Is it okay for your dog to sleep in bed with you? What if your dog growls or snaps at you in bed?
Some clients tell me, with pride, that they never allow their dog on the bed. Some clients tell me, with embarrassment, that their dog sleeps next to them. Some clients tell me, laughing nervously, that when they get into bed with their dog, the dog growls at their approaching spouse. Where does your dog sleep? And where should she sleep?
First, the short answer. If everybody who uses the bed is comfortable and safe, I have no problem just because one (or more) of you happens to be a dog. Letting your pup share the bed with you will not make her “dominant” or create behavior problems that don’t already exist. It will make your bed hairy and smelly, but if that doesn’t bother you then it doesn’t bother me.
And now, 7 instances when your dog shouldn’t share your bed, or at least not share it automatically:
- During housetraining
- Before you know how big your dog is going to be
- If your dog doesn't want to sleep in the bed
- If your dog snores or is flatulent or incontinent
- Because you don't feel like it
- If your dog behaves aggressively
- If your dog is pushy
1. During housetraining
Confinement between toilet outings makes housetraining much more efficient. A big puppy can get off the bed and go pee and poop in a corner overnight; a very tiny puppy may find that the end of the bed is far enough from her sleeping spot to make a nice toilet. However, a puppy in an appropriately sized crate will hold it but whine or scratch to let you know she needs a break. Get up and take her out, then put her back to bed. In her crate.
2. Before you have some idea how big he’s going to be
A 40-pound dog who sleeps curled up in a ball will probably fit tidily in a bed with two small or medium-size people. Not so much an 80-pounder who sprawls. If you adopt a mixed-breed puppy, you might want to hold off on the co-sleeping till you have some idea of whether letting him in the bed will leave any room in it for you. It’s harder to teach a dog to stay off a bed he’s used to sleeping on than to teach him to stick to his own comfy bed in the first place.
It’s harder to teach a dog to stay off a bed he’s used to sleeping on than to teach him to stick to his own comfy bed in the first place.
3. If your dog doesn’t want to sleep in the bed
Maybe he has a heavy coat and it’s just too warm in the bed with you. Maybe you’re a restless sleeper and keep waking him up. Maybe he likes to change sleeping places a couple of times over the course of the night. Either way, it does no one any good to force the dog into an uncomfortable sleeping spot.
Related: The Dog Trainer's How to Teach Your Dog to Love his Crate
4. If your dog snores loudly or is flatulent or incontinent
I can hear all your spouse jokes from miles away, people, so just quit it. By the way, if your dog snores constantly and loudly, he may have a narrowed airway or some other physical problem your vet should look into. You may be able to do something about Zippy’s gas with a change in diet or other treatment, but many old dogs make exceptionally stinky farts. If your dear old dog has been sharing your bed forever, consider just getting used to it.
In our elderly dog Izzy’s last year or so, she sometimes leaked a bit of this or that in her sleep. We didn’t have the heart to kick her out of bed, so we laid a hospital bed pad over her spot and accepted that there would be extra laundry for the duration.
5. Because you don’t feel like it
Of course it’s perfectly okay to keep your bed human-only. Just give your pup an equally comfortable alternative. Many dogs like thick foam or gel, with a bolster for their heads.
Good-quality commercial beds get pricey, but you can improvise high comfort at low cost: buy foam padding and cover it with layers of thrift-store quilts.
6. If your dog behaves aggressively
You should keep your dog off your bed if it’s a site of aggression. Your dog may guard the bed itself, guard one of the people who use the bed, or snap or bite when touched. The dog who’s “location guarding” gets on the bed and then stiffens, growls, lunges, snaps, or bites when you attempt to join him. The dog who’s guarding one member of a couple will get in bed with that person and then aggress toward the approaching spouse. No, your dog is not “protecting” you because he misapprehends your spouse’s sexual overtures.
We treat location guarding and guarding of people basically the same way we treat food and toy guarding. An essential component of any behavior modification program is to prevent continued rehearsals of the problem behavior. That means no off-the-cuff bed visits for Zippy; he’s allowed on only when you’re doing controlled practice to defuse his guarding. Get professional help for this, please.
Dogs who snap or bite when touched come in a couple of flavors, as well. Some dogs have very strong, fast startle responses, especially if they’re awakened from a sound sleep. My dog, Juniper, sleeps on a comfy bed in his crate because he jumps up and barks if one of our cats brushes against him in his sleep. (Besides, he’s huge.) I almost hesitate to call a startled response “aggression” if the dog stops as soon as she’s fully awake, but however we label it, it can be dangerous.
Other dogs aggress when touched, whether or not you happen to be startling them. Well-accepted behavior modification protocols can help with this problem, but you can’t do behavior modification in your sleep. Also, as I mentioned in connection with bed guarding, it’s important to avoid further rehearsals of the aggression—the more your dog practices it, the more entrenched it will become.
See also: The Dog Trainer's How to Keep Dogs Off of Furniture
7. If your dog is pushy
A common manners problem among dogs is that of demanding attention, demanding a scratch, demanding play—you get the picture. It’s reasonable for dogs to want our attention and our affection, and dogs certainly do get bored and need to burn off steam. However, for us to enjoy living together, our dogs need to make their requests politely—for example, by sitting—and to accept no for an answer. While you’re teaching a rude dog pleasant manners, it may be appropriate to keep him out of bed. Or you may insist that he get your okay to join you, not just jump in as of right.
I fear I’ve made it sound as though there are a bajillion reasons to keep your dog off the bed! So let me reiterate the point I made at the start of this article: If you want to share your bed with your dog, and everybody’s happy, then be my guest. Come to think of it, my guest bed will fit two people and a small dog. Or one large person and one large dog. Or one large person, one small person, and a medium-size dog …
Just for fun: Kid's Questions for the Dog Trainer