Why Dogs Bark at 3AM, and How to Stop Them

You may hear dogs bark at 3 a.m. simply because you’re awake at this time, or have noticed the pattern and are keyed into it. Other possibilities are animals or people outside causing the dog to bark, they’re having a nightmare, lack training, or have needs such as to pee, exercise, or eat.

In this article, I’ll talk more about why dogs bark at 3 a.m. and how to stop your dog from barking at this time.


You’re up at 3 AM to Hear Them

If you always hear dogs barking at 3 a.m., it’s possible that they’re are barking more than this. It’s just that, at 3 o’clock, you’re tuned in and more likely to hear it.

Once our brain notices a pattern, like our neighbor’s dog barking at a specific time, we’re more likely to notice it in the future. You might wake up at 3 a.m. even though the dog’s been barking since 2 o’clock.

It’s kind of like noticing strings of numbers like 11:11 or 777. Or when your friend buys a new car and you suddenly notice the same model on the road, in parking lots, and parked in your neighbors’ driveways. The cars have always been there—your brain is just primed to notice them now.

Alternatively, you may naturally wake up in the middle of the night at 3 o’clock. I’ve noticed that I wake up around four hours after I fall asleep, then typically go back to sleep for about four hours longer—for some reason, it’s just how my sleep cycle works.

Of course, if you’re already up, then you’re more likely to hear dogs than if you were sleeping at the time.

Lastly, the dogs might actually have a reason to bark at 3 a.m. specifically. I’ll talk more about potential causes for this below.


It’s Quiet at 3 AM—Barking Dogs are Easier to Hear

First, let’s get into another reason you might notice barking dogs at 3 a.m. as opposed to another time.

It’s typically very quiet in the early hours of the morning.

Most of the neighbors are asleep, there isn’t much traffic on the road, and you’re bound to hear things you wouldn’t normally—such as your neighbor’s dog barking, when you didn’t notice them doing so during the day.

In the middle of the night, I sometimes faintly hear a train on the tracks quite a ways from my house. During the day, I never hear it—the neighbors, their dogs, and traffic create too many other sounds for it to be noticeable.

Maybe the dogs you hear live down the street, far enough that you don’t notice them barking until it’s near-silent outside.


They Hear or See Something Outside

If your dog or a neighbor’s dog is barking at 3 a.m., they likely hear something outside.

This could be something very noticeable, like a neighbor who leaves for work at 3 a.m. each night.

It could also be something like a stray cat or other animal outside. Remember, dogs’ night vision is stronger than ours.

They also hear things we cannot. This includes pitches that are inaudible to us as well as far-away sounds.  

If you think nothing’s outside to bark at, you’re probably wrong!

For example, one time my cats were crowded around the glass door, watching something outside. They were also jumping up on the window and chattering like they do at birds and squirrels during the day.

When I moved the curtain to see what they were watching, I didn’t see a thing. My dog jumped forward barking, and I was still so confused.

Then an automatic light turned on in our yard, because the raccoon had moved toward it—and I could finally see that’s what had made my pets go wild!

It was so faint to me in the darkness, even with the extra light. But my dog had spotted it right away.

If your dog is barking at things outside and constantly waking you up, try blocking the windows. Blinds or curtains might work, but if your dog’s like mine and just moves them to the side, try physically blocking their way.

One way to do this is to lock them in a room with windows that don’t look out to what they’re barking at (such as facing the back of the house instead of the street) or crate training your dog at night.


Your Dog Needs to go Potty

Some dogs can’t hold their bladders all night. Maybe they’re too young, have a medical issue, are struggling to hold it as they get older, or just have a small bladder!

It’s annoying for us, because we expect to be able to get a full night’s sleep, especially once our dogs are full-grown. But it’s not fair to make them hold it.

It’s also not healthy for them!

If your dog is always waking you up barking at 3 a.m., try taking them for a potty break and see if that calms them down.

The good news is, if this works, you’ve found your solution! The bad news is that you should start waking up a little before 3 a.m. to take your dog outside each night. This will stop them from barking.


They Need more Exercise Throughout the Day

Just like people, it’s difficult for dogs to sleep if they haven’t done anything all day. They need regular exercise and activity in their lives.

Otherwise, they’re more likely to wake up in the middle of the night and become bored.

Although most dogs wake up multiple times a night, they usually stay quiet due to training and because they’re not feeling super hyper.

Dogs who don’t get enough exercise throughout the day might decide that 3 a.m. is the time they want to run, play, and bark.

It’s difficult to say how much exercise your dog needs without knowing their age, breed, and personality.

Puppies tend to need shorter bursts of activity, while adult dogs can endure longer walks, runs, hikes, or other forms of exercise. As dogs get older, they tend to slow down and need less activity—but still benefit from regular exercise each day.

Some dog breeds are very active and need to be on-the-go almost constantly, while others are content to take a quick walk and laze around the house the rest of the day.

It’s important to keep your dog’s breed in mind when it comes to exercise because it may limit their abilities.

For instance, long-backed dogs with short legs like Dachshunds or Corgis shouldn’t climb stairs or jump from furniture.

Short-muzzled, or brachycephalic, breeds are more prone to heat stroke and breathing difficulties. They shouldn’t be put through strenuous exercise—especially in hot weather.

It’s also important to know if your dog is an extremely active breed so that you can give them the exercise they need to stay healthy.

Lastly, personality does play a role as well. Some dogs are just more hyperactive, while others are more laid-back and prefer napping to running.

If you’re unsure how much exercise your dog needs, research their age and breed—or a breed similar to theirs, if their breed is unknown or mixed.

