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How to Choose the Right Dog Bed for Your Pup

We run down eight different types of dog beds and explain which might best suit your pup's size and sleeping style.

Marybeth Bittel  |  Apr 14th 2016


I used to think a dog bed was pretty much anything handy: a cushion, a quilt, the floor. I’ve known canines who would recline and even nod off on (or in) almost anything available. My friend had a 100-pound Rottweiler, whose napping nook of choice was the upstairs bathmat. I once knew a Toy Poodle who would curl up in baskets of clean laundry, staunchly defending the folded shirts and sheets as if they were military comrades under attack. To me, it always seemed like most canines made their choice based upon what was available. I certainly never thought of a pet bed as something one would need to seek out with purpose.

Then I began rehabilitating abused rescue dogs, and I encountered canines of all ages with various injuries and orthopedic conditions. I discovered that certain sleeping positions or bed styles could sometimes aggravate aches and pains, even impede the healing process. As my husband and I took in more of these dogs, we found ourselves on something of a quest for canine comfort.

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Couch canine photo by Shutterstock.

And thus, as we perused various pet store aisles, we increasingly encountered an array of mystifying terms like “donut” and “daisy” — labels that provoked more than one double take and made me wonder if we’d entered the wrong kind of establishment altogether.

So I wondered if sharing our shopping (mis)adventures — and the resulting product insights — might help clarify the options for other perplexed pet parents. For each category, I’ve included a general description along with candid canine reactions and unprovoked shopper comments overhead in the store aisles. But keep in mind that ultimately your dog’s age, health, behavioral traits, and breed should drive your decision, with household budget factored in where appropriate.

1. The pillow

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Pillow bed photo by Shutterstock.

Beginning with the basics, this very straightforward design is essentially … an oversized pillow. Do you have a tall, lanky, or gangly pup? Does your pooch enjoy stretching or sprawling full-out when he sleeps? Then this is a solid choice, provided you select the proper size. I’d suggest measuring your dog head to tail, then head to paw while he’s lying down with legs fully extended. Write down those numbers, then add roughly 7 to 12 inches in either direction to give your canine sufficient surface area.

Overheard in the aisle: “This looks like the pattern on our family room couch. Why can’t we just have him use one of those cushions?”

Pooch perspectives: All of my dogs have been fine with this style. Just remember that big or especially energetic dogs often do better with durable fabrics. If your dog is like my Grant — a lifelong pillow-chomper who also enjoys burrowing or covering his head while asleep — splurge for the tougher material, then simply fold a blanket or towel on top.

2. The snuggle

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Snuggle bed photo by Shutterstock.

Many of these beds are round in shape. Essentially, they’re like a pillow bed that’s propelled the puff factor to new plateaus. The top sleeping area tends to be extra-plush or overfilled, so your hound can really hunker down and get comfy. Do you live in a cold climate or an older or drafty house? The super-snuggly design of these beds helps hold in body heat to keep smaller, aged, or ailing pups from feeling chilled. These beds also tend to offer extra “give” for arthritic dogs and those recovering from injury. Before buying, just make sure the extra loft won’t rub against bandaged wounds or stick to stitches.

Overheard in the aisle: “So what’s that one, a beanbag chair?”

Pooch perspectives: Love at first sight, almost unanimously. The extra-snuggly top really does seem to offer an added dose of comfort. I’ve only experienced trouble with a dog whose leg was in a splint. This sort of bed can make it pretty tough for any pet to fully stretch out and keep limbs straightened.

3. The nest

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Nest bed photo by Shutterstock.

I’ve noticed you can pick up this type of dog bed almost anywhere — often, your local drugstore or convenience mart even has a supply. The design is usually oval in shape with soft, raised foam sides that surround a pillowy center. Just be on the lookout for size and quality. You may see these beds for a steal, but sizing can be limited and construction is often shoddy. If you have a larger pet — or one who’s rehabilitating — a confining design that’s too cramped won’t be comfortable. Look for a center pillow area that’s removable, because the foam sides usually make this type of bed a tough fit in the washing machine. And if you have a dog who likes to chew or gnaw, beware. You get what you pay for — so you could find yourself paying for several of these, in rapid succession.

Overheard in the aisle: “This color is a perfect match. Too bad Great Danes don’t come in a fun-size version.”

Pooch perspectives: Maizy prefers this type of bed when riding in the car, for some reason. She can be a bit nervous, so my guess is that the raised, semi-rigid sides give her a feeling of added stability. We generally avoid this style if a dog is nursing stitches or some sort of injury. Unless the bed is absolutely super-sized, it’s too easy for painful areas to bump against the edges.

4. The tent

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Tent bed photo by Shutterstock.

These beds feature a little cave-like arch that makes them resemble a soft, tiny tent. In many cases, the entire bed is made of snuggly plush material. The hooded design is perfect for a smaller canine who wants to stay covered and cozy while slumbering. It’s also good for older dogs who have a tough time staying warm. But you’ll normally see these beds in more compact sizes, making them a tight fit for any pup who weighs more than about 18 pounds.

