If I let my dog sleep in bed with me will they think they are pack leader?
No. Fortunately for us, dogs are much simpler than this. They aren’t planning world domination and letting them sleep in your bed with you won’t cause leadership issues. Here’s a great article for more information about the dominance myth and why it isn’t true. Don’t worry, your dog will still respect you if you let them sleep in the bed with you. For most dogs, they will have a stronger bond with you by being able to spend that little bit more time together having sleepy cuddles.
This is a common question that trainers and behaviourists are asked by pet parents.
Letting your dog sleep on your bed with you is entirely your choice. Here are a few points to consider in making your decision.
Will I sleep well? Will my dog sleep well?
There are many physical and mental health benefits for both you and your dog in letting your dog sleep on your bed with you. However, if you are a restless sleeper, or if your dog is, then you may keep each other up. Or, if you are both snugglers then perhaps you will both sleep better having a good old cuddle puddle together. If you do let your dog sleep in bed with you, also be prepared that they may have a different sleep routine to you and may wake up earlier than you.
To put a cue on it, or not
If you only want your dog to come up on the bed when requested, you can put a cue such as ‘up’ on the behaviour. You can introduce this cue easily by using a food lure to lure your dog up on the bed as you say the cue ‘up’. Over time, you can remove the food lure and remove the reward of food. For many dogs, once they understand the cue, the main reward will be being up on the bed with you.
If you have introduced an ‘up’ cue, you will also need to teach an ‘off’ cue. Doing the reverse of the above, use a food lure to lure your dog off the bed while you are saying ‘off’. To get this cue happening consistently, you will need to reward them every time they do the behaviour.
We would recommend putting a cue on this behaviour if you only want your dog to be on the bed some of the time. If you are happy for them to jump up on the bed at any time, then you don’t need a cue for ‘up’.
Is it safe?
If you regularly have small children or infirm people on the bed, and you have a medium to large dog then this could be a safety issue if Fido jumps up on the bed without warning. For these types of situations we would recommend that you don’t allow your dog on the bed if the outcome of them jumping up uninvited could result in serious injury. To further manage this risk, we would recommend either not letting your dog in that bedroom or having a barrier around the bed so the dog can’t access the bed.
Make sure that your dog is up to date with their worming and flea treatment so you don’t have any extra visitors to the bed.
If you make the decision to let your dog sleep on your bed with you, then be consistent with this rule. Confusion or frustration can occur for our dogs if we sometimes allow them on and sometimes don’t. If you think there will be some times when you don’t want your dog on the bed, then you will want to have a clear ‘on’ and ‘off’ cue as outlined above which you have worked on with your dog. Every time your dog performs a successful ‘on’ or ‘off’, reward them appropriately so this behaviour will continue.
A note on consensual cuddles
It’s great to have cuddles with your dog, and letting your dog sleep in bed with you provides a great opportunity for this. Keep in mind that dogs aren’t natural cuddlers, and instead this is something that we have socialised them to. We never want to force a cuddle on our dogs