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Should Your Dog Sleep In The Bed?

By: David Bundy

Many people allow their dogs to sleep with them at night. I am in that number, sort of. 

If you have a dog, it can be quite tempting this time of year when it's cold outside and a chill lingering in the house. The bigger and furrier, the better warmth they provide, but even small dogs can be good little heaters at night. Some people have a "no dogs on the bed" policy, and that's understandable, too, because the dog will likely bring hair, dirt, and smell into the sheets with them. Even with regular bathing, keeping them sparkly clean is still a challenge.

In my home, it is a split decision. One of my dogs gets my bed every night, while the other has a nicely padded crate for her dreamscapes, although both dogs are allowed the occasional nap with Dad on the bed. Sometimes, in the mornings, when the goal is to sleep for a while, both dogs get the opportunity to cuddle with their dad after they go outside first.

Sleeping in Mom and Dad's bed comes with another complication for the dogs at our house. You see, we have a cat that lurks in our bedroom. Slightly handicapped, our smallish black cat, Sabrina, often seeks the attention of the sleeping humans in the late hours of the night or the early morning around first light. Without attention from the sleeping humans, she will begin to toy with the dogs. One of the dogs, a morkie named Bueller, is an old man and doesn't often trifle with the cat. Often, Sabrina will lay beside Bueller, and they will both sleep peacefully. Our other dog, Breeze, is a young border collie who cannot quite understand our cat's odd walking and body language. Sensitive Breeze often avoids trouble by creating distance between herself and the thing that she is uncomfortable with. Sabrina has frequently pinned Breeze, a herding dog by breed, into a closet or in a corner of the bedroom. Breeze has concluded that the safest place in our room is on the bed next to Dad. If Breeze is in our room and the cat suddenly appears, the 48-pound dog will run and jump on the bed, her safe base, like kids playing a game of tag.

On a recent morning, when my wife Lisa and I chose to sleep in, Breeze found her spot on the bed between us; she deferred as usual to older "brother" Bueller. Bueller laid close to my chest, and Breeze settled near my legs. Ever alert for our stealthy black cat, Breeze could not rest her ears, eyes, or nose. With one arm beside Bueller, as he slept peacefully, I stroked the "big chicken's" ears and head. Soon, Breeze was beginning to relax. She batted her eyes heavily while tucking her chin to her chest. Slumping down, she began to succumb to my delicate petting while I used my arm to prevent her from lying on Bueller. After Lisa got up to get ready for work, Bueller moved a few inches out of Breeze's way as big, little sister sank lower. Gradually, she worked her way closest to me as Bueller gave way.

What an impressive creature Breeze was. Only the day before, Breeze had been galloping across a mud-soaked field in the rain, chasing and retrieving her "Frisbee." Since the weather was warm for January, we made the best of our play, even as the rain grew heavier. Now, as she began to sleep, I felt her forelegs' solid and lean muscles. Her hair, mud-caked a day ago, was soft and sweet smelling, like flowers in spring, yet how this was possible with only a rinse-off after being so dirty escaped me. Breeze was never concerned with the cold, dirt, or rain and was desperate to keep the flying disc from hitting the ground. The outer layer of her double coat was waterproof and dirt-resistant and insulated her from the cold while somehow maintaining the fresh smells of spring.

As Breeze lay on her side, she stretched her legs pushing into my ribs and thigh. I realized she had not noticed my cell phone on top of the sheets when she laid on it. I thought about reaching under her to pull it out, but I did not want to disrupt her hard-won relaxation with thoughts of the "spooky" cat fading from her mind. Still, I worried about the explosion of legs, claws, and bodies that would occur if I got a text message or a phone call. Bueller slept soundly, starting to snore, and soon, Breeze rearranged herself, still closer to me but now with her bum directly aimed at my face. Now, I worried about a different explosion, the odorous kind that could clear a room and one I knew she could regularly produce without warning. Incapable of reaching Bueller, I softly rubbed the backs of Breeze's ears with one hand and scratched her smooth, spotted belly with the other. After a few sweet minutes of bonding with no cat in sight, Breeze raised up and moved around me to lay down again, now between my body and the side of the bed. I collected my phone, flipped it to silent mode, and felt the warmth of her back against mine as she began to doze off. Breeze's breath was slow and deep, and Bueller moved to take Breeze's place on the opposite side of me now with his bum prominently in my field of view. He was a smaller dog, but his age and diet made the potential for flatulence more dire.