Overheard in the aisle: “Hey, this one looks like a little Smurf house.”

Pooch perspectives: I brought this home for a spaniel mix I once fostered, who insisted on grabbing it by the hood and flinging it around the dining room repeatedly. I think she was going for distance, like we were hosting some kind of Olympic doggie discus competition. She never actually caught on to using it as a bed — which is ironic, because it definitely seemed to tire her out.

5. The buttercup/daisy

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Buttercup bed photo from Bowsers Pet Products Facebook page.

To date, I’ve only run across this type of bed in specialty pet boutiques. So the price tag isn’t necessarily bargain-friendly, though I’ll admit the two-for-one design is pretty ingenious. It features a toggle drawstring you can pull to change the bed’s overall shape. Leave it slack, the bed lies flat (i.e., open flower). Pull the string, it takes on the interesting shape of a poufy, inverted mushroom cap (i.e., closed flower). Some dogs like to burrow into the cozy little space this creates. Also — and I’m not kidding — I counted more than 60 breathtaking, high-quality fabric design options that could be special ordered. So clearly, if you go with certain manufacturers, this option would look outstanding almost anywhere. Perfect for any polished, pampered pooch.

Overheard in the aisle: [Shopper picking it up] “Nice! That pattern would match our draperies perfectly.” [Shopper putting it down] “Okay! It would cost as much as the ottoman.”

Pooch perspectives: Whenever the string was cinched tight, Maizy was terrified of this bed. She’d give it a nose nudge, then repeatedly bound away. I’m not sure she knew exactly how to approach the bed, or even precisely what it was (portal to another dog dimension? Squishy Venus flytrap?). Grant, being Grant, plowed right past her and burrowed down for a comfy, contented snooze.

6. The bolster

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Bolster bed photo by Shutterstock.

One thing I learned from various animal behaviorists is that most dogs deeply dislike anything sneaking up behind them while they’re sleeping. Come to think of it, sounds a lot like us humans. Bolster beds take this into account with a pillowy, raised ridge that extends around the back of the napping area. This special “bolster” offers an added measure of cozy comfort — especially if your dog tends toward anxiety. Does your canine like to kick back on the couch or lean against cushions? There’s another bonus, because these beds resemble mini-couches themselves. The back ridge can also prevent more rotund or roly-poly breeds from actually rolling right onto the floor during slumber.

Overheard in the aisle: “Hey, now all we need is a mini flatscreen and our Poodle could host his own Puppy Bowl party.”

Pooch perspectives: All of our dogs have liked this layout, though the price tag can vary considerably. High-end brands come in an amazing range of gorgeously upholstered designs that are overstuffed and super-snuggly. However, so long as you measure and size properly — and you’re not trying to match your décor patterns precisely — you can often find a decently sturdy option for a range of wallet-friendly prices.

7. The donut

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Donut bed photo by Shutterstock.

If a snuggle bed and a nest bed decided to start a family, their offspring would likely resemble something like this. Donut beds (or doughnut, if you’re a stickler for spelling) feature edging all the way around their perimeter. But that edging is usually made of squishy-soft pillow material, which encourages your pup to curl up securely. If you have a dog who likes to sleep in a curled-up ball, these beds are a great option. They’re typically round or oval, and some can even be tossed directly into a washing machine. Certain designer brands offer a mind-boggling array of colors, super-sturdy upholstery options, even removable covers. If price is a factor, shop around, because the range can vary considerably.

Overheard in the aisle: “Donut, huh? Does it come in munchkin size for smaller dogs? Oh, come on, that was totally funny.” “Yeah, perfect — now I’m craving a cinnamon roll.”

Pooch perspectives: Maizy adores this type of bed — it seems to help her feel more secure while she’s lying down. Similarly, I once had a very shy Bichon mix who always positioned himself in front of a barrier when going to sleep: a large pillow, a piece of furniture, the wall. A bed like this can help a dog like that feel safer.

8. The orthopedic

These special beds are often designed like a standard pillow bed, but with the added “ahhh” factor of thick memory foam or a thermal hot/cold pad on top. Such features can provide vital support and comfort for older, arthritic pups or those recuperating from injury. The foam topper conforms to your pet’s unique shape, minimizing joint stress. Often, you can custom order these beds in multiple shapes and sizes. Remember, though, it’s especially important to allow for plenty of surface area if your goal is to accommodate a hurting hound.

Overheard in the aisle: “This is exactly what the vet recommended for Buster’s hip dysplasia.”

Pooch perspectives: When one of my rescues first came home after surgery, this design was extra gentle on his ribs and hip area. Paired with a super-soft Comfy Cone, this type of bed can offer an extra measure of TLC for tender, healing wounds. Remember that depending on the size of your pooch, you can sometimes create your own recuperative oasis with a large memory-foam pillow securely wrapped in fluffy fabric.

Have you found a dog bed style that works especially well for your favorite furry friend? Share your insights below.