Nov 04, 2023

The Dangers of Sleeping With Your Dog, According to Animal Behaviorist

For comfort, or because they simply can't get them to stop, lots of dog owners share their bed with their pet.

A survey from 2015 found that more than half of respondents slept with their pet in their bedroom, and another from 2020 discovered that understandably 86 percent of puppy owners reported that their pet preferred to sleep near a human when given a choice.

Newsweek explores the potential benefits and dangers of sleeping with a pet, with help from animal behaviorist Jacqui Zakar, owner of Dog Sense Training and Behavior.

It may have all started on a rainy cold night shortly after getting your first puppy, allowing them to curl up in your soft warm bed, sharing snacks and watching a film. Fast-forward to a year later and your dog has even learned to open doors in order to gain entry to the best sleeping spot in the house, while you endure broken sleep patterns and the occasional nighttime nip.

"People like their dogs to sleep with them for numerous reasons," Zakar told Newsweek. "It helps them feel safe and gives comfort. Some people think that it shows love to let your dog sleep in bed with you but that's not really the case. Fulfilling a dog's needs for mental stimulation, exercise, rest, freedom to be a dog and play, is love. There are plenty of dogs that prefer to sleep on a hard tiled floor than in the human's bed, but that doesn't mean they feel less loved.

"Some dogs see more value in sleeping on our beds than others," she added. "More independent breeds like huskies or livestock guardian breeds may actually prefer to sleep outside, but you will always get those individuals that are the exception. Dogs that are naturally more attracted to human affection might enjoy being next to their owner, but sometimes the desire to be close to the human can be a result of insecurity or even possessive aggression."

While it may seem counterproductive to have your dog sleep in your bed, data collected by the Mayo Clinic's Center for Sleep Medicine in Arizona found that of the 56 percent of owners that allowed their pet to sleep in their bedroom, 20 percent reported them as disruptive, while 41 percent said their pets were unobtrusive and even beneficial to sleep.

"If it provides comfort and helps an owner feel more bonded and the relationship is healthy and the dog is well-mannered then there really isn't an issue," said Zakar. "For safety, for loneliness, for times of stress, having a dog close can be a great comfort."

A dog in the bed can also help with regard to sleep apnea, a serious medical condition that can affect anyone at any age, and causes a persons breathing to be disrupted while they're sleeping, starving the brain and other vital organs of oxygen. Sleep apnea can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, depression, headaches and other conditions.

About 30 million people in the U.S have sleep apnea, but only 6 million are diagnosed with the condition, according to the American Medical Association.

"A service dog is available for numerous physical and mental health issues, including sleep apnea," said U.S. Service Animals. "A service dog may also be able to alert the person with sleep apnea when they're experiencing significant sleep problems throughout the night."

There are of course some drawbacks to allowing your dog into your sleeping space, with a disrupted sleep pattern being the most obvious.

Another obvious downside to letting your dog sleep in your bed is hygiene. While we might like to think our dogs are clean as a whistle, the truth is we never know what might have gotten between their toes, or in their coat or mouth.

"Whether we like it or not, dogs don't have the same hygiene habits we do and carry around a lot of dirt and sometimes parasites," said Zakar.

A lesser known problem is resource guarding, a serious behavioral issue that could be exacerbated by the practice of letting your dog sleep in your bed.

"Resource-guarding behavior is driven by a dog's fear that they will lose access to a valued resource, whether food, toys, or a space," said Zakar. "When a dog is insecure and another dog or person comes close to what they're guarding, for example a new partner, they can act aggressively to keep the threat away. It's important to understand our beds, our space, affection and our rooms can all be seen as valued resources to many dogs."

Zakar also would not recommend allowing a dog into the bed of a couple who plan on having a child.

"Bringing a new baby into the home is a time of significant change to dogs," she said. "Their routine changes, they get less attention, and this can cause a lot of stress. Dogs do not naturally love babies, despite what pop culture suggests. Children in the home are significantly more likely to be bitten by a dog than any other group and hoping a dog loves the new baby is never a safe strategy."

"Set boundaries of space before the baby arrives," she suggested. "Off-limit areas including the baby's room and the parents' bed is the safest approach. No new parent wants a dog competing for their attention at 3 a.m. baby feeds in bed, and for hygiene and safety, giving a dog their own space is also the best option."

It's possible to build good habits in puppies, and slightly harder to undo established habits in older dogs, "but its no problem as long as you set your dog up for success," said Zakar.

For puppies, "first decide what the rules of the house are," she added. "It's a mistake to be permissive with puppies, thinking you'll change boundaries when they get older. Set your dog up for success by teaching your puppy how to live with you from the start."

Zakar recommended crate training as the perfect way to stop bad habits from forming in puppies, and creating a safe space for them. "I highly recommend keeping crates for adult dogs too as, if they're ever injured or a new baby comes into the home, they have their own space where they can settle and feel safe," she said.

"If dogs are allowed to be on the bed from time to time, make sure that both puppies and older dogs are taught boundaries," Zakar said. "If they're lifted onto the bed or asked to jump on, have a clear cue like OK or UP so they know you are giving permission. When you lift them down, again, have a clear signal to let them know they're getting off like OFF or GET DOWN. In the early stages simply pair the moment you bring them up or take them off with these words, so later on, they will understand the association and be able to comply with the cues."

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