The pros and cons of letting your dogs sleep in bed with you

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Full disclosure: I allow both of my dogs to sleep with me every night. One is a 107-pound Black Lab/German Shepherd named Gus, and the other is a 65-pound Cattle Dog/Pit bull named Ginger. They are eight and ten years old respectively. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 42 percent of dog owners let their dogs sleep with them.

When Gus was a puppy, I enrolled him in obedience class, and the trainer warned me against letting Gus sleep in my bed. “If you do that,” she said, “he will see himself as equal to you.” She was right. Gus is an alpha male that pulls on the leash, needs to walk ahead of the pack (Ginger and me), and gets so anxious at noise or people that he won’t take treats. A year before I adopted Gus, though, I went through a horrific divorce. My puppy was warm and cuddly, didn’t snore, and smelled good.

Despite being foot warmers, snuggly body pillows, and helpful watchdogs, allowing your dog to sleep with you is controversial at best. Experts and vets provide some pros and conts of letting your dog(s) sleep with you.

Similar to the opinion that my dog trainer had, other trainers and vets recommend keeping your dog off the bed because they may see you as submissive. On the contrary, if you have had no initial dominance problems with your dog, other experts say letting them sleep on the bed will not create these problems.

One of the other concerns veterinarians have about letting your dog sleep in your bed is cleanliness, because certain rare disorders can spread from pet to human. For instance, chagas and/or cat-scratch disease are uncommon but do occur. If your dog gets a wound, however, he or she could incur a staph infection, which you do not want to catch.

Since my dogs and I live in the Inland Northwest, we have little to no problems with fleas or ticks. Obviously, one of the best ways in which you can prevent these problems is to keep your dog clean, take them to the vet regularly for shots and checkups, and pay attention to anything out of the ordinary.

Besides illnesses that may or may not occur, sleeping with your dog can definitely disrupt your sleep. If your dog is large, smells bad, or pees the bed, you’ve got problems. My Black Lab/German Shepherd is about five-foot-three and usually sleeps at the foot of the bed. The Cattle Dog/Pit bull, however, has to lay right up against me, and she wakes me up every morning at 4 AM. She used to smell like cheese until I switched her to grain-free dog food.

With patience and determination, if you want the dogs off your bed, you can train them. You can also train your dog to leap on your bed at your invitation. For instance, when I change the sheets on my bed, Gus will sit on the floor and look at me. I say, “Wait.” He sits or lies on the floor until I am all done and say, “Okay, now.” This has come from repetition and practice.

All sources seem to suggest the same thing: reserve the bed for sleep only. My dogs are not allowed to have toys, rawhide, or outside sticks on my bed. The bed is for cuddling and sleeping. If you are unable to train your dog to be a good bedmate, you may choose a dog bed on the floor or a crate. Good luck!