Updated: Nov 14
“If you let your dog sleep on your bed, he might become dominant”.
That’s what I was told when I got my first dog as an adult almost 30 years ago. It sounded foreboding enough that my sheltie puppy was relegated to sleeping in a crate for the first few years of his life.
Fast forward to now, and I have a dog who not only sleeps on the bed with me, but insists that I lift the covers for her so that she can curl up against me. It’s an arrangement that suits both of us since it gets cold in the Wisconsin winter and my more than 100-year-old house doesn’t heat the bedroom well. Best of all, my living heater has yet to try to dominate me!
So, is it wrong to allow your dog to sleep with you? The answer is, as it is with many things, “It depends.”
Why should a dog sleep on your bed?
The American Kennel Club did a survey in 2015 showing that up to 45% of dog owners state their dog sleeps with them in their bed. If that many people allow the dog to co-sleep with them, there must be a benefit.
First of all, curling up next to a dog can enrich the relationship. Some people who love their dog may want to spend as much time with them as possible. This includes the time when both are asleep. I suspect that people who work away from home during the day may particularly feel this as a need to make up for the time they’re separated from their dog.
“Three dog night” is an expression that means that it’s so cold a person needs three dogs to sleep with them to keep them warm. Since a dog’s body temperature is 3 or 4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than ours, they are a fantastic source of heat. I know this firsthand!
Sometimes dogs that are “mostly” housetrained may give off subtle signals that they need to go out that are easy to see if you’re awake and looking for them. But they may not always know that they have to wake you if they have a mid-night need for a potty break. This can also be true of an older dog that can’t hold it as long now that they’re a senior. If they’re sleeping on your bed you’ll be more likely to wake up when they become restless.
Dogs have much better hearing than we do, and are more likely to alert to sounds that are unusual. Having your dog sleep with you means you have a furry alarm system should there be an emergency situation such as a burglar, fire or weather situation such as a tornado. Dogs can definitely give a feeling of safety and security.
There is a lot of research on how petting and cuddling with dogs lowers blood pressure and heart rate, relaxes muscle tension and reduces stress and anxiety. Spending a few minutes with your dog just before you turn over to go to sleep may help you fall asleep faster.
Reasons to not allow your dog to sleep on your bed
Despite the fact that Whimsy sleeps under the covers with me, I acknowledge there are some great reasons why you may not want to have your dog on your bed. Additionally, there are also some situations where you should not have the dog on your bed, even if you’d like them to be there.
There are dogs that tend to resource guard the bed from their owner or owners. I’ve heard many stories about someone getting up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, only to return to the bedroom to find their dog growling at them and refusing to allow them to go back to bed.
If a dog is practicing this behavior, they absolutely need to lose the privilege of sleeping with you. This would be a great time to crate the dog at night. I would also urge an owner experiencing this issue to contact a qualified professional to work with, as the dog is most likely guarding things other than the bed.
Some dogs are bed hogs. As a matter of fact, my other dog, Quinn, is crated at night because he tends to sprawl out on the bed and doesn’t leave me enough room to be comfortable. Quinn doesn’t guard the bed, but at 60lbs he’s difficult to physically move. And while he will move over if asked, at some point in the night he’ll migrate back to sprawling again. I don’t like only getting 15 inches of my queen-sized bed for myself.
Some dogs may disrupt their owner’s sleep. In addition to being a bed hog, dogs may be restless sleepers, or might alternate between the bed and another sleeping spot throughout the night. If your dog’s activity is preventing you from getting a good night’s sleep, then it may be time to make other arrangements for your dog’s sleeping arrangement.
If you have a toy breed, you may not want to have your dog sleep with you for the safety of the dog. Although rare, there have been cases of owners rolling over on their tiny dogs in their sleep and severely injuring the dog. If you’re an under the covers sleeper and tend to stay there, you may be able to allow your dog to sleep on top of the covers safely.
Another thing to remember is that when a dog sleeps on the bed, the bedding will become dirty faster than if it’s just humans occupying it. Not only will there be hair shed, but dirt can transfer from your dog’s feet and body onto your bedding.
If you are married or have a partner, one of you might be averse to having the dog share your bed for any of the reason’s stated above. If you want to have your dog sleep with you despite the wishes of your other half, you’ll need to seriously consider if this is worth risking a conflict in your relationship.
Dog separation anxiety and sleeping in the bed
There isn’t any research showing that allowing a dog to sleep in their owner’s bed will cause separation anxiety. And if you think about the fact that 45% of dogs sleep in their owner’s bed, but it’s estimated that only 17% of dogs suffer from separation anxiety, that alone should rule out co-sleeping as a cause.
Should a puppy sleep in your bed?
Puppies shouldn’t be allowed to sleep with you in your bed initially. The reason for this is that a puppy that isn’t yet housetrained may have an accident on your bed. Additionally young puppies don’t have good coordination, nor do they always understand the distance between the bed and the floor. A puppy may very well fall off the bed, or attempt to jump and become injured.
Unless your puppy has anxiety with being crated, they should be crated at night. The crate preferably should be in your room since a young puppy going through housetraining may need to potty in the middle of the night and it’s easier to hear them if they’re with you. Additionally, a puppy will be used to sleeping with their littermates, and requiring a puppy to sleep in isolation may be extremely distressing.
How do you stop a dog sleeping on your bed?
It’s easier to keep your dog from sleeping on your bed if that’s been the rule from day one. It’s much harder to change an existing habit!
So, your dog has been sleeping on your bed for sometime now, you’ve decided it isn’t working out, and now you’d like for them to sleep elsewhere. New rules can be a difficult adjustment, so try to make the transition as easy as possible for your dog.
The first thing to do is to decide where you would like your dog to sleep. Will it be in your bedroom? In a crate? On the floor? Or in another part of the house? Once you’ve made this decision it’s time to get your dog to love the new location during waking hours. Don’t implement the new rules until you see your dog able to relax in the new sleeping area during the day.
If the new rules involve your dog being crated, make sure your dog is content in the crate. If being crated is new to your dog, or if it’s been some time since your dog has been crated, use the same methods you would to train a puppy to feel comfortable in a crate for housetraining purposes.
If you’d like your dog to sleep in your room, but not confined, make sure your dog has a bed just as comfortable as yours. I’ve found crib mattresses work well for many medium and large dogs. During waking hours, you can do the same training as you would to get your dog to settle on a mat. Heavily reinforcing your dog to relax on their new bed will make it more likely your dog will choose that as their place to sleep.
When you first start the new sleeping plan it would be helpful to tire your dog out earlier that day with activities that wear them out, such as exercise or training. A tired dog is less likely to protest as the new rules.
If your dog is going to be loose in your bedroom, they most likely will persist in getting on your bed as usual. You can set up obstacles to prevent your dog from being able to get on your bed. Even easier would be to fence your dog in their sleeping area with something like an exercise pen. After your dog gets used to the new sleeping arrangements you should be able to go back to your regular bedroom arrangement.
There are benefits to allowing your dog to sleep on your bed. If you want your dog to sleep on your bed and the dog isn’t causing any problems, then there isn’t any reason for you and your dog not to co-sleep.
There may be good reasons as to why you shouldn’t or don’t want your dog to sleep with you such as guarding the bed, or just disrupting your sleep.
Whatever you decide, make sure your dog is comfortable with the sleeping arrangements and isn’t being stressed by them.
I also offer in-person training within a 30 minute drive of Ixonia, WI.
I would love to work with you and your dog!