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Do you let your dog sleep in your bed with you at night? Research has shown that slightly less than one-half of all pet owners share their bed or bedroom with their pet. Even so, you have likely been told by at least one well-meaning person that your dog should sleep on the floor, in their crate, or in their own bed. However, according to research, there are many benefits to co-sleeping with your dog, and there is nothing to be ashamed of.
In a study published in the journal Human Nature, researchers looked at the practice of allowing a dog to sleep in the bed or bedroom, comparing it with adult-child co-sleeping. The study pointed out that sleeping in the same bed or bedroom as our pets is not just a modern phenomenon. In fact, throughout history, some cultures considered co-sleeping with animals as beneficial. For example, Aboriginal Australians often slept beside their dogs and/or dingoes for warmth and protection from evil spirits. Unfortunately, modern culture tends to focus on the negative aspects of co-sleeping rather than the benefits.
Investigating Co-Sleeping With Dogs
It’s true there are some health concerns related to co-sleeping with your dog. Human allergies can be aggravated, for example. There is also the risk of transmission of disease, from both the dog to the human and the human to the dog. However, such transmission is rare.
Quality of sleep can also be affected. Some studies have shown that owners sharing a bed with their pet report greater sleep disturbances than people whose pets did not sleep in their beds. One factor that may explain this difference is that dogs are polyphasic sleepers and average three sleep/wake cycles per nighttime hour, whereas humans are monophasic sleepers (one period of sleep over a 24-hour cycle). Dogs also stay alert for sounds, even when sleeping, which may make them lighter sleepers than their owners.
Urban legends abound about dogs sharing their owners’ sleeping spots. These myths include the suggestion that your dog will think they’re dominant to you or they will become spoiled. While there can be a link between bed-sharing and behavior problems, it’s not known whether co-sleeping creates the problem or the problem leads to co-sleeping in the first place. For example, a dog that shares their owner’s bed might have problems with separation anxiety. However, did the co-sleeping create excessive attachment? Or did the dog’s excessive attachment cause the owner to let them into the bed?
Sometimes, the issues are unrelated, and co-sleeping simply highlights already existing problem behavior. For example, a dog with resource guarding issues might growl and bark to protect their sleeping spot on your bed. But the problem is really about your dog unnecessarily defending what they see as their items and territory, not about co-sleeping.
For a well-adjusted, well-behaved dog, it’s quite unlikely that sleeping in your bed or bedroom will do anything except delight your dog, comfort you, and enhance the dog-owner bond. But if your dog is showing signs of aggression or any other problem behavior that is being worsened by co-sleeping, provide your dog with their own sleeping space while you consult with a professional trainer, a behavior consultant, or your veterinarian.
Benefits of Co-Sleeping
Despite the drawbacks to co-sleeping with a dog, the researchers explain that so many owners do it because the benefits likely outweigh the disadvantages. Studies have shown many physical and mental health advantages to owning a pet, and co-sleeping increases the amount of time spent with that pet, potentially increasing those benefits. For example, co-sleeping can increase the feelings of comfort and companionship your dog provides.
Co-sleeping with your dog can also ease anxiety and provide a feeling of safety and security. Your light-sleeping canine will alert you to anything out of the ordinary, so you can rest easy through the night. Dogs are also perfect bed warmers, keeping you toasty on a cold night. And finally, there is no substitute for waking up to a tail-wagging dog.
The research study concluded that even though society may not currently regard co-sleeping in the best light, because of the many benefits, there is no need for unnecessary concern. I think those of us who share our beds and bedrooms with our dogs already know that any disturbance or inconvenience might be well worth a nighttime of snuggles.