Sleeping With Dogs
Should you let your dog sleep with you? These dog owners wouldn’t have it any other way
Tesla, an Entlebucher Mountain Dog, slept with her owner, Christena Stephens, for 10 years. She became such a fixture in Stephens’ bed that when the Lubbock, TX resident travelled, “the sleeping comfort was not there because Tesla was not there,” she says. “When I lost Tesla, my sleep patterns changed from peaceful to restless. Perhaps Tesla knew more what I needed in those 10 years than I did.”
Although much smaller, Pomeranian Bella was as much a source of comfort to her owner, Karen Peters, as Tesla was to Stephens. Brought home at 10 weeks, Bella cried in her kennel, so Peters and her husband put the tiny puppy in a laundry basket between them. The other dogs they’d had would sleep with their children, but “we both loved having Bella share our California king-sized bed with us,” says Peters.
“Many puppies come home at eight weeks of age where they are in a developmental period,” says Melissa Millett, founder and professional dog training instructor at In Dogs We Trust out of London, ON. “When they are placed in another room, they will whine, cry, and scream. This is resolved when they are in the same room as the family. Puppies are still babies, after all.”
Peters and Stephens are not alone. A recent study found that 55% of pet owners welcomed their dogs in their beds. No longer relegated to the doghouse—or even the floor—pet owners are inviting their dogs into their beds, and there are benefits for both, says Millett, who has been featured on every major Canadian TV network and on shows internationally (she also trains animals for film and TV). “Personally, I have six to seven dogs in my bed at night,” she says. Both newly rescued and adopted dogs, like Bella, and working dogs, are more deeply bonded when they sleep in the same room as their humans, says Millett. Peters agrees: “We [had] a very close relationship with Bella because of sharing our bed.”
Humans and dogs have been sleeping together for centuries. The expression “three dog night” means a night so cold that you need three dogs to keep you warm. Some say the phrase originated in the Australian Outback, while others point to Alaska or Siberia as the source.
“As social animals, dogs tend to stay close to the individuals they are attached to,” says Dr. Carlo Siracusa, associate professor of Clinical Animal Behavior and Welfare and director of the Animal Behavior Service at the University of Pennsylvania. But whether a dog wants to share a bed with his or her human depends on the dog. “There is a significant individual variability and not all dogs may enjoy sharing a bed with another individual,” Siracusa says. “Some dogs may enjoy the bed itself (comfy and warm), but not necessarily people moving or making noises at night.”
Sleeping with pets goes way back to our ancestors. “I do think that one of the advantages of having a dog close… may have been protection from animal attacks,” says Siracusa, whose research interests are focused on canine stress evaluation and control, temperament evaluation, prognostic factors, and treatment outcome of behaviour problems, and behaviour and cognitive changes in dogs with medical disease. Although we don’t need this protection in modern society, people are still comforted by having their pets close.
“Both humans and dogs may find sleeping together comforting and it may be easier for them to fall asleep,” says Siracusa. “It also helps pets to sleep, especially those dogs that are particularly attached to their caregivers and may suffer anxiety when separated from them.”
A study called The Effect of Dogs on Human Sleep in the Home Sleep Environment—in which researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, AZ assessed whether a dog in the bedroom or bed disturbs sleep—found that a dog’s presence in the bedroom may not be disruptive to human sleep. Research showed that people slept slightly better when the dog was off the bed, while dogs slept the same whether they were on the bed or in another location in the bedroom—proximity to their owners was the key.
Danielle Merkle’s Labrador-Collie-Malamute mix, Kayden, has a crate in Merkle’s room, as well as beds scattered throughout the house, but has been sleeping with Merkle since she adopted him.
“I think it is important for your dog to have their own space, like a crate,” says the Clinton Township, MI resident, but gives her dog the choice of where to sleep. Having Kayden in her queen-sized bed benefits them both. “Sometimes, if he falls asleep in his crate, I don’t fall asleep until he comes up on the bed,” she says.
Christa Schaupmeyer of Lethbridge, AB also has sleeping spaces—dog beds, mats, and crates throughout her home—for each of her three Labradoodles. “It is nice to know that the dogs will sleep in a kennel if you need to travel or if there was any emergency and you were out of your routine,” says Schaupmeyer. Still, all three dogs find themselves in bed with Schaupmeyer, and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
For many pet owners, co-sleeping is not as simple as having a dog climb into bed with them. Some will go out of their way to ensure their pets are treated as first-class guests.
Spring Grove, VI’s June Richardson goes above and beyond for her dog, Dakota. The Catahoula has her own pillow, and Richardson reads her bedtime stories. Favourites include “The Three Little Pigs,” “Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” and various Christmas stories. Andrea Cserenyi of Boston, MA has also gone to great lengths to ensure the comfort of her Pekingese, Mick. She’s set up a dog ramp at the foot of the bed to allow him to get on and off the bed at leisure, and because he likes the cold, he has a dog bed with an ice pack lining at the top of the bed. “The top 12 to 18 inches of the bed are free for Mick,” says Cserenyi. “He spends most of the night just above my head.”
Mick returns the favour by snoring away—something that actually helps Cserenyi, who suffers from clinical insomnia. “When I wake up during the night I reach up, give Mick a few pets and try to fall asleep with my hand resting on his fur.”
55% of adult women surveyed said they share their bed with at least one dog.
So, should you share a bed with your pet? Many professionals feel that it is a personal choice, says Millett. “Sometimes, clients will sheepishly share with me that the dogs sleep in their beds,” she says, “thinking that perhaps I will tell them that the dog will come to view themselves as an equal and attempt to take over the pack. As a positive reinforcement trainer, I do not believe that dogs are vying to take over the pack, or that co-sleeping, allowing animals on furniture, exiting doorways first, or eating in any specific order has an effect on your dog’s behaviour.”
Siracusa agrees. As a general rule, when both humans and pets are happy to share the bed, there is nothing wrong with it, he says. But if it isn’t working for one of the parties —perhaps the dog or its owner just can’t get comfortable—“a good compromise is to have the (pet) sleep on the floor immediately beside the bed, or on an elevated surface next to the bed,” says Siracusa. “This is actually something we quite often recommend, and it has been proven that this slightly improves sleep quality.”
After years of fitful rest without Tesla, Stephens’ peaceful sleep returned with Castiel, another Entlebucher. “Cassie starts off sleeping right against me and then moves to the centre of the bed,” says Stephens. “Maybe she senses that I need that initial comfort while starting to drift to sleep.”