There were three in the bed and the little one said … woof! PETS Magazine finds out what’s good, bad and smelly about sharing your bed with your dog
As the heat of another sweltering summer fades and the cooler months approach, the days grow shorter and there’s a definite chill in the night air. But as you pile extra blankets on the bed or invest in a pair of snuggly PJs, spare a thought for your dog. Where will your canine companion be warmest and cosiest on those cold autumn and winter nights? For a growing number of dog owners, the answer is right beside them on — or even in — the bed.
From Chihuahuas to Great Danes, 56 per cent of pet owners let their furry friends sleep either in bed or elsewhere in the bedroom, according to a study by the Center for Sleep Medicine at the Mayo Clinic in the United States.And while around 20 per cent of bed-sharing dog owners reported that hitting the sack alongside their pooch led to a bad night’s sleep, 41 per cent said the quality of their sleep was either unaffected or actually improved by having their pet nearby.Some of the study participants said sharing the bed with a four-legged friend made them feel secure, cosy, comforted and relaxed. That’s certainly the case for Sydney’s Jeremiah Hartmann, whose three Jack Russell Terriers have been a great comfort to him and his wife, Susan, during her cancer treatment.
“Mojito, Pepito and ZaZa are brothers from the same litter. We rescued them from a man who was walking down the street past my brother’s house with a bucket filled with an unwanted litter. He was giving underage puppies away to random strangers without any care or dignity,” Jeremiah says. “When they were puppies they slept with us because they were too small and underage to be left alone.”
The two-year-old siblings were eventually persuaded to sleep in their own shared dog bed, but when Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2016 they were welcomed back to the “big bed”.
“The three dogs have provided my wife with lots of cuddles through her surgery and chemo treatment. They give her that extra bit of love. She likes having them sleep under the covers near to her. They actually burrow their little heads under the covers with their bums in the air and settle themselves in,” he explains.
“They are small dogs so don’t take up too much space.”
My bed, my rules!
Snoozing next to a dog may not just benefit the owner, according to Sydney animal behaviourist Dr Joanne Righetti — dogs love it, too. Because pet dogs are descended from wolves and wild dogs that lived in packs, sharing a sleeping space feels natural to modern-day mutts.
“Dogs are naturally social creatures and being with your social group provides warmth, safety and companionship,” she says. “In many ways it is unnatural for dogs to be separated from their group, for instance when owners put them outside at night. Spending time with your dog undoubtedly builds the bond between us.”
But what if we don’t necessarily want to spend all night, every night cuddled up to a canine? Or perhaps we’d like to make certain parts of the bedroom or bed off limits? Dr Jo says it’s important for owners to remain in control and set — and actually enforce — some ground rules.
“I like the rule that the dog should be invited onto the bed. This keeps the owner in control of the space and getting a good night’s sleep,” she says. “My dog sleeps either in a soft crate/kennel next to my side of the bed or under the bed. This keeps her close to me but lets me sleep.”
Melbourne’s Geraldine Phua invited her seven-year-old Poodle cross, Pierre, to sleep on her bed after her other dog passed away. The well-mannered pup has an approved sleep spot and never dares set a paw outside it.
“He has a dog bed in my bedroom but was often peering at my bed and wondering if he could sleep there, too. I decided to section off the end of my bed to emulate his and allow him to sleep there,” says Geraldine. “He is allowed to jump up to this section as he pleases, but quite often he waits for my command. He never creeps onto another part of the bed. He is very punctual with his sleep and I think this has helped to improve the quality of my own.”
In Brisbane, Jacqui Jones’s six-year-old West Highland White Terrier, Sheldon, enjoys bed privileges for 30 minutes last thing at night and 30 minutes first thing in the morning.
“We won’t let him sleep on our bed throughout the night as it would disturb his sleep as well as our own. He can be a very loud snorer for such a little dog,” says Jacqui. “When we are ready to go to sleep, we simply tell Sheldon, ‘Off to bed’ or, ‘It’s bed time’ and he jumps off the bed and waits for me to walk him to his own bed in the laundry.”
To train your dog to get on or off the bed on command, or to stick to certain areas, Dr Jo has this advice: “Reward the dog for following instructions to get on the bed and to get off the bed. When the dog is jumping up, give it a command — verbal and hand gesture — then reward,” she says. “Practise this regularly until the dog has learned the command to get on the bed and to get off.”
Bad bedroom behaviour
While drifting off to dreamland with your dog at your feet (or on your pillow) can be a wonderful thing, there can be disadvantages. The most common of these is a lack of quality sleep caused by having a fidgety Fido at the end of the bed.
“Jack Russell Terriers sometimes like to bark, even at the presence of the oxygen in the room, so there’s an occasional random bout of bark symphony,” says Jeremiah. “They also frequently need to go outside to relieve themselves and I’m the guy they wake up to open the back door for them. This can affect my quality of sleep — can’t wait to get a dog flap!”
Dogs can sometimes also develop territorial or resource guarding behaviour towards the bed. “Dogs often like to spread out in bed, leaving not a lot of space for us. Most dogs
will not challenge their owners for the resource of the bed, but if a dog does this, the owners should keep the dog off the bed and seek help from a qualified behaviourist or trainer,” Dr Jo advises.
She also does not recommend parents let kids share their bed with the family dog. “If you cannot supervise interactions then do not leave them together,” she says. “Older children may enjoy having their dog to keep them company in the bedroom, (but) parents should always keep an eye on things and intervene when necessary.”
Keeping the bed nice and clean is important, too. Invest in a mattress protector, wash bedding regularly, and don’t let the dog on the bed if he’s smelly, unwell or due for a bath.