Can My Pets Sleep In My Bed?

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This week, our younger dog, Zohan, lost the privilege of sleeping in our bed.
OK, trolls - have at it! Allow me to offer some suggestions:
“Slow day in the newsroom, huh?”
“You know there’s like, famine and war going on, right?”
Granted, we’re not solving the Riddle of the Sphinx here. But this is a question I get asked a lot, and given our own dog’s latest shenanigans, I figured it was time to address it.
Let me start by saying that I’m not an expert in dog behavior. I expect I’ll hear from many people who are - and many more who think they are. That being said, I’ve never had a problem with dogs in the bed, provided certain conditions are met.
For starters, pets should not be allowed in the bed if they disrupt their owners’ sleep cycles. According to a study by the Mayo Clinic Sleep Disorders Center, 53 percent of people who share their beds with their pets report their pets disturb their sleep. Cats and dogs do not have the same sleep cycles as we do - while we may see few good reasons to be awake at 2 a.m., a cat may feel this is the perfect time to climb onto his owner’s head.
Even normal activities like scratching, grooming, and repositioning can wreak havoc on a good night’s sleep. If your pet is waking you throughout the night, it’s time to reconsider the sleeping arrangements. Remember, he gets to stay home and nap all day - you have to go to work.
If your pet is going to sleep with you, he must have good bed manners. At Casa Kupkee, Grendel sleeps in a little doggie bed, on top of our bedspread. This keeps her contained, while still allowing her to share our space.
When considering where your pets will sleep, remember that pets, especially dogs, encounter allergens every time they go outdoors. Those allergens cling to their fur and hair, and are carried straight into our beds. If you suffer from allergies, it may not be such a great idea to share your sleeping space with a pet.
As I’ve stated before, I’m not a behavior expert. Just the same, I’ve never bought into the belief that dogs who prefer sleeping with their owners at night are jockeying for the position of supreme dictator for life. Our dogs enjoy being near us. And while we have the experiences of work, families, hobbies, friends, causes, and diversions, our dogs have only us.
Additionally, our beds are warm and comfy! Why wouldn’t they want to sleep there? However, I do believe that sleeping on the bed is a privilege as opposed to a right. Our dogs are not allowed to help themselves to a comfy spot on the bed. Their presence is allowed by invitation only, and they must leave immediately if asked.
One of the first commands we teach our dogs is “off." Unless and until they obey this command consistently, the bed is off limits. Dogs are not allowed to sleep with us until they are at least three years old. Puppies must learn a degree of independence, and nighttime is the perfect time to teach this particular lesson. Since the adolescent stage is often marked by pushiness and defiance, we don’t even bother teaching bed etiquette during this phase of development. I believe dogs should be set up for success as opposed to failure, and there are just too many other things to work on at that time.
While I don’t believe dogs who share their owners’ beds are trying to achieve world domination, any signs of aggression towards sleeping partners should be taken very seriously. A dog who growls when a family member gets into bed is probably displaying resource guarding behavior. Whether he’s guarding your spouse, your pillow, or his favorite spot on the bed, this behavior is dangerous and tends to escalate quickly. If you see your dog guarding other items such as toys, food, or family members, call a trainer and get it fixed. Dogs who display these behaviors are not good candidates for bed sharing. Which brings me back to Zohan’s misadventure.
Truth be told, little Z has never been a great bed buddy. Unlike Grendel, he isn’t content to stay in a doggie bed throughout the night. While we had been trying to teach him to stay at the foot of the bed, he always crept out of his spot during the night, and glued himself to one of our bodies. Yes, it was cute. But it violated our cardinal rule as he always disturbed our sleep. Last week, after one such incursion, I reached over to surgically extract him from my wife’s rib cage. That’s when he did the unthinkable. He growled at me.
So what happened there?
All things considered, I really don’t think he was guarding my wife - he knows better. At the very least he should know better. Time will tell, as we are monitoring him closely for other signs of aggression. I also don’t believe he was challenging me for the position of king of the world. The growl was brief, high-pitched and petulant, like a toddler that doesn’t want to eat his peas. He immediately rolled onto his back, as if he knew he’d made a mistake. And while his remorse was endearing, it wasn’t enough. We calmly placed him in the crate near our bed, and he has slept there happily every night since the incident. Which begs an interesting question:
What if the trolls are onto something?
Maybe the presence of our pets in our beds is more about what we want, and less about what they want. Maybe it doesn’t matter where they sleep. Maybe Zohan was just as miserable and sleep deprived as we were. Maybe it’s good enough for our pets to just be near us at night. Maybe they couldn’t care less one way or other.
Or maybe, like the trolls, they’re just more concerned about famine and war.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic in Miami.
Do you have a question for Dr. Kupkee? Send him an email by clicking here.
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