We lay there for a while, rearranging our bodies and going in and out of sleep as we struggled to get up on an overcast and chilly morning. Breeze turned, placed her footpads against my back, and hung her head over the side of the bed. However, Breeze was not quite asleep when the dark shape of our cat appeared from under the bed, nearly face-to-face with her. All the explosiveness I feared occurred within less than a second, and without a doubt, we were finally awake for the day. Our bonding session was over, and there was no longer a sense of relaxation in the room or the smell of spring flowers.

When Bueller was a young dog, he slept in a crate as a puppy and graduated to a bed in the living room after that. When he was around three years old, Lisa and I allowed him into our bed nightly after he regularly demonstrated a mature disposition. He did not shed, and with weekly baths, we accepted his nightly presence. As Breeze grows older and more secure with our cat's random presence, she may be allowed to sleep on the bed with us, too, but only time will tell.

There's a lot of debate between people who let their dogs sleep with them and those who don't. Veterinarians and trainers also have their opinions to be considered. Almost half the people in the U.S. with dogs choose to sleep with them. Generally, the correct answer is one of personal choice, but you should understand the pros and cons of both sides.

First, the health of the humans and dogs should be considered. Older dogs, especially smaller ones, may have musculoskeletal issues, like arthritis, with getting up and down to the bed. Incontinence may also be a consideration for an older dog if they can't hold their bladder all night. Some owners will use a ramp or steps to the bed, as we do with Bueller. Some owners also use pee pads around the bed to protect the sheets from leaking a bladder. An older dog may grow to feel more isolated, and sleeping with a family member may help.

Additionally, if a dog's humans are allergic to dog hair and dander or if they are allergic to the pollen or dirt that the dog might carry in from the yard, sleeping with a dog is not recommended. Other things to consider would be if the human has a compromised immune system, which could be dangerous if the dog ever had parasites that could cause human illness. A vet-prescribed, year-round parasite control can protect both humans and dogs. A wiggly dog can also disrupt sleeping, but counter to this, some humans find security in their dog's presence at night.

Some dogs become territorial over the bed, or they feel a need to protect one human over another, a form of resource guarding. A sudden move by a person at night might result in a bite, and even though perhaps unintentional, it still hurts. Co-sleeping in a well-adjusted dog typically results in a contented dog, a secure-feeling owner, and it enhances the bond between the two, but if there are any signs of aggression or other behavioral problems arise, such as attachment issues, provide them a place to sleep elsewhere and consult with a trainer or behavioral specialist.

Dogs are also known to sleep in short periods throughout the day as polyphasic sleepers, while humans are monophasic sleepers, having one sleep cycle in 24 hours. If your dog moves around too much at night, this could result in a lack of sleep for you and the ill health benefits that come with that.

Puppies present different issues for those wanting to cuddle them all night. Puppies have small, undeveloped bladders, which can result in accidents on the bed or floor. For this reason, I don't suggest you let a dog begin to sleep with you if you choose to do so until they are more than six months old and are well-housetrained or pad trained.

There are many benefits to crate training your puppy. Crate training gives them a space of their own, and it helps them become used to a crate they may encounter during vet visits or travel. Being in a crate can help a young dog build confidence and independence. When they are constantly with you, it becomes more difficult for them to be without you when they have to be. Often, this results in destructive or anxious behaviors. Additionally, puppies do not want to soil the areas where they sleep, so using a crate can speed up the potty training process. At Awesome Dog Academy, we offer a private class to anyone interested in potty training and crate training.

Dogs are known to be the very first domesticated animals, even before horses and cattle. Many ancient humans spent their nights with their dogs nestled beside them for warmth and protection, so sleeping with a dog beside you could be considered an ancient tradition. Yet, in modern times, the need is not as great while we sleep in our warm homes behind locked doors. The whole matter is essentially a personal choice, although there are many pros and cons.

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