If You Lie Down with the Dogs—You Just Might Sleep Tight
It all starts out innocently enough. That new puppy breath is intoxicating. Her little sleepy head snuggled up under your chin is irresistible. There is something so dreamy about holding a sleeping puppy. You just can’t put her down. You both grow used to the warmth and coziness. It is a comfort to you both. Somewhere in the back of your mind you recall some dog training article mentioning sleeping with your dog and alpha behavior problems. But that’s all a blur now and before you know it you’re sharing your pillow every night with a 175 pound English Mastiff whose puppy breath is little more than a fleeting memory.
Don’t be embarrassed. You’re keeping company with almost half of all pet owners who welcome their pet into their bed—or at least their bedroom. Not to mention the fact that dogs and humans have been bedfellows forever. Many traditional cultures co-slept with their dogs for warmth as well as protection from other predators or intruders. And while there are some vets and trainers who discourage the practice of pet co-sleeping, the truth is, the choice is yours, and there are pros and cons you can consider before you commit to a lifetime of snuggling a four-legged friend.
How to Decide Whether or Not to Let Your Dog Sleep in Your Bed
Before settling into co-sleeping, rule out some important factors. You’d hate to have to evict your dog from your bed after he’s grown accustomed to your overnight company and the coveted time with you.
Are there any allergies or other health issues to consider?
Some people with a mild dog allergy can handle owning a dog and not getting too close. But sleeping with that same dog may send your allergies into overdrive. The allergens do not politely limit themselves to hanging out on your dog’s body. They will invite themselves onto other surfaces in your room—your rug or carpet, the bed frame, other furnishings.
Some human pathogens are transmitted by our pets, who spend time outside picking up this or that thing that you’d prefer to avoid. Sleeping with your dog brings you into much more contact with potentially unwanted zoonotic diseases that can pose a threat, even if only rarely, to humans. That said, if your pooch is up to date on vaccines, you are probably good to go.
Can you be sure your dog is going to be a good roomie?
Let’s face it. Dogs can do weird stuff, like licking themselves compulsively (in some not-so-polite-spots!) and barking at imaginary monsters. That’s all fine and good in the light of day. But what if they are doing it at the foot of your bed? No thank you.
The fact is, if your dog has some less-than-desirable little quirks and habits, she might not be the best thing for your sound night’s sleep. Plus, the canine sleep cycle differs from our own. Dogs have more periods of wakefulness than we do and this can be a disruption to our own critical REM sleep. Even when they are in a deep snooze themselves, dogs can disrupt our sleep. They seem to do their best rabbit chasing and squirrel hunting during their sleep—and that can raise quite a commotion.
Does sleeping in your bed seem to make your dog more bossy?
One school of thought raises concerns that allowing your dog to sleep in your bed will encourage alpha behavior or aggression-related problems. This idea is rooted in the notion of canine pack structure. There is a thought that when a dog is physically elevated to your level, he interprets that as being on equal footing with you, or worse, ahead of you in the pack structure. From there, the dog can exhibit other undesirable dominance behaviors like peeing in or marking the bed, growling or otherwise protecting his territory for sleeping, etc.
If you and your dog are already struggling with establishing who is the boss in your household, or if she is inclined to show occasional aggression or territorial behavior, then this is a real issue to consider and it might not be best to co-sleep—at least not until you work out these other problems. Ambassador Animal Hospital is happy to assist you in addressing these things, regardless of the co-sleeping factor. You want a well-adjusted, calm dog for your best friend. On the other hand, if you already have a well-behaved, well-adjusted pup, who recognizes your leadership, then sharing some Zzzzzzs with him should not lead to behavior problems.
After considering some of the potential pitfalls of canine co-sleeping, if you determine that your dog is a fine bed partner, then you will likely reap plenty of benefits from sleeping with him. Having him next to you in bed keeps you warm and snuggly and may even reduce your own anxiety if you tend to be a night worrier or fight insomnia. Plus, his light sleeping can let you rest easy, knowing he will alert you to any disturbance in your home—a dog can be a great security system. If you work all day, both of you can enjoy the extra hours together that co-sleeping affords. Your dog will be grateful for the extra quality time, and your relationship bond will strengthen. Plus, what could be more fun than an alarm clock that wakes you by licking you in the face!
If you are considering co-sleeping, but you are on the fence and not sure it’s right for you and your four-legged roommate, Ambassador Animal Hospital is more than happy to talk through this idea with you and help you come to a decision you feel confident about. We can also discuss similar alternatives and how to implement them, like training your dog to sleep in a crate or on a dog bed in your room instead of in the bed itself.