“Our dog won’t be allowed on the couch.” “She’ll never get food from the table.” “We aren’t going to have the dog sleep in our bed.”
My husband and I had many ideas regarding how we’d parent our Vizsla, Finley, and all of them went out the window one by one within the first year. It’s amazing how strict you think you’ll be … until those puppy dog eyes sink into your soul and slowly melt away all your resolve.
Although canines lounging on couches and begging at tables are far from what some might consider ideal behavior, at some point in year one we came to accept that it’s part of the territory with having a certain kind of family pup — one who gets to enjoy the finer things in life, like bits of leftover filet mignon and warm blankets straight out of the dryer. So after much back and forth on what kind of dog parents we’d be, my husband and I realized that we were comfortable with making our dog feel right at home — including in our bed.
Soon after we crate trained Finley to sleep on her own, we invited her to sleep with us. A few months later, with severe back pain from sharing such a small space, I insisted Finley no longer be allowed in our bed. Months after that, she was back having slumber parties with us. And round and round we went, kicking her out and welcoming her back every few months when we found ourselves feeling guilty and missing her puppy cuddles. We’ve been consistently inconsistent, which is unfair to everyone, especially our dog.
To make matters more complicated, Finley has severe separation anxiety, and I’ve been in search of some advice as to whether keeping her close by at night or encouraging her to be on her own was the better option. To get professional perspectives, I spoke with two dog experts.
According to the pros, the benefits of allowing Fido to bunk with his owner are obvious: the wonderful companionship, warmth, and closeness that comes with sharing a sleeping space.
Anthony Newman, a certified pet dog trainer and owner of Calm Energy Dog Training NYC, says that co-sleeping can strengthen the dog-owner relationship and build trust and respect.
Sarah Fraser, a certified dog behavior consultant and co-founder of Instinct Dog Behavior & Training LLC, says that any drawbacks to co-sleeping largely have to do with the reduced ability to rest peacefully. “[Dogs are] really good at gradually taking over the bed during the night,” Fraser says. “Your quality of sleep can suffer.” Beyond catching fewer Zzzs, dogs can also bring dirt and germs into your otherwise clean bed. But by far the most problematic aspect is if your dog is guarding the bed from everyone in the house and it becomes a source of conflict.
Considering Finley’s separation anxiety, Fraser says that if she’s anxious about being in a separate sleeping space and has to sleep in our bed to function properly, then that’s an issue worth addressing. Newman agrees, noting that dogs should be able to withstand being on their own for at least a significant part of the night.
Thankfully, Finley has had plenty of practice sleeping in her dog bed by herself and without complaint for the most part, so that doesn’t seem to be a problem related to her overarching separation anxiety.
For those who do have resource-guarding pets who are possessive of the bed, Newman says to ease into the new sleep rules, starting with your dog at the foot of the bed. Then lead her to a dog bed adjacent to yours giving her the “bed” command. Make sure she’s lying all the way down, and give her a treat before inviting her back on your bed. Continue practicing the “bed” command but keep her there for a few seconds longer, and start moving her bed further away from yours over a period of a few weeks.
Newman suggests practicing both at night and during the day and positively reinforcing it by using the command before you throw a ball, play tug, or release her to eat her food. The idea is to make her doggy bed a happy place with plenty of rewards.
At the same time, Fraser assures me that a dog can go cold turkey and be guided to sleep in his own bed in one night if she’s already comfortable spending time in a crate or dog bed. For people who aren’t quite comfortable kicking their dog bedside out of the blue, she assures us that all will be fine. “Most of the time, the journey out of bed is harder for the person than for the dog. Most dogs adjust pretty quickly,” she says.
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About the author: Whitney C. Harris is a New York-based freelance writer for websites including StrollerTraffic, Birchbox, and WhattoExpect.com. A former book and magazine editor, she enjoys running (with Finley), watching movies (also with Finley), and cooking meatless meals (usually with Finley watching close by).