Should I let my dog sleep in the bed with me?
I used to have a very firm "no dogs in the bed" policy, but things have changed since the pandemic began. I'm in solo quarantine and my dogs are basically family, so it makes sense for us to be closer to each other right now. Families band together in times of trouble, right? Only I’m kind of fastidious so now I have to do a lot of laundry and I have also begun wondering if it's good for our pet/fur-parent relationship. Is it okay to let my dogs sleep in my bed?
“It depends on the situation,” Jo de Klerk, a British veterinarian currently based in South Africa, tells Mic. “Dogs in the bed have been proven to strengthen your bond, and help induce relaxation and decrease anxiety.” To be clear, de Klerk is talking about human anxiety. Several of the vets I spoke with mentioned the human mental health benefits of sleeping with dogs. “Closeness to a dog helps to reduce blood pressure, relieve stress, and lower anxiety or depression,” says Kansas-based veterinarian Claudine Sievert. Cuddling with a dog, she explains, releases oxytocin, dubbed “the love hormone,” in the brain just like cuddling with a human.
It’s not just good for humans, though. “Most dogs who sleep with their owners are more loyal and more bonded to the person that they sleep with,” says Sarah Ochoa, a veterinarian and a consultant for DogLab, an informational database for dog lovers. While not all dogs are alike, generally speaking, dogs in the wild sleep together in groups for both safety and comfort. “Letting your dog sleep in your bed strengthens the pet-parent dynamic,” says Ochoa.
But beds and furniture are truly human domains, right? Will sharing my bed upset the hierarchy of my fur family? “For some dogs who are uncertain about their place in the hierarchy, allowing them on the bed may interfere with the dog-pet parent dynamic,” says de Klerc. “I don’t recommend it for households with children. When a dog sleeps in the adult’s bed, they automatically place themselves above the children in the hierarchy, which can lead to dominance issues.” Otherwise, most vets agreed that letting your dog in your bed won’t make them think they’re on your level in a bad way.
But will bed privileges make your dog overdependent or clingy? Well, the thing is that these are behaviors that humans interpret as emotional, but in dog terms, these are issues of (again) perceived hierarchy and dominance. Sleeping in the bed gives the dog the impression that they are somewhat equal to their owner. De Klerc says, however, that “for dogs with a less dominant personality, or pets in a family where there is a well-established hierarchy — for example, they are not new to the house — sleeping in the bed should not cause problems.”
So if there’s any confusion about who’s Alpha, sleeping in the bed could exacerbate your dog’s superiority complex, but for dogs who aren’t already kind of bossy, it’s probably okay.
There’s also the issue of hygiene. I don’t mean the “I got COVID-19 from my cat” conspiracy theories, I mean the actually real problem of dirt. Hygiene isn't an issue, though, if you do laundry, clean the dog's paws and coat and visit a vet regularly to make sure your pet is healthy and gets all the necessary vaccinations, Sievert tells me. It may seem like a pain to constantly groom your pet, but it’s not just vanity. Your pet can track in allergens and germs from the outside, so how much you have to clean your pet depends on how much time they spend on the loose. “If your dog is rolling in the dirt all day, then comes inside and sleeps in the bed, it’s not hygienic,” says Ochoa. “But if your dog spends the day sleeping on the couch and rarely goes outside, it’s okay.” Most dogs who sleep in the bed will need to be bathed often, she says.
Please don’t forget that animal-human relationships are a two way street, just like all other relationships. “If you let a dog sleep in bed with you, make sure you worry about him too,” Sievert reminds me. “While pet owners get used to thinking about the ways dogs can transmit diseases to them and interrupt their sleep, this works both ways.” Dogs, it turns out, are light sleepers, so they may not take well to your chronic midnight pee breaks. “If you are sick, snort, toss and turn from side to side, it can negatively impact your dog's health and sleep quality,” Sievert says.