With so many new puppy owners coming to classes in the last year, I found that this is a question that pops up often and funnily enough, I also see the owners cringe when they ask me because they think I am going to tell them off. Yep! We are talking about dogs sleeping in human beds and in this blog we are going to dispel some myths about it which might put your mind at ease if you do happen to share your bed with your dog.
History shows that sleeping with dogs actually goes back a long way. In fact, since the time dogs became domesticated, they have shared bed space with the humans. In most countries in Europe, it is regarded as normal to have dogs sleep in their owners beds and in more ancient time, dogs were put in the beds of children to keep them warm during harsh winters.
So why am I explaining this? Because for thousands of years, humans have been sleeping with their pets and it really isn’t as bad as it has been made out to be in more recent times!
Traditional trainers believe a dog needs to be dominated in order to respect you and sadly when this methodology was born decades ago, so did the taboo about letting the dogs sleep with the human. This is because when the dominance theory surfaced, people were told that if their dog slept on their bed, the dog would then take over their house and the dog would become disrespectful and aggressive so naturally, fear crept in. Unfortunately these kind of old tales still get around now and I still hear people ask me if having their dog in their bed will cause such problems because they believe the dog will then become dominant. Yet at the same time, they cringe because deep down they would love to have their dog in their bed and they want to hear it is okay.
The word ‘dominant’, means ‘to have power and influence over others’. I have yet to see a dog that overpowers a person or has the ability to influence such a intelligent being. We have to accept it; dogs are smart but not as smart as humans and their intention is not world domination but instead the yearning for love and attention and they will do whatever it takes to get that. This is where the ‘dominant dog’ is often misinterpreted because really all that dog is doing is pushing for attention and interaction. Yes it might be pushy but it is also desperate and if being pushy works, then it is also being reinforced!
Modern day, force free trainers like myself and many of my colleagues know that the dominance theory has since been dispelled and laid to rest and we now know that a good balance between independence, a strong human animal bond, clear structure and predictability is what creates a happy and respectful dog. Allowing your dog to sleep on your bed is not going to create a monster.
So let’s get back to the bed issue. Is it such a bad thing to let your dog sleep in bed with you?? Not at all but it does come with some small side effects listed below.
- You end up with hair and dirt in your bed and you need to clean the sheets more often! (Labrador owners all agree here!)
- You often run out of room or find yourself with a dog on your head.(Great Dane owners all agree here!)
- Sleep might be a bit disturbed because of snoring and farting and general dog noises.(Hands up for all those short nosed breeds like Pugs, Cavaliers and Bulldogs!)
- You are potentially setting your dog up to become over attached as it does not learn how to sleep on its own.(Hmmm, very possible with certain breeds like Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Poodles, Dachshunds and the likes).
- Your dog may find it hard to make changes later on because sleeping in your bed is nice! Think about changes like a baby, a new partner, a new home, new dog, new house. (No dog likes to be kicked out of its bedroom, doonas are awesome as is sleeping with the human littermates!)
- Some dogs guard the bed as they believe it is a highly valued resource.(These are the greedy ones who want more and more and can never have enough).
Are any of those issues listed about dominance?? Not at all. If anything you run the risk of turning your dog into one big mushy baby who just wants to sleep on your bed all day and all night and this is not healthy either so we do need to find that nice balance.
So the first point refers to hair and dirt and maybe even a flea or two but really it is the least of your worries. If dog hair does not bother you then there is no reason why you cannot sleep with your dog. Just remember to air the bed out more often and wash the sheets more often and be prepared to have an occasional pillow fall victim to your dog when it is a tad bored. You will also need to consider the needs of your partner if they have allergies to dog hair so this is something to remember.
The second point refers to the space you have in your bed and whilst this might not an issue if you own a Chihuahua, it might be a problem if you own a Rottweiler or Great Dane. So you do need to consider bed space especially if you have a partner and if you find you are running out of room because your pup is becoming a giant, then you might need to upsize the bed or transition your dog to its own bed! It might be cute while it is small and cuddly but things change rapidly when you have a giant breed in the bed. And for those of you with multiples, such as more than one dog and a cat thrown in the mix as well, well you can imagine how little space is left when they are sprawled out. If you are happy to share, then share away!
The third point refers to the noise during the night and yep, dogs make lots of noise, much like people. They fart noxious gases into your bedroom and they snore to the point where your walls vibrate, especially the more snub nosed breeds like Pugs, Boxers and Bulldogs. Dogs also have shorter sleep cycles compared to humans so every 15-20 minutes they stir and move and reposition. This means if you are a light sleeper, you might notice every shift. So you need to consider whether the smell or noise is going to upset your sleep cycle and this can work both ways where your dog might be disturbed by humans noises, gases and movements so ensure everyone is getting a good sleep!
