Do you allow your dog sleep in your room or your bed?
Is this a good thing?
What are the benefits and disadvantages?
In this post I am going to share my experience and views in this area based on over 15 years experience in handling and studying animals. I will try my best to list out the pros and cons, also what you can do to make better decisions for your dog when it comes to sleeping at night.
First of all, we need to understand that dogs are social animals, meaning they do well and survive better in packs. So naturally, when you bring home a dog and spend some time with it, your dog should regard itself as part of your pack, or vice versa where you become part of its pack (lol). Now when it comes to sleeping, a pack of dogs will usually sleep together either in a den or comfortable space/territory, doing so can keep each other warm at night, develop better bond and it also serve as better protection.
With this information should we assume that dogs should sleep with us too?
Answer is Yes and No.
Of course you'd want your dog to feel like it's part of the family, sleeping together is one way to further this relationship. Studies have shown that sleeping with your dog create better bond as well as reducing anxious behavior in both dogs and humans. Most dogs would also find themselves rest and relax better in the bed with their owners. Not forgetting to mention that it's definitely a nice experience to snuggle with your dog.
That being said however, this routine can actually turn into a serious problem in the long run. When you sleep with your dog, the need to rely on each other can easily become too much, and I mean in an unhealthy way. Dogs love routines and do not enjoy sudden changes, in this case sleeping together after a period of time will be expected from your dog every night without fail. Sounds good at first, but think about it - Will your sleeping habit be forever the same?
Let me give an example on a client I came across, the owner was really determined to sleep with her dog forever, then some time in between she found her husband, and he was perfectly fine with it (which is lucky). But the problem arise when she became pregnant, the plan suddenly had to change - either the baby has to be in another room, or the dog. First of all, you need to understand that if a dog had been sleeping with the owner for a period of time, removing this routine can easily create a serious behavioral issue known as separation anxiety. Which means that whenever the dog parts from the owner, it may feel extremely stress and anxious, this can be in the form of barking, howling and even destroying of things. When separation anxiety is prolonged it will lead to depression.
Let's be realistic here, a newborn baby would need a lot of attention especially during the first year. If there are only 2 choices, putting the dog in another room would be much more sensible solution, which in return can cause the dog to develop separation anxiety. What about having baby and dog in the same room? Well I have not mentioned taking account the behavior of the dog yet, also the reaction of baby, the health condition of baby, noise that the baby or dog may cause to each other as well as owners. This is just one example, many owners can promise a lot of things when the dog is still young, but life and circumstances can suddenly change without warning. Even financial crisis can unknowingly affect the living conditions of your dog.
However, if a dog is trained from young to sleep alone from the start, this issue would've been non existent.
What about the bond from sleeping together that you mentioned just now?
True that sleeping together with your dog strengthens bond, but understand that sleeping together is not the only way to build better relationships. Dogs do not just bond better by sleeping together, there are many ways to achieve similar if not better results. Other than thinking about how dogs sleep in the wild, we also need to consider the lifestyle of us human beings. If the owner or one of the family members need to leave the house on a regular basis, for example going to work, this person would've already broke off from the pack and probably affected the natural behavior and routine of the dog in some ways. Different dogs react differently but all of them feel a form of anxiousness when their owners leave the house, at least during the first couple of weeks. Then after a period of time, some may show worst reaction like anxiety, while others may learn to get used to this if they have good personality with high tolerance limit (most don't). So in this case, unless you do not have to go out of the house and is determined to stay at home for the rest of your dog's life, sticking closely together as a pack is already out of the question.
So what should I do?
For those who's dog is still a puppy, I will definitely advice to set aside a private space and let them learn to sleep alone. A crate, kennel, room or empty space is a good idea, even a simple fencing or baby crate situation is better than nothing. Make sure this space is out of reach from anybody including guests and especially children, you'd want to create a comfortable space for the dog to sleep as well as retreat to. Dogs are confident when they have a den! Toys, food, water, bed should be in the space. Your dog should never be placed in the yard if you live in landed, dogs should be part of the household unless they are trained as guard dogs. It is important to endure if the puppy starts showing signs of anxiousness, this is just the first phase of adaptation. Usually those that are bought from pet stores/farms are more prone to barking/destroying when left alone. That being said, puppies are definitely much easier to train compared to adult dogs, where bad habits and expectations have already been nurtured as part of their personality.
For those who's dog had already slept with them for a period of time and had experienced the side effects that I've mentioned, I will advice to start trying the above method first, which is setting up a space. If by one week and the dog still shows sign of extreme anxiety (howling, excessive barking, destroying of objects, jumping out of crate, digging), a trainer with experience in separation anxiety is strongly advised. Note that the solution should NEVER be letting the dog sleep with you, even for awhile, worst if you sleep beside its crate. This will just teach the dog that barking/howling/destructive behavior = sleep with owner.
Any other negative points from sleeping together?
Lack of Confidence
Dogs who sleep with owner may lack confidence, they tend to hide behind owners when experiencing uncommon situations, or even hiding under furnitures due to the lack of personal space for retreating, this destroys their natural ability to be willing to learn new things.
Unable to adapt to new environment
There may be times where owners need to leave their dogs with a dog hotel, whether it is going for trip or even renovation of house. This is when anxiety shows, many dogs are unable to adapt and exhibit signs of separation anxiety. This is not the dog missing you so don't be so happy, this is your dog suffering due to the lack of proper upbringing. In this case owners may have to find boarders that allow dogs to sleep on their beds/in their room, so in the end nothing changed, the dog's confidence and independent ability will just suffer throughout its life.
Guarding of human bed is behavior that I've noticed only with dogs that sleep with their owners. That is because the dog thinks that the bed is it's personal space, so any stranger that tries to enter will be warned. This is a very unhealthy behavior because the dog doesn't know how to differentiate between right and wrong, so this warning can easily lead to extreme aggression, which is snapping whenever anyone other than the owner tries to come near to the bed. In the dog's term of stranger, it could be your partner, your parents, your siblings, and this territorial behavior can even extend to the whole room. Definitely unpleasant in my opinion.
I've heard that it's possible to sleep your dog without having separation anxiety, how does this work?
Some like to debate that it is actually possible for a dog not to have anxiety even when sleeping with owners, as long as the way of training is correct. I'd like to say that this is controversial and in my opinion, does not prove that it is possible.
First of all, these people sleep with their dogs (otherwise they wouldn't debate), which means that they believe sleeping with dogs is a good thing. Naturally, they would also expect their dogs to sleep with their caretaker, or at least in their rooms when they are away. Obviously doing this will not be able to see if the dog actually has separation anxiety, because the routine is still the same. If I were to have these dogs in a crate or separate room, then we can see if they have separation anxiety, simple. If my dog had been trained to sleep alone, then she can go anywhere without showing anxiety, you can put her in a crate, in another room, on your bed, on the floor, she will be fine, this means the dog has no separation anxiety.
If you are lucky and get a dog with naturally tamed behavior, it could have very high tolerance towards stress and may not display such behavior no matter what happens. That being said, the dog could be feeling extreme stress during such situations and just tolerating, this can become a time ticking bomb that will explode when the limit is up. Heard before cases where owners claim their dog had been really well behaved for years, and suddenly became aggressive/depressed? Thats the reason.
I hope you've learned something new form this article, feel free to pm or email us if you have any questions rewarding anxiety :)