You can also ask your veterinarian for advice.


Sometimes Dogs Bark in their Sleep

Your dog might wake you up at 3 a.m. as they’re dreaming, or even having a nightmare. Dogs do dream, and like humans, they might be vocal in their sleep.

I often see my dog’s legs twitching like he’s running somewhere. Sometimes he’ll make little sounds akin to a bark, but much quieter.

If you think your dog is having a nightmare, it can be tempting to wake them up. You can do so if you’d like, but try calling their name rather than getting up close and touching them.

You don’t know what they might be dreaming about, or whether they might snap in what they think is self-defense when you touch them.

Even if your dog never bites, you have to remember they aren’t grounded in reality while they’re asleep! They might bite you before they fully wake up and realize what’s happening.


Your Dog Needs to go to the Veterinarian

If your dog has suddenly started barking at night and you can’t find a cause, bring them to the veterinarian.

Behavioral changes like changes in sleep schedule or barking at seemingly nothing can be a symptom of a health problem. Sometimes they’re the first sign that something’s wrong.

Also talk to your veterinarian about any other symptoms or behavioral changes you’ve noticed recently, and when your dog started barking at 3 a.m.


They’re Hungry

If your dog doesn’t get enough to eat through the day, it might be difficult for them to sleep through the night.

They might wake at 3 a.m. with their tummy rumbling and begin barking for you to get them some food.

If you’re unsure about how much your dog should be eating, consult your veterinarian. Bring your dog’s food or empty packaging with you, or write out the brand and the entire name of the food, including the flavor.

This will help your veterinarian to make specific recommendations.

Of course, a dog on a diet might also feel hungry as they get used to the change. Think about feeding them dinner later at night to see if that helps them sleep better.


Some Breeds Bark More

Some dogs are just more vocal than others! It could be due to their breed or their personality.

Some of the noisiest dog breeds include:

  • Beagles
  • Terriers
  • Miniature Schnauzers
  • Huskies

Scent hounds tend to be vocal, as do watch dog breeds. This is because their job has been, historically, to bark! It’s what they were bred for.

It takes some extra training to get these dogs to be quiet. Though you can’t expect complete silence from them, you can teach them not to bark excessively in the middle of the night—but it’ll take time, patience, and work.

I would begin by making sure your dog’s needs are all met, including their exercise and potty needs. Then, train them to speak on command and to be quiet on command.

This way, you can get them to stop barking at 3 a.m. Just tell them “quiet” and nothing else, no yelling or other attention given!

Over time, your dog will learn that barking at night doesn’t get them attention and will likely stop.

It’ll also help if you can identify the cause of the barking and try to remove it. An example might be if your dog barks out the living room window when your neighbor leaves for work.

Maybe your bedroom windows face the opposite direction, and you can keep your dog in the bedroom with you at night instead of allowing them to roam the house.


Your Dog Wants Attention

Especially if you don’t pay your dog enough attention throughout the day or they’re locked away from you at night, they might be attention-seeking.

Many times, our first instinct to attention-seeking behavior is to blame our dogs—but when you think about it, it’s natural they want attention from us!

We provide them with just about everything they need to survive, and sometimes we’re their only social connection as well.

So first, think about what your dog wants from you. Do you give them enough exercise and attention throughout the day?

Are they used to sleeping outside of your bedroom, or did you just start closing the door recently?

Have you trained your dog to sleep alone at night?

Is it something they really hate doing, and if so, are you willing to bend the rules to make them happier?

If your dog is getting everything they need throughout the day, it’s okay to ignore them at night. If the barking is abnormal, I do recommend just a quick check to ensure they’re okay.

And of course, rule out health problems before you begin to treat barking as a behavioral issue!

I luckily haven’t encountered this problem much with my dog Charlie, but we have had some issues with night time barking.

Every once in a while, he decides he wants something silly, such as to be let into a closed room in the middle of the night. I usually get up, tell him to go to bed, and lie back down.

I’ll then ignore him if he continues barking. If it goes on too long, I might get up and tell him again—he always gives up after the second time.

My dog is already trained to sleep through the night, however, so it might take more time to train your dog if they aren’t.

Though this training is often tiring, time-consuming, and frustrating, the only other option is to give in. Depending on what you give in to, it might lead to your dog barking at 3 a.m. even more often!

Try to be patient with your dog as they learn the rules and stick to positive reinforcement only. Don’t punish your dog or use harsh training methods, even if you’re mad and it’s tempting.


If You’re Gone, they May have Separation Anxiety

Lastly, if you work at night, your dog may bark at 3 a.m. due to separation anxiety. This is a real struggle, especially because you might not have known until the neighbors started complaining.

Separation anxiety is when a dog feels very distressed at being left alone. This might be when you leave the house or even the room!

Symptoms of separation anxiety include:

  • Excessive barking, whimpering, or howling
  • Peeing or pooping indoors
  • Destructive behavior that occurs while you’re away
  • Trying to escape home or confinement such as a crate or room
  • Repetitive behaviors like pacing or excessive licking
  • Excessive drooling or panting

If your dog has separation anxiety, it can be difficult and time-consuming to fix. Ideally, you’d leave for short periods of time and build up to leaving them alone for longer.

However, you have to work! Other things you can try are:

  • Providing your dog a comfortable place to sleep
  • Tiring them out with exercise before you leave
  • Changing up your routine when you leave home
  • Having someone spend time with your dog while you’re away, such as a family member, friend, dog walker, or pet sitter
  • Speaking with your veterinarian for treatment or advice

Hiring a professional dog trainer or behaviorist who uses positive reinforcement techniques

Writer: Katelynn Sobus

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