc to hand. Start by sitting next to the pen, drop some food inside, and when your puppy goes in to eat it, close the pen, then immediately open it again. Give your puppy some more food inside the pen, and repeat.

After lots of practice opening and shutting the pen, you can start to wait a couple of seconds between closing the door and opening it again. Gradually add a few seconds at a time, until you are leaving the puppy for ten seconds or so. At this point you can start to sit on your chair for a few seconds before opening the door again.

Training The Puppy To Accept Being Penned

You can see where we are going here! Now you can start to build up the time that the puppy is left in the pen, put the puppy in there, sit on your chair next to the crate and drop pieces of food into the crate to reward the puppy for being quiet and calm.

If the puppy starts to cry, pick up your book or cell, and occupy yourself. Ignore the puppy completely. The puppy won’t be scared because you are sitting right next to them.

When they stop crying, start dropping food into the pen again. If they cry, ignore them again. Practice regularly until the puppy will relax quietly in their pen for ten minutes or so with you sitting next to them. When you’ve practiced this for a few days, you can start to teach the puppy to be left on their own.

Teaching A Puppy To Be Alone

All dogs need to get used to spending some time by themselves, but it doesn’t come naturally to them. Puppies are likely to cry if they are left alone for too long too soon. So start small and build on your successes. To begin with don’t go out of sight. Move away from the pen, walk around the room and return to the pen. Feed the puppy before you step away, return and feed at intervals if they are quiet. Going out of sight is the next step.

Every time you have to leave the room, drop some kibble behind you for them to munch on. We call this game Sweet Goodbyes. This game will both distract the puppy and show them that you leaving the room momentarily is a good thing.

Remember to take playpen or crate training in small, steady steps. Start by going out of sight for just seconds with the door open. Move on in steps to closing the door and spending longer periods of time away from the puppy.

And continue to make sure there is often a fun or tasty surprise waiting for them when they voluntarily go into their pen or crate during the day.

Labradoodles Need Company

Like their Labrador parent, most Labradoodles are very sociable dogs. They crave and love human company and learning to be happy and relaxed alone for a while takes a little time and patience.

It’s good to start this training when your puppy is very young. And to keep your very young puppy safe when you leave the house for short periods, placing the puppy in a secure playpen or crate is a good idea.

Provided that you take it in slow gentle steps in the way we describe above, your puppy will soon accept being left in a playpen but it’s important to recognize that this training will only be successful if the use of a playpen is moderated.

Remember that young puppies should not be left alone all day in an empty house, they need company and care for these important early weeks.

Helping Your Crying Puppy

Most new puppy crying, especially in the first week, is caused by fear. After that, much puppy crying is ‘learned crying’. In other words, the puppy has learned that crying gets results. Or beccause the puppy has developed a fear of the playpen itself.

You can avoid learned crying and transferred fear crying entirely, by keeping the puppy close to you until homesickness subsides, and by introducing your puppy to crates and playpens in structured stages.

Don’t worry if you messed up the first week or two by accident, you just need to take a step back, return to very short and rewarding periods in the playpen, while you stay close to the puppy, then gradually increase the time and distance you leave for, as your puppy adjusts to being left alone.

Slowly and carefully over a few days, most puppies can be gently taught that there is no need to cry in the playpen. And to trust that they are safe there and that you will always return within a reasonable time.

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Help! My Puppy Cries In Playpens was written by best selling author and puppy expert, Pippa Mattinson.

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