The Great Bed Debate

Sometimes, and usually with a sheepish look on her face, a student will confess that she allows her dog to sleep in her bed each...


Sometimes, and usually with a sheepish look on her face, a student will confess that she allows her dog to sleep in her bed each night. This confession is frequently followed by an almost reflexive cringe, as if the student is expecting fire and brimstone to fall from the ceiling of the classroom and bury her and her dog under the weight of trainer-induced guilt. As politely as possible, I laugh and admit that I, too, allow my dogs to sleep in the bed with me.

I think that students are often afraid of admitting that their dogs share the bed because they’ve been told that it will make the dog “dominant.” More likely, it just makes the dog comfortable and unfortunately, sometimes at the expense of human comfort!

There are some dogs that find the bed to be an extremely valuable resource and will therefore display resource guarding behaviors (freezing, staring, growling, hackling, snapping, or biting when approached on the bed or when someone in the bed rolls over, jostles or moves the dog, etc.). These dogs should be managed carefully and not allowed access to the bed at all until significant progress has been made on addressing the resource guarding issue. That said, if your dog does not resource guard the bed and you are considering allowing her to share your bed, you may want to keep the following in mind:

DOGS ARE BEDHOGS – Big dogs, small dogs, they all have the potential to be bedhogs. I’m sure there is a five pound Chihuahua out there with enough dedication to leave his owner curled up in a two foot square on the corner of a California King while Paco luxuriates, stretching his legs and snoozing in comfort.

ALLERGY SUFFERERS BEWARE! I always admire the brave (and somewhat tormented) souls who have severe allergies to dogs and yet love them so much they absolutely must live with dogs. If you are one of these allergy-suffering dog lovers, you may want to consider very carefully whether allowing your dog to sleep in the bed is a good idea for both your health and sleep hygiene. It’s hard to get a good night’s rest if you are sneezing, have itchy or watery eyes, and are getting a Mastiff paw in your shoulder sporadically throughout the night as well. Some of my clients who suffer from allergies like to set aside time to snuggle the dog in bed before turning in for the night or briefly in the morning, allowing the dog to spend the rest of the night in a crate or on his own bed.

– Dogs shed, drool, have dirty paws, and are adept at messing up clean linens. Be prepared to wash those sheets a lot more frequently if your doggy shares the bed!

If you’re ok with these things, keep reading…

I do recommend that if you choose to allow your dog in bed, you train a reliable behavior to get your dog off the bed on cue. In addition to the bed that you sleep in, your dog should have her own bed and/or crate in the bedroom. For this behavior, you should practice to the point where you can send her to her bed while you are lying in your own bed, putting clothes away in a dresser or closet, or sitting and reading a book.

You can also, if you like, put getting into the bed on cue and establish stimulus control so that your dog only gets in bed when invited. You may choose to train your dog that she is only to sleep at the foot of your bed and not near your pillow. If you are unsure about how to train these behaviors, hire a trainer or leave a comment on this blog and I will add it to the list of topics that I need to get around to covering!

Practice classically conditioning your dog to associate both people approaching her while she’s on the bed and people pushing or moving her around on the bed on cue with feet, hands, knees, elbows, hips. Not that you’ll shove your dog around intentionally, but unless you’re physically restrained, you’ll likely do these things to your dog in your sleep. I’ll be honest, if I need to move Mokie in bed while I’m still semi-conscious I’ll use a hand target, but if I’m in dreamland she sometimes gets shoved around by my feet as I try to find a comfortable position. I’ve paired these experiences with good things for Mokie (treats), so she doesn’t really worry about it or will choose to go lie on her own bed.

Occasionally, do have your dog sleep separately in a crate or on her own bed, sometimes in rooms which are not occupied by humans. Train your dog to relax on her bed or in her crate while she’s alone, incorporating calming aids if necessary. At some point, chances are good you will need to board your dog or perhaps have a friend, family member, or professional provide pet sitting services in your home or at theirs. If your dog is not used to sleeping alone, she may be stressed by having to sleep by herself. Separation from the owner can be intrinsically stressful to some dogs, as is the change in routine that often accompanies pet sitting or boarding situations, so preparing her for sleeping by herself in advance will make that one less thing for your dog to worry about while you travel.

There, I said it. I do it – every morning I wake up with Mokie’s head on the pillow next to mine and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Allowing the dog to sleep on the bed is certainly a personal decision and not for everyone. If you want your dog to sleep in your bed and she is able to do so happily, what’s the problem? More than likely, your dog wanting to share the bed is not a sign of dominance, it is a sign that she has refined tastes and is smart enough to realize that the most comfortable, warm sleeping spot happens to be the one you have chosen for yourself.

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