The fourth and fifth point refers to over attaching and I often suggest to puppy owners that for the first 6 months, they should encourage the pup to sleep on its own in a crate, kennel or mat in another room, so it can put itself to bed and not rely on company to soothe it to sleep. Initially this is not easy as the pup would have come from a litter where siblings were abutted on either side to keep it snug. Sleeping on its own is not quite natural for a dog however at some point the dog needs to learn. By reinforcing independence, there is a much lower risk of developing separation anxiety disorders later on. It also mean that if you then choose to invite your older dog into your bed, it will very likely enjoy the opportunity and privilege but it will also cope being in its own bed. Teaching your dog to sleep on its own helps with lifestyle changes such as a new partner or a new baby. These are common reasons as to why dogs get the boot from the bedroom and they can find this move very difficult and sometimes even traumatising so before you commit to letting your dog sleep in your bed for the next 15 years, you need to consider whether the future may change and how it might impact the dog. If you are sure you do not envisage the dog sleeping in your bed all its life, then transitioning it to sleep on its own as early as possible is recommended.
Lastly, the sixth point refers to guarding of the bed and this is the one that owners often confuse with dominance. Some dogs growl when they have been told to get off the bed and this isn’t because they are dominant but instead because they regard the bed to be a very safe and secure, valued resource and they feel they need to guard it in order to not lose it and quite often these are also anxious dogs. Sometimes the dog will guard a particular person in the bed and prevents partners from getting near each other. Again this is not dominance but instead the dog finding it difficult to cope when it has to share its special person. If dogs are guarding beds then this is where very clear rules and guidelines need to be put place so the dog is reinforced for sharing, for coming off the bed when asked to, for going to its own bed and for respecting the owner’s space and sometimes the bedroom just has to be off limits to reduce and avoid conflict.
For owners of multiple dogs, sometimes one dog out of the group wants the bed all to itself and doesn’t allow others to come up or the dog makes the others feel very uncomfortable getting up. If this type of conflict occurs on the human bed, I would then suggest all dogs are to be off the bed and out of the bedroom. There is nothing worse than squabbling dogs in the middle of the night so for me it would be a ‘you are all out’ solution. A few months later you can trial it again as the dogs may have then settled but if it starts up again, then out they go.
If you don’t want the dog to sleep in your bed, does that make you a bad parent?
Not at all and it really is a personal choice. Not all dog owners feel comfortable with dogs in their bed and for whatever reasons you have, there is no right and wrong. Some parents co-sleep with their children whilst others put newborn babies immediately in a cot in their own room and this is very much the same. Some people like their dogs to come into the bed for morning cuddles or night time cuddles only, others like to have them sleep on the bed just for a nap, then there are owners who prefer the dog sleeps outside in its own kennel or in a crate or out of the bedroom and finally there are the owners who go to the trouble of tucking the furry kids into bed with them. At the end of the day it is your choice but at least you now have the myths and facts laid out for you.
What about dogs in childrens’ bedrooms?
This is contentious because whilst it is cute seeing dogs sleep in the kid’s bedroom, there are also risks. Parents cannot often see or supervise what they are getting up to and then there are the hazards such as kids toys and kid stuff. Many years ago I ran a puppy class and in one lesson a puppy turned up in the second week with a cast on its front leg. When I asked what happened, the mother then said her children were playing in their bedroom while getting ready for bed with their pup and decided they wanted to see if it could fly off the bunk bed! These children were under 5 and clearly not able to rationally think that through properly and yep, the pup did not fly, it broke! Had this pup been prohibited from their bedroom altogether, it would not have been injured. In another situation, I had another puppy from another class who slept with the daughter and he suddenly became ill and developed a bowel blockage. It turned out this pup had a fetish for socks, Barbie doll heads and whatever else he could grab and it wasn’t until days later, when the pup stopped eating, that they realised he was really sick and had to have emergency surgery for a bowel blockage. So again, the hazards are just too high.
Then with the teenagers we have phone cables, laptops, phones, computers, books and homework, (Oh hang on that bit they want chewed up), CD’s, headphones and pricier shoes and clothing not to mention the chance of a messier room with tantalising socks and tissues everywhere. This would be a chewing dog’s version of a lolly shop! Even if the dog was only in that room to sleep, there are still too many things that can go wrong leading up to sleep time. If you have a rather sensible dog that does just go to sleep rather than forage for ‘goodies’, then sleeping with a teen could work but if you have a young and ‘into anything’ type dog still, then sleeping in the bedroom might become a problem. In this case give the young dog a few more months to get over the chewing stage and then give it another go.
Hopefully now you will feel relieved, knowing that if your dog sleeps in your own bed with you, there is nothing wrong with that decision. Your dog will have no intention of taking over your bedroom or house but it might snore, fart and drop fur on your sheets. Your dog will love the company of its pyjama clad littermate/s but it can run the risk of over attaching, becoming dependent on that constant warmth. Do your best to find the right balance so that either way your dog can cope being on its own and can make the changes when necessary yet still enjoy lying under your doona when it gets the chance!
If you enjoyed this blog and do happen to be a bed sharer, upload a photo of your dog in your bed to my Facebook page