Sleeping with Your Dog

It’s a time-honored tradition but is sleeping with your dog the best way to sleep? Learn about the benefits and drawbacks of welcoming your dog in bed.

By Andrea Pisani Babich

If you are lucky enough to welcome a dog or two into your family, chances are you also share your bed with them. According to a recent survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, nearly half of all dog owners let their dogs sleep with them in bed and many more welcome their fur babies into their bedrooms at night to sleep on their own dog beds. You and other dog parents join a lofty group of pet owners through history who recognized the comfort and security sleeping with dogs can provide. The Egyptian pharaoh Ramses knew it; so did

  • Alexander the Great
  • Queen Victoria
  • Peter the Great, Czar of Russia
  • Lisette and Frederick the Great of Prussia

But were these august leaders sacrificing their sleep in the name of companionship? Recently, researchers from the Mayo Clinic studied the effect of sleeping with your dog on sleep efficiency or the amount of time people spent in bed actually sleeping. The study demonstrated that participants slept 81% of the time spent in bed when they slept with their dogs. (80% sleep time is considered satisfactory among sleep specialists.) This contradicted previous research and a body of conventional wisdom that suggested people suffered sleep loss when their dogs slept in their bedroom.

The researchers did note that snuggling up with your dog in your own bed was shown to slightly decreased sleep efficiency. But according to Dr. Carlo Siracusa, a veterinarian and director of animal behavioral science at PennVet in Philadelphia (not part of the Mayo Clinic study), as long as your dog is a calm, sound sleeper and not reactive if jostled, then welcoming your dog in your bed should not be a problem and typically provides some serious sleep benefits.

Benefits of Sleeping with Your Dog

Recent studies indicate that the benefits of sleeping with your dog far outweigh any distractions their presence may cause.

  • Comfort. Many people report taking comfort in having a loving companion close by, especially people who do not sleep with a human partner.
  • Companionship. Night time can be extremely lonely for people who live or sleep alone. Dogs provide a reassuring presence at night. One participant reported that her dog cuddles in closer when she has night terrors that frighten her awake.
  • Security. Dogs will often alert if they hear or smell something unusual in the house that may go unnoticed by their people. Many dog owners believe their dogs will protect them if there was imminent danger. One study participant reported that her dog alerted her husband when there was a problem with her medication pump.
  • Warmth. Dogs have a higher body temperature than ours — 104°F vs. 98.6°F, so in addition to their soft fur, they are great cuddle companions on cold nights. In fact, the phrase “three dog night” refers to the ancient practice of sleeping with not one but three dogs on the coldest nights.
  • Improved sleep hygiene. Dogs thrive on routine and have excellent internal clocks, so when it’s time to get up in the morning, you can be sure your canine clock will let you know. And don’t forget about the nightly reminder to get to bed at the same time every night. Regular wake/sleep times are an essential part of sleep hygiene we often ignore, but your dog won’t let you forget.
  • (Relentless) Morning trainers. Don’t feel like exercising in the morning? Tough. Your dog needs her morning walk and will make sure you don’t wimp out. Regular exercise offers a number of health and wellness benefits, including improved sleep.

Are There Any Drawbacks to Sleeping with Your Dog?

Questions about Who’s Top Dog

You may have encountered the long-held belief that allowing your dog on your bed or furniture promotes bad behavior that stems from the dog’s confusion about their status in the pack. Dr. Siracusa says not to worry about your dog assuming a dominant attitude around the house.

According to Siracusa, “Dogs can distinguish between the relationship with its human fellows and other dogs, and the way in which they regulate their interactions with humans in the house is not trying to establish hierarchy.”

Patricia McConnell, Ph.D., an animal behaviorist and ethologist at the University of Wisconsin- Madison, agrees. According to McConnell, dogs will not challenge your dominance nor will your dominance over them improve their behavior. “Although there are questions and quibbles about some of the finer points, experts almost universally agree that the concept of “getting dominance” over our dogs is, at best, not useful, and more often is harmful to our relationships with our best friends.”

Experts agree, however, that dogs who demonstrate aggressive behaviors should be given their own dog beds and/or sleep in a different room from their human companions.

What about Disease and Illnesses?

Transmission of disease from dogs to humans is rare. As long as you and your pet are healthy, there is little risk of becoming ill from sleeping with your dog. But since dogs may carry diseases before we become aware of them, it is advised children and immunocompromised adults keep dogs out of their beds. And, of course, you will not want to share your bed (or even your bedroom) with your fur babies if you are even the slightest bit allergic.

The Ancient Tradition of Sleeping with Dogs

The practice of humans co-sleeping with dogs predates even ancient times all the way back to the earliest humans. Anthropological evidence indicates that dogs lived with humans as far back as 15,000 years ago, and some experts believe the association may date back far longer than that. In prehistoric times, humans welcomed friendly wolves into their tribes as hunting companions, guardians for their children, and garbage disposals. These wolves warned of and scared away predators from their human friends, provided warmth on cold nights, and eventually became essential associates in the care and protection of the human groups.

