“I was at a meeting recently speaking to almost 200 dog aficionados,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, who heads the Behavior Clinic at the Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “The room was filled with professionals — trainers, groomers, veterinarians — and a fellow speaker asked of the audience, ‘How many of you have your dog in the bedroom?’
“Everybody’s hand went up. Then the question was put to them, ‘How many of you allow your dog on the bed with you?’
“Only about a quarter of the hands went down, meaning three out of four people — a very large proportion — did allow their dog on the bed.”
Does Dr. Dodman, a world-renowned animal behaviorist himself, think allowing the dog in bed with you is acceptable practice?
“I can’t think why you wouldn’t allow the dog on the bed unless there was some compelling reason,” he says. A case in point: “I had a client with a pug cross who snored like a banshee,” he relates. “To get a decent night’s sleep, she had to keep it in another room, which she set up nicely for her dog.”
Another reason to keep the dog off the bed, Dr. Dodman says, is if the “pet is very uppity and engaging with you in conflict aggression.” Conflict aggression is what used to be known as “dominance.” Animal behaviorists now use the new term because it better describes the inner conflict a dog experiences when he doesn’t know who the leader is. He’s not being dominant as much as feeling anxious because it’s not clear who runs the show, so he tries to take over to right things — much like a toddler who experiences anxiety without social structure and therefore acts out.
When it comes to dogs with conflict aggression who, for instance, may object to being petted or handled by their owners or who act inappropriately in guarding resources such as food or toys, it’s better to keep them off high places like beds, couches, and chairs. It’s a way of teaching them their place in the household.
Conflict aggression also affects some little dogs, who may need to be kept off the bed as well. “A Yorkshire terrier can’t jump onto the bed himself because he’s too small,” Dr. Dodman says. “So his owner lifts him up. But then, in the night, when the owner turns over, the Yorkie nips or bites, saying, in effect, ‘Lie still, you bugger.'” Such a dog, too, should be kept off high places.
An owner’s allergy to his own pet would be another reason to make sure the dog doesn’t come onto the bed. And some owners simply don’t want to share the space — or the dog’s odor. It’s certainly your call.
But anyone who does want to allow the dog into bed with them and doesn’t have extenuating circumstances should not feel they are doing the wrong thing. “It’s a nice thing to all be one big family together,” Dr. Dodman says. “It’s good for bonding, and it’s good for cementing your relationship with your pet. A recent study even showed that a dog allowed in bed with his owner is no more likely to end up with separation anxiety than other dogs.” It’s sort of like raising a human youngster. The more attention you give a dog and the more you can meet his need to be part of the pack, especially when he’s young, the more independent he’ll be later on.
As for those who fear that ticks or other insects on their dogs will make their way onto their own skin, Dr. Dodman reminds owners that if they protect their dogs with the proper medications, fleas and ticks will keep away. “My dogs do sometimes come home from a romp in the woods with a tick on them,” he acknowledges. “We do a tick check. And I’m sure we don’t get every single one, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a tick make its way onto me from my dogs. With the medication — we use Frontline — sometimes a tick we’ll find is dead already. Sometimes it’s crawling weakly. But in any case it’s not a tick that can do harm.”
Dr. Dodman finishes by talking about the soothing rhythm of life that occurs with his two dogs in the bed. “I usually go upstairs first,” he says — “early to bed, early to rise. My wife comes up later. Before she does, I hear the TV go off, the door sliding so she can take the dogs out, and then the door sliding again so they can all come back in. Then the two dogs make their way upstairs and flop at the bottom of the bed, near our feet, and curl up. Sometimes during the night they get up and walk around, but then they come back up again. I always think, ‘Good, we’re all together. We’re all in our pack.’ It’s nice to see them there in the morning, too.”