If you’re a dog owner, you know there’s nothing better than curling up in bed at the end of a long day with your soft, fluffy pup. My dog is an excellent cuddler, and when I wake up in the morning, he always does a little army crawl up to me from the foot of the bed, curls up against me, then wiggles around so as to maximize physical contact, giving me just the boost of love and affection that I need to jumpstart my day.
When I have a bad dream, I wake up to find him staring at me, ear pricked up, fully alert, his expression letting me know that I am safe and protected and if a murderer or ghost gets anywhere near us he’ll bark it straight back to where it came from. When it’s cold out, he warms my feet. And even when he snores, the sound is somehow relaxing and endearing in a way it certainly isn’t with humans.
Still, there are those that say that letting your dog sleep in bed with you is “unhygienic” or “unhealthy,” and now there’s scientific data to prove them wrong.
A new study published in the journal Anthrozoös has found that sleeping with a dog has a significant positive impact on the sleep quality of women.
Researchers collected survey data from 962 adult women living in the United States, 55 percent of whom shared their bed with at least one dog, 31 percent of whom did so with at least one cat, and 57 percent of whom did so with a human partner. The results found that sleeping in the same bed as their dogs led to a much better night of rest than doing so with a cat or, surprisingly, even a human.
“Compared with human bed partners, dogs who slept in the owner’s bed were perceived to disturb sleep less and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security,” the study reads. “Conversely, cats who slept in their owner’s bed were reported to be equally as disruptive as human partners, and were associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog bed partners.”
In addition, the study found that dog owners went to bed earlier and woke up earlier than cat owners, which is another big win, since plenty of research has found that there are enormous health benefits to being an early riser. It’s unclear if this link is correlational or causational, but if it’s the latter, it makes sense. Cats sleep all the time. Dogs, on the other hand, are much better at understanding when it’s time for snoozies, and when I see my pup softly snoring at 10pm, it never fails to inspire me to shut my laptop and crawl into bed myself.
Of course, there are some inevitable downsides to letting your canine BFF sleep in the same bed as you. Depending on your dog’s breed, shedding can be a real issue, as well as potential allergies. The biggest problem, however, is that allowing your dog to sleep in the same bed as you can make them think that you are equals.
“People worry that allowing your dog to sleep in your bed will create dominance issues and will teach your dog that you are not the leader of the pack,” Seattle veterinarian Cori Gross told Everyday Health. However, he also noted that if your dog doesn’t have behavioral issues to begin with, the mere fact of sharing a bed is unlikely to explicitly cause them. “If your dog already has dominance issues with you as the owner, then having them sleep in bed with you can be a problem. But if they do not have those issues, then it will not create them.”
Even if your dog does have dominance issues (as mine does), they can be finessed.
For example, when my human partner comes over, my dog does tend to get territorial, barking at him and, in some cases, chewing on his pants in an effort to get him to leave. When he stays over, my dog tends to jump up into the bed with an indignant expression that clearly says, “Excuse me, I think there’s been a gross misunderstanding. This is MY side of the bed. Your presence is no longer required.”
To combat this, my dog trainer advises getting him a dog bed and training him to get into his own bed when told to do so, which isn’t actually as challenging as it sounds. Dogs have an ingrained understanding of territory, and if they have their own bed, it’s not too difficult to impart that sleeping in the human bed is a privilege, not a right.
Otherwise, there’s no reason not to join the 42 percent of all dog owners who sleep with their pup at night.
“Dogs add companionship,” Susan Nelson, a clinical associate professor at the Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine, said. “They provide extra warmth on a cold night. They evoke a sense of security, especially for children who are scared of the dark. They give an added sense of safety from potential intruders. It may also create a greater bond between you and your dog. Let’s face it: It’s hard to beat a warm, furry bundle of unconditional love.”
And for more on the science of the canine-human bond, read about this study exploring why dogs are evolutionarily predisposed to loving us as much as they do.
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