Enter my girlfriend of the past two and a half years. What I should say is enter my girlfriend and her three-pound Yorkshire terrier. My lifelong model of a dog sleeping faithfully in its own bed next to mine was out the window. Suddenly I was competing for covers with a pint-sized pooch.
It appears I am now in a subcategory when it comes to this phenomenon. Stanley Coren is professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of several books on dogs. In an article for Modern Dog magazine, Coren wrote that the highest percentage of people found sleeping with their dogs are single females between the ages of 18 and 34. Nearly six out of 10 women in this group allow the dog on the bed.
He does not mention these single females’ boyfriends, but I assume we are included.
The situation got me thinking about the human-dog relationship and how it is affected by sharing such an intimate space. Is it a simple matter of inconvenience or is it something more?
Various trainers over the years have told me establishing authority is key to disciplining any canine. The question of who is in charge can be confused by sharing a sleeping space and a dog that shows any type of territorial aggression over the bed should not be allowed to be in bed with its human, according to an article at dogtime.com written by Nicole Wilde, a Los Angeles–based certified pet dog trainer.
In addition to the subtle assertion of dominance, Coren wrote, making the dog sleep on the floor has another effect. In the pack mentality, a dog that leans on another dog, thereby moving it out of the way, is establishing dominance. If a person’s dog leans against him or her in bed and the human politely gets out of the way, according to Coren’s article, the message to the dog is, “You’re in charge.”
Not everyone agrees with the dominance issue of sharing a bed, however. PJ Wangsness, owner of PJ’s Dog Training in Reno, said a dog that growls at its owner over bed space is simply protecting its resources.
“By sleeping on the bed the dog is not trying to bring home the bacon, not trying to rule the world,” Wangsness said.
In the dog world, she explained, the dog that controls the resources rules the roost. Fortunately, a little aggression from a tiny Yorkie is manageable. The leaning thing, however, I will keep in mind so as not to perpetuate the issue.
Another issue Wilde and other pet advice articles brought up was separation anxiety. She said sleeping in the same bed might be a sign the animal can’t be away from is master, which is a larger issue to handle. I know firsthand about this one: My girlfriend’s terrier has separation issues, which I can tell by the fact I can hear him barking inside the house when we pull into the driveway after running a few errands.
On the flip side, Wangsness said some owners enjoy the bond that can be forged by sharing a bed with a dog or cat.
“Most everybody I know sleeps in bed with their dogs,” Wangsness said.
As for the dirt, twigs and other “yard treasures” as I call them, these benefits of sharing a bed with a dog just go with the territory. While these are harmless, people will want to be wary of the living critters that a dog might carry. Fleas can’t breed in Reno’s high elevation, according to veterinarian John Crumley of Baring Boulevard Animal Hospital, but do sometimes exist on an individual animal. Crumley said his office sees between 10 and 20 cases of fleas each year.
Of more concern, he said, are the other health risks of sleeping with a dog. Dogs that hike in the mountains can host disease-carrying ticks and any remnants of feces might have parasites in them. About one in five dogs carries the giardia parasite, Crumley said, which won’t necessarily make the dog sick but can cause people severe vomiting and diarrhea.
Strictly for health reasons, Crumley recommends never sharing a bed with a dog.
“I think we can show our love other ways,” he said. “My dog has a $100 orthopedic bed next to mine. Sometimes I think I should sleep on it.”
Anyone who finds themselves wanting to undo a shared bed situation can break the cycle with some training, Wangsness said. Temporary use of a crate or other means of isolating a dog in the new sleeping area can give it a new routine, and dogs love routine, she said.