A lot of dog owners can recall waking up and feeling a weight on their legs. As you try to get comfortable, you can hear your dog sigh as he readjusts. Letting your dog sleep with you is a very common behavior, but is it a relatively safe behavior? And what causes your dog to want to cozy up to you instead of using that nice, expensive bed you bought him last holiday season? Turns out the reasoning behind this behavior is more complicated than veterinary doctors originally thought. Below, we try to cover some of the benefits behind this incredibly common occurrence.
The Root of the Behavior
Is it strange to share your slumber with animals? Sleeping with your dog is actually a completely normal occurrence in the United States. Recent studies have shown that between 35%-65% of all dog owners allow their dogs into bed with them. A study done at the Mayo Clinic showed that this behavior actually stands to aid your sleep more than it might harm it. Up to 75% of people who slept with their dogs in this study slept as normally as they did without their dogs present, and a small minority actually slept better with them present. When compared to humans sleeping with other humans, there was little to no variation in the participants' quality of sleep. Another great reason for your dog to come crawling into bed with you is his ability to lower your stress. Several studies have shown a significant decrease in cortisol levels (an indicator of anxiety and stress) when owners slept with their dogs regularly. This same effect can also seemingly be achieved by being in close quarters with your dog. A nice side effect of this is that it works both ways! Yes, dogs can also suffer from symptoms of stress and anxiety, especially separation anxiety from you being out of the house on a regular basis. So the physical effect afforded to them during rest periods can mean the difference between a happy dog and a stressful one. An additional and somewhat obvious motivation for your dog sleeping with you is trust. As a member of his perceived "pack,” your dog will regularly engage in behaviors that build trust between the two of you. This is a behavior rooted deeply in your dog's ancient lineage, and it's an incredibly important instinct to foster. Being supportive of sleeping together can only stand to improve the relationship between you and your canine companion.
Encouraging the Behavior
So what do you do if you have a dog who refuses to leave your bed while you suffer through sleepless nights? Most experts agree that overly aggressive dogs, or dogs that seem to suffer from dominance issues, shouldn't allowed into your bed for pretty much any reason. If your dog is a problem, it shouldn't be getting rewarded with behavior it can mistake as you being submissive. In some cases this has led to dogs treating family members with less respect, occasionally even lunging or biting at inappropriate times. A great way to do this is to turn it into a fun training exercise for your dog. The first thing you'll need is a dog bed; something to replace as a sleeping area. Without this, there's no way your dog is going to go for it. Once you've acquired a dog bed, be forewarned that dogs tend to be particular about their resting spots so it may my necessary to move the bed around a few times. Eventually, the next and final step is reinforcing this positive behavior with a lot of petting and treats. Eventually as the weeks and months wear on you can, and will, successfully get your dog sleeping in his bed where he belongs.
Other Solutions and Considerations
A situation in which this type of behavior is unavoidable is if you and your dog are out in the elements. Letting your dog crawl into your sleeping bag can often mean the difference between a good night's sleep and a bad case of frostbite. If you do have your dog with you for an extended period outdoors, it is completely acceptable to let your dog snuggle up at night. Remember that your doggy companion can become overheated just as easily as you can become freezing cold, so during the daytime give them options for both warmer and cooler environments.
When you get right down to it, unless your dog is a real diva there's every reason in the world to let him/her up into bed at night. Just remember to look out for signs of aggression or other negative behaviors. But if you have a happy, healthy dog then maybe it's just time to cook up some bacon and have a doggy slumber party!