It seems inevitable: In the middle of the night you get out of bed to go to the bathroom and when you try to get in again, there is a furry creature curled up in your spot. You push your dog but he doesn’t budge. You scratch behind his ear, he doesn’t move. You stand by the door and call him, he looks but decides your bed is comfier than his. He knows his bed is on the floor and he is good about starting the night there, but when you get up, he wiggles his way between your down comforter and 1,000 thread count sheets. This bedding was not made for a dog and you want your bed back.
The Root of the Behavior
Your bed is comfortable. It is your resting place and your sanctuary, but not your dog’s. Fido jumps into bed every time you get up and you can’t figure out why. He could be following the “Move your feet, lose your seat” rule that we remember from childhood. But what is his motive?
One motive is that your bed, especially your spot, is warm and cozy. It smells like you and the pillows and blankets have been mushed together so perfectly. If your dog likes you, he might just want to be closer to you, to smell you, or to keep your spot warm. If he gives it back when you return, it is not Fido being dominant, it’s quite the opposite. When he leaves the spot upon your return, he is showing you respect and submission. He recognizes you as the leader of the pack and you now have your comfy space back. He really was just keeping it warm for you.
Another motive is demonstrating dominance. He tells you that you are not the alpha by stealing your spot and refusing to give it back. If your dog does not move or listen to your commands when you return, it is most likely a dominance issue. He is telling you he does not want to move. This behavior stems from dogs being part of a pack before they were domesticated. It is still ingrained in them; the alpha dog of the pack gets the best of everything such as food, the ladies, sleeping arrangements, and he makes the decisions. If your dog is trying to be dominant, it means he thinks of himself as leader of the pack.
There is the possibility that he is just so warm and cozy and if you think about it, who wants to leave their bed once they are all snuggled in just right?
Encouraging the Behavior
If Fido gives you your spot back when you return, give him a pat on the head for being a good dog. If you don’t typically let him in your bed at night, make sure he returns to his bed and reward him with a “good dog” so he knows he did right.
If you think your dog is demonstrating dominance, you need to stop that behavior quickly. You are the alpha dog in your house. Fido could be showing other signs of dominance, which include leading on walks, ignoring known commands, or carrying himself with pride, more like a strut than a walk. Dominance is not necessarily aggressive, but it’s these small behaviors that if communicated and accepted, tell a dog he is the alpha.
When your dog demonstrates dominance and makes it hard for you to get back into bed, you may want to take him to a trainer. The trainer will work to return the power in the household to you and establish you as the alpha. If you don’t take Fido to a trainer, you’ll notice increasing problems with all of your dog’s behaviors. Walks, feeding time, sitting on furniture, guarding, and greetings are all things that will be affected. If you lose dominance in your household, your dog will start running the show and you will simply be the puppet who pours his kibble.
Other Solutions and Considerations
When you begin training your dog, make sure you keep everything consistent. Practice commands you learned so it becomes second nature. If Fido has a bed in your room, make sure he knows where it is and that if he jumps on your bed you can redirect him there. Simple commands like “off” or “no” can be effective.
If your dog is trying to be the alpha, he might also nudge you to get you to do things or lead you when you take him for walks. If he is nudging your hand at the dinner table because he wants food, don’t give in. It will reinforce that he is the alpha. When you are on walks, make sure the leash is short and he walks next to you or behind you. He should never walk in front of you.
Hopefully you have a dog who just wants to keep your spot warm, but if you have a dog who is trying to be the top dog, get him to a trainer. You do not want to be fighting with your own dog for your bed in your PJs at 2 a.m. After you give your dog praise for leaving your bed, you can go back to sleep and have a restful night.