When I first got Lou Lou — a four-pound ball of health issues fortuitously relinquished by her original owner — I fully intended to keep her off my bed.
While no one explicitly told me this, I assumed I’d negate her future as a well-adjusted canine if she was allowed to sleep in bed with me.
Here’s how that went:
Night one: She slept peacefully in a plastic bin all night* — clearly puppy-rearing was simple and easy. What were people complaining about?!
Night two: She slept peacefully for about half the night in the bin, then spent the rest of the night going in and out of the bin. Fun!
Night three: My brother claims (and I have no recollection of this) that I called him in the middle of the night and begged him to tell me how to make a dog go to sleep. He didn’t.
Night four, and every night after that: She slept peacefully in my bed.
Clearly, I have a biased perspective on the whole pets-in-bed thing — but I’ll do my best to explore this topic from every angle, and even provide some actual facts.
Why Are Some of Us Ashamed of Allowing Pets in the Bed?
43% of pet dogs and 49% of pet cats are reportedly allowed to snuggle up in their owners’ beds at night.
As with any parenting decision, allowing your pet in your bed is a very personal choice. Certain doubts are common:
“They’ll get clingy and be prone to separation anxiety.”
“They’ll lose all respect for you”
Let’s take a look at the evidence in favor of — and against — allowing pets in our beds.
Why Do Dogs Like Sleeping in Our Beds?
Puppies get used to having bedtime buddies from almost the moment they’re born, snuggling tight with their littermates while they snooze. That’s an easy observation to make — but are there actual biological reasons why dogs love to sleep next to humans?
First, scent is a big deal for dogs. Canine scent receptors are so powerful they can detect changes in human cell metabolism.
One research study found that dogs presented with different scents could identify the scent of their owner or handler. The scent would activate their “caudate nucleus,” a part of the brain with a “well-known association with positive expectations.”
Your bed, where you spend a solid eight hours a night (well, if you’re lucky) is a prime spot for that rewarding scent.
Why Do We Let Dogs Sleep in Our Beds?
I ran a *highly* informal survey featuring ManyPets team members and polled their reasons for or against pet bed-sharing. Many respondents felt they didn’t have a choice in the matter, as their pet “rules the household.” (These were mainly cat owners…you guys OK?)
But most of those in favor of bed-sharing said it’s just plain nice to drift off with cuddles and warmth:
“The cuddles and heat are just -chef’s kiss-.”
“I want all the cuddles possible at any time of day.”
“He curls up in the nook of my back – I keep him warm and he is a heating pad for me.”
“Helps me sleep (guard dog lol).”
“I don't mind my dogs in my bed for quick cuddles, it's a nice way to wind down before sleeping.”
Speaking of sleep quality, how exactly does sharing a pet with your dog impact your health (or theirs)? In the absence of a true sleep study, we’ve found the following data:
41% of pet owners in another research study reported that pets in their beds were “unobtrusive or even beneficial to sleep.”
Your dog may feel the same way. An academic study in Vienna, Austria found that dogs were better able to relax and sleep when they were with other members of their species, or with a “familiar human partner.” (The study also looked at wolves, but please don’t sleep next to one.)
Being alone while resting led to increased heart rate and decreased heart rate variability. In other words, a lonesome dog bed = increased anxiety.
The Case Against Sharing Your Bed With Your Dog
When should you not share a bed with your dog? Dr. Ashley T. Randall DVM, veterinarian, and owner of West End Animal Wellness Center in Atlanta, sheds some light:
“I recommend against bed-sharing with pets if the pet or person has any type of skin condition or medical condition that could be problematic,” she says. “I also recommend the pet be on flea/tick prevention, and that they are potty trained prior to sleeping with a person.”
As for my informal ManyPets survey, those respondents in the no-pets-in-bed camp cited three main reasons:
These problems were compounded when there were multiple pets in the household. (“My Big Girl is 65 pounds,” said one owner. “Nope, we cannot sleep in the bed with her, lil’ dog, hubby, and me.”)
All very reasonable. But what about behavioral worries? Will bed-sharing produce an unbearably ill-mannered pup?
Do Dogs That Share Beds With Owners Have More Behavioral Issues?
I texted my agility trainer Erin Madsen of ACME Canine Center in Union Gap, Washington, about this topic, steeling myself for the inevitable advice against allowing dogs in bed.
“I have no problem with them sleeping in the bed, mine all do,” she texted back. “So I’m probably not the one to ask 🤣🤣🤣.”
I should mention this is a well-respected local trainer whose dogs have taken home champion titles in agility events. I think we can end this blog post right here. (Kidding.)
My local veterinarian, Dr. Lauren Cambra of Tieton Drive Animal Clinic in Yakima, Washington, echoed the sentiment.
“I don’t have a preference on bed sharing with pets either way,” Cambra said, “People should do whatever they want in regards to strengthening their bond with their pet.”
Dog trainer Steffi Trott addressed this topic for Reader’s Digest and made an excellent point:
There is nothing inherently wrong with letting your dog sleep in the bed. It will neither have any negative behavior consequences nor will it make your dog “revolt” against you or try to become the leader of your pack...In a group of dogs, there is no social order that determines sleeping habits. Everyone can sleep where they please.
There aren’t currently well-studied arguments against bed-sharing from any reputable sources, despite what some online forum members might have you believe. So the behavioral argument’s out for now.
The Bottom Line: Snuggle Up
Assuming you’ve taken the steps to ensure your dog is potty trained, clean, and flea-free, bed-sharing has not been causally linked to problematic behaviors or health issues. Behaviorally speaking, it’s fine to share your bed.
If you’ve let your dog sleep in your bed but have since decided it’s not for you, you should know that it’s possible to retrain them — you just need patience, a decent dog bed, and solid training tactics to make your bed less appealing. It might also be worth investing in sessions with a professional trainer. That’s a post for another day.
And if you’re a cat owner, let’s face it — you don’t really have a choice in the matter. But we didn’t have to tell you that, did we?
*without the lid, obviously–I’m not a barbarian