Does your dog sleep on the bed?

Most people assume that having dogs in the bedroom is bad for the dogs as well as for us.

The fear is that the dogs will develop ‘pack hierarchy’ problems and try to dominate us. For us it isn’t just the dog hairs and the stolen socks, but the potential sleep disruption. Yet the reality is that many of us do let the dogs in the bedroom, so what are the real issues?

According to a study by the Mayo Clinic in 2017 “sleeping with dogs helps some people sleep better ─ no matter if they’re snoozing with a small schnauzer or dozing with a Great Dane. There is one caveat, however, don’t let your canines crawl under the covers with you. The sleep benefit extends only to having dogs in your bedroom ─ not in your bed. According to the study, adults who snuggled up to their pups in bed sacrificed quality sleep.” 

It stands to reason, to me at least, that especially when you first bring a puppy home at just 8 weeks of age, that like all mammals it would sleep as part of the family group and to leave a puppy in a crate to cry all night feels unacceptable for good reasons. It wasn’t so long ago that we were encourage to leaved our human babies to ‘cry it out’ and that if we spared the rod, we’d spoil the child.

But many dog experts support the idea that dogs need to ‘know their place’ and should not be allowed upstairs or in the bedrooms as it can lead to dogs developing ‘dominance’ and other behaviour problems. This is an interesting area and would warrant further study. There may well be a correlation between the two but I’m not sure we can say that one causes the other. 

Dogs have been artificially selected over tens of thousands of years specifically for their abilities to work with us. They have great social skills and now live in mixed species human-dog families. They value their time with us which is often at a premium because of our modern world of work. But compared to their wolf-like ancestors and their closest cousins, the modern wolf, they have lost some of their reasoning and cognitive skills.  In fact, the relationship between a dog and a human is very similar to the relationship between a parent and a two-year-old child. Dogs depends on us to provide leadership, set boundaries and solve problems. We don’t let our dogs decide how much to eat and how much free run they should have when off the lead. They need us to keep them safe.

So, when it comes to sleeping arrangements, if our dog is suffering with anxiety or other behaviour problems, we may well want to provide them with their own safe space. Somewhere quiet in the house, partly shaded, cool, with lots of toys and soft blankets for nesting. We probably do want to make sure that our dogs build a strong positive association to this ‘safe place’ by feeding them and playing with them in that safe place. Indoor crates are ideal for this, especially if you have a quiet place in a utility room for instance. Our dogs may even benefit from having a bedtime and understanding that when we set that boundary, that we mean it. If our dogs believe in the boundaries we set, it helps them to feel safe and for an anxious dog it is essential that they know that we are sorting things out and that they can relax.

If our dogs are struggling with their behaviour and we are using them as our own comfort blankets and teddy bears, we may be missing opportunities to help them. It’s not that snuggling on the bed is ‘wrong’ but that your dog may get a huge amount more from a training session with you or a super enriching walk and a night in their own bed.