In my 16 plus years’ experience as a dog trainer and behavior consultant, there’s a hot topic that pet parents often ask me about: “Do you think it’s okay to let dogs sleep in bed with you?”
My answer? “It depends.” When deciding what’s best for you and your inquisitive canine, some considerations include:
- Age of the dog:
- Size of the dog(s): A couple sleeping in a queen size bed with a Great Dane might not have enough room — and it might get too warm! Whereas, this same couple with a Yorkie could be comfortable. Take into account the size of the bed, number of people and number of dogs — everyone needs their own space.
- Cleanliness: Guardians might need to also think about keeping up with grooming if their dogs sleep in the bed all the time. Shedding, sand, dirt, the scent of the dead critter they rolled in at the dog park, can all end up in your bed. This might be bothersome to some folks but not to others. If my dog just spent time at the beach and rolled in a pile of dirty seaweed, then I’d want him to have a bath before joining me in our bed. But, I also want my husband to shower before coming to bed if he just played tennis! At the end of the day, keeping a dog clean and well-groomed is important, no matter where he or she is sleeping.
- Breed of dog: If your pup snores and having her sleep with you will ruin your sleep, then you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons. The brachycephalic breed dogs tend to snore more, compared to dogs with longer muzzles. For some humans this might be irritating. But for others, they might appreciate that their dog is sound asleep, happy, and content. Oh, and it goes the other way around too. Some humans snore, which can irritate the dog! You might find dogs leaving their humans to find a quieter place to snooze.
I’ve also noticed some folks are concerned that this sleeping arrangement risks spoiling their inquisitive canines. Since May is National Pet Month, a “great excuse to spoil your pet,” let’s take a minute to explore this concern. First let’s start with the definition of spoiling. The Oxford dictionary defines spoil (in this context) as, “harm the character of someone (especially a child) by being too lenient or indulgent.” It’s no wonder spoiling has such a negative connotation.
Now, let’s think about our pets. Dogs do so much for us. They take care of our emotional needs, and often our physical needs (hey, get off the couch and go for a walk in the sunshine!). They’re nonjudgmental, listen to us when we need an unbiased ear, snuggle when we need comforting, do something silly when we need a laugh, and embrace the true definition of unconditional love. Why the heck wouldn’t we want to bend over backwards for them 24/7!? Although there might not be any scientific evidence, I’d venture to say that being indulgent — buying every toy and treat we can get our hands on — and lenient — go ahead, roll in the stinky mud — is only going to help strengthen the bond, not damage the dog’s character. So, if sleeping in the same bed is something pet parents want, go for it! There shouldn’t be a problem as long as all parties (pups too!) are on board with the arrangements and can get good quality sleep.
That said, there is a training consideration to keep in mind. Dogs learn and understand routines. If your dog only sleeps in your bed, he might get confused or anxious if you request a change in routine – for instance after him having too much outdoor fun that day and not getting a bath. It’s best to teach dogs that they can feel comfortable sleeping in a variety of places. Even if guardians would like their dogs to sleep in bed with them most of the time, one way to minimize confusion is to teach your dog to sleep on a special towel or blanket. This way, if that special item is on the human’s bed, then the pup is allowed on the bed. If the blanket or towel is on the dog’s own bed (or floor, or couch), then that is where he sleeps. (This is an example of something called “targeting” — as well as a discriminative stimulus.)
And yes, in case you’re wondering, we’ve always had our dogs sleep in our bed — because we wanted them to. But, if we’re restless or get up in the middle of the night, sometimes our dog will go seek his own bed, so he can get some rest. I recall the first time this happened. Poncho had had enough of us and went off to find his dog bed. My husband said, “It’s like he moved out and got his own apartment!” We laughed — and felt a little sad too.
Your dog is your family member. Who is to say you should or shouldn’t allow your dog to sleep in the bed with you? As long as the human(s) and dog(s) are comfortable with one another and comfortable with sharing sleeping space, go ahead and enjoy the snuggles and quality bonding time.
Here’s wishing you and your inquisitive canine sweet dreams wherever you rest your heads…and paws.