The wolves benefitted from this arrangement by also finding warmth in their humans’ shelters, near their fires, and, eventually, by snuggling up with them at night. The care they received from their people helped them to survive in an almost perfectly reciprocal relationship. The enduring bond between people and dogs has been preserved and passed down through the generations in both of our respective sets of DNA.

The symbiosis continued because it was mutually beneficial, but there is more to the story of our love affair with dogs that the ancients did not know.

The Science behind Our Love for Dogs

Studies reveal that this behavior is not just the product of practicality or even sentimentality. There’s a scientific explanation for why you’re so attached to your dog, and it doesn’t make you a sap. It actually makes you more human.

It all has to do with a chemical called oxytocin, a “feel-good” hormone released from your pituitary gland in your brain. Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia demonstrates that just a few minutes of petting your dog and especially gazing into their eyes triggers the release of several “feel-good” hormones including serotonin and oxytocin, whose levels rose dramatically in participants when they petted and looked at their dogs.

Interestingly, oxytocin levels also increase when parents gaze at, touch, or otherwise interact with their babies. Yep. The hormones that help to forge and seal the parent-offspring bond are at work bonding you to your dog when you pet, play with or gaze into their eyes. No wonder we treat our dogs as part of the family. As far as our brains are concerned, they are.

But what about sleep?

This hormonal soup explains why we want to sleep with our dogs, but is it good for our sleep? Well, yes. Sleeping with your dog is a natural sleep aid for the same reasons why we want to sleep with them. The serotonin and oxytocin that are released and make your brain feel good when you snuggle up with your pooch also relieve stress and promote sleep. And that’s not the only beneficial chemical reaction we have to our dogs.

Loving on your dog lowers the primary stress hormone cortisol — the chemical that is triggered in your flight-or-flight response to a threat. These combined chemical reactions to sleeping with your dog nearby or in your bed make your brain physiologically primed for a good night’s sleep, Fido’s tossing and turning notwithstanding.

How to Get a Better Night’s Sleep with Your Dog

Fortunately, there’s a whole industry devoted to making co-sleeping with your dog more comfortable and more hygienic for all parties concerned. Here are a few products that will allow everyone in the pack to get a good night’s sleep.

Full-Size Bed Cover by Hammacher Schlemmer

You won’t lose any sleep worrying about your dog shedding, soiling, or otherwise destroying your bed linens with this plush, deep-pile velvet bed cover. This washable cover surrounds your dog in cushy comfort while protecting your bed from anything your dog dishes out during the night.

  • Price: $139.95
  • Rating: 4.8 stars (48 reviews)

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Rugged Quilted Dog Blanket by L.L. Bean

For smaller dogs or ones who stay in place at the foot of the bed, L.L. Bean offers a quilted dog blanket in two sizes (Medium 28″ x 36″ and Large 34″ x 44″). The smaller size makes it easy for dogs to adjust it for added cushioning and makes cleaning it a breeze. It’s machine washable and can be put in the dryer. Ultra-soft fleece on one side and durable quilted cotton twill on the other provide your pooch with two ways to get comfy in your bed.

  • Price: $49.95 for Medium and $69.95 for Large
  • Rating: 4.5 stars (41 reviews)

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Pet Steps by Premier Pet Steps

Some smaller or older dogs need a little help getting up into your bed. Make it easy on them with these study steps. Made of solid red oak and covered with stain resistant carpet, these steps can support over 300 lbs. Each step is 5 ½ inches high so small dogs or those with limited mobility can still enjoy snuggling with their people. Available in three- and four-step models.

  • Price: Two Steps $109 | Three Steps $139 | Four Steps $218.58
  • Rating: 4.5 stars (54 reviews)

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Free Standing Ramp for Dogs by Pet Gear

Steps can be challenging for some dogs, but that shouldn’t prevent them from getting cozy with you in your bed. This carpeted ramp makes it easy for your dog to climb up to bed and the supertraX mat is soft and easy to clean. Best of all, the ramp easily folds for compact under-the-bed storage and portability.

  • Prices: range from $79 to $177
  • Rating: 4 stars (890 reviews)

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Cozy Cave Pet Bed by Snoozer

Just because you don’t want your dog in your bed doesn’t mean they have to feel neglected. This crazy cozy dog cave offers even the most persistent burrowers the security and warmth they crave. The washable cover is made of micro-suede with a plush sherpa interior to keep your best friend comfy cozy all year long. The poly/cedar blend fill resists mildew and insects to help keep it allergen free. Available in a variety of colors and three sizes.

  • Price:
    • Small: 25″ x 4″ or 8″ (height) $99.95
    • Large: 35″ x 4″ or 8″ (height) $129.95
    • X-Large 45″ x 4″ or 8″ (height) $109.95

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