When I was a child, I longed to have my dog sleeping in bed with me. But the rules were firm. No sleeping with dogs. In fact, no dogs allowed upstairs. Now I am grown up, I share my bed with a man. And make my own rules! But I have four dogs. So bed sharing would be very crowded!
In the intervening years, attitudes towards bed-sharing with dogs have changed. And more of my friends are owning up to snoozing the night away with a Lab or two for company. Not everyone is admitting it of course, but the truth is, a lot of people spend the night, every night, with their dogs
Just how many people are sleeping with dogs?
This is not a minority pass-time! A massive 45% of people surveyed by the AKC sleep with their dogs. A Harris Poll conducted in 2012 reportedly put this figure even higher. And it isn’t a new phenomenon. Humans have been sleeping alongside their dogs for thousands of years. Stone age man almost certainly snuggled up to his dogs on cold winter’s nights.
More recent studies of the relationship between indigenous Australians and their dogs and dingos notes that these four legged friends were more than just hunting companions and were valued for their bed warming qualities.
Dog co-sleepers – why do they do it?
Modern homes present some barriers to co-sleeping with dogs. Barriers that were not an issue for our cave dwelling ancestors – doors for example. However it seems that co sleeping has persisted, and having the dog sleeping in bed has even increased in recent years. And those who don’t co sleep with their dogs may wonder why.
It’s likely that some cases of co sleeping arise from separation anxiety in pets, or in a failure on the part of the dog owner to establish an alternative night time routine. In other words, some people just ‘give in’ to a whining dog or a dog that scratches at the bedroom door. But in many cases co sleeping with dogs is arising out of an active choice on the part of the human in this partnership
The fact is that many people form very deep attachments to their dogs, and co-sleeping is a natural consequence of those attachments. And there is no doubt that there are benefits to both parties, especially in situations where the human partner lacks a significant human support network. Let’s look at some of those benefits now!
Dog sleeping in bed – the benefits
Numerous studies going back many years, have demonstrated health benefits for people who share their lives with companion animals. Whether or not having your dog sleeping in bed with you increases that benefit has not been proven but it is certainly an interesting idea. It’s likely for example, that close contact enhances that bond between man or woman and their dogs. And with many people working long hours during the day, co sleeping is one way to notch up those hours spent together.
Studies have long shown that petting and close contact with animals has a positive effect on health. Improving survival rates after life threatening surgery for example. This isn’t just about relief from loneliness, decreases in blood pressure have been observed in people talking to pets, compared with people talking to other humans.
We don’t know exactly how close the contact between man and dog has to be to have a beneficial effect but it makes sense that that contact would require a physical presence. A dog kept outdoors in the kennel is probably not going to improve your chances of surviving that heart attack, but a dog to cuddle up to in the wee small hours of the morning might very well do so. While we know that close contact with dogs has beneficial effects, there can be no ignoring that there are some risks to bringing dogs into our beds. Let’s take a look at those now
Dog sleeping in bed – the risks
There are three main areas of concern that have been raised over bed sharing with dogs
- Sleep deprivation
- Behavioral issues in the dog
Concerns about infections being passed from dogs to humans were highlighted in report published in 2011. Examples of people being infected with plague after sleeping with flea ridden dogs and cats are given. Various other, mostly rare or very localized, diseases are also described. At the time of publication this paper did cause some concerns, but it’s fair to say that the risks of infection from sharing a bed with your dog are probably no greater than the risks of infection from simply living together
Most of these infections could have been acquired in the course of any close contact with one of these pets, rather than being dependent on co-sleeping and the authors do state that “zoonotic infections acquired by sleeping with a pet are uncommon”
Some of us, after reading a report like this are likely to wash our hands a bit more carefully after handling our pets, and then forget the whole thing in a day or two. Unless you have a compromised immune system it probably isn’t worth worrying about. People with allergies to hair are probably better off keeping pets out of the bedroom, though to be honest, Labradors shed so much that unless you have a team of elves keeping your bedroom clean, there will probably be dog hair and dander in it anyway.
So, if bed sharing with dogs isn’t a direct health hazard for most of us, could it influence our health indirectly by reducing the quality of our sleep?
Does bed sharing with a dog cause sleep deprivation?
Scientist Bradley Smith carried out a large survey on human animal co-sleeping in Australia in 2015. He looked at over thirteen thousand survey responses from adults of all ages and found some interest patterns.
On the whole people who co-slept with their dogs or cats took longer to fall asleep and were more likely to wake up tired than those whose pets were not allowed in the bedroom. Despite this, those who had their dog sleeping in bed with them did not report feeling more tired during the day and reported getting the same amount of sleep overall as the non co-sleepers.
Perhaps not so surprising when you delve a little deeper and find that the difference in ‘falling asleep time’ between the two groups is only four minutes! Although this might be significant in terms of the results of the study, it’s probably not going to have a huge impact on those affected.
Co-sleeping and quality of sleep
Another study, published in 2017 looked at 40 healthy adults who were co sleeping with their dogs. Both the dogs and the humans taking part in the study wore an accelerometer for seven nights. That’s basically a clever device to record body movements.
What the scientists were looking for was evidence of sleep efficiency. And they found that although humans were able to maintain good sleep efficiency with a single dog sleeping in the bedroom, that efficiency was reduced if the dog was actually sleeping on the bed. In other words, you are probably not going to get quite such a good night’s sleep if you share your duvet, but you’ll be fine if your faithful hound simply snoozes at your bedside.
Whether or not your sleep will be disturbed by snoozing alongside Rover, is a difficult question to answer definitively. You’ll probably be the best judge of that. What is known for certain is that sleep deprivation is a serious health issue. Sleep deprivation interferes with decision making and makes you more prone to road traffic accidents. It is estimated that 20% of vehicle crashes are associated with sleep deprived drivers. Something to bear in mind if you drive or work in an environment where your decision making ability is a key factor. Again, only you can decide.
Does co sleeping cause behavioral problems in dogs
At one time, it was thought that allowing dogs to sleep on beds, or other premium sleeping spots, such as your favourite chair, would cause problems with dominance. We now know that in most cases this isn’t true. Few Labradors are interested in dominating their families. So provided your dog is not prone to resource guarding (see below), letting him sleep on the bed will not put him in charge of the household.
Some dogs find it hard to share, they like to keep all the comfy, and tasty things to themselves.
These dogs may growl and try to defend nice sleeping places. It is very important that you don’t bed-share with a dog that tries to guard the bed from you. Or that won’t let anyone else but you, climb on it.
If your dog behaves in this way, tempt him off the bed with some tasty treats and keep him firmly shut out of your bedroom. If he is resource guarding other sleeping places too, ask your vet to refer you to a behaviorist to help sort the problem out.
Dogs co sleeping with children?
In broad terms, small children should not sleep with large dogs. For a number of reasons. Children are very poor at communicating with dogs and often do not recognise warning signs that a dog is distressed or unwell, or has begun resource guarding.
Almost every year, children are killed by dogs. And in many cases, the owner was convinced that the dog would never harm a member of their family. That report we discussed above on the diseases dogs can carry, also notes that during a five year period in the USA “among 109 dog bite–related deaths, 57% were of children <10 years old and 11 were of a sleeping infant.” Most experts agree that letting a small child co sleep with a dog is not worth the risk, and interaction between small children and dogs should always be supervised.
Co sleeping – your dog’s routine
When you decide to sleep with your dog, you need to consider how you will cope if you change your mind. Supposing you are unwell and need to have your bed to yourself for a while. Will your pet be happy to snooze on the floor, or outside your door for a few nights. Or will it be a real problem to separate him from you?
If you are young and currently childless, ask yourself how your dog might feel if you one day need to co sleep with a human baby. Some dogs would be quite distressed to lose their regular sleeping place. If your dog is very attached to routines, you do need to decide whether or not you are happy to make this a long term commitment.
Sleeping with dogs: what about puppies
Small puppies need their own beds. This is because you cannot supervise a puppy once you are asleep, and housetraining accidents are highly likely to occur and to delay the whole process of getting the dog clean indoors.
Puppies also need to learn to be alone sometimes, and they need to learn this in the first few months of life. Otherwise they will have problems coping with being alone later on. If you decide to have your puppy sleep in your bedroom on a permanent basis, you’ll need to provide him with a crate for the first few months, and promote him to the bed later once he has good bladder control.
Is it okay to have a rescue dog sleeping in bed with you?
If you have adopted a rescue dog that has no aggression problems, he may benefit greatly from the close companionship of bed sharing. You need to be aware of the possible downsides though. He may for example find it difficult to cope if you later wish to terminate the bed-sharing arrangement. Or may soil the room whilst you are asleep.
In some ways you need to treat a rescue dog like a puppy for a while.
The reluctant dog
Not all dogs will want to share a bed with their owners. Some won’t like climbing on to a raised surface. Others prefer to sleep alone, in their basket. It’s best not to try to force your dog to share your bed if he doesn’t want to. If you want company, you can try placing his basket next to your bed. He may decide to join you above at some point in the future.
When your dog gets older, he may need some steps or a ramp to help him join you. Especially if he is small or your bed is quite high.
Should you sleep with your dog?
If your dog is already resource guarding or aggressive bed-sharing is a bad idea. But if your dog does not have these issues, and you want to share your bed, this is unlikely to cause problems. Bed sharing with a dog can be a great comfort to people that are lonely and may help to deepen the bond between the dog and his carer.
Yes dogs are dusty and your bedroom may get hairy. But a certain amount of hair and dust may be a small price to pay for companionship during the hours of darkness.
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Are you a dog co sleeper? Or a firm ‘no hairs in the bedroom’ type. Does your dog share your nights as well as your days! Do tell us all about it in the comments below
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References and further reading
- Smith B and Litchfield C. A Review of the Relationship between Indigenous Australians, Dingoes (Canis dingo) and Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris). Anthrozoos 2009
- Serpell J. Beneficial effects of pet ownership on some aspects of human health and behavior. J R Soc Med 1991
- Smith B et al. The Prevalence and Implications of Human–Animal Co-Sleeping in an Australian Sample. Anthrozoos 2015
- Martens P et al. The Emotional Lives of Companion Animals: Attachment and Subjective Claims by Owners of Cats and Dogs. Anthrozoos 2016
- Kurdek L. Pet dogs as attachment figures for adult owners. American Psychological Association 2009
- Chomel B & Sun B. Zoonoses in the Bedroom. Medscape 2011
- Harrison Y & Home J. The impact of sleep deprivation on decision making: a review. J Exp Psychol Appl 2000
- Smith B & Thompson K. Should We Let Sleeping Dogs Lie… With Us? Synthesizing the
Literature and Setting the Agenda for Research on Human-animal
- Short Sleep Duration Among Workers. Centers For Disease Control and Prevention 2010
- Smith B et al. A Multispecies Approach to Co-Sleeping. Human Nature 2017
- The American Kennel Club
- Herzog, H. Should Pets be Banished From the Bedroom? Psychology Today 2014
- Beck, A & Meyers M, Health Enhancement and Companion Animal Ownership, Annual Reviews 1996
- Patel, S et al. The Effect of Dogs on Human Sleep in the Home Sleep Environment, Mayo Clinic Proceedings 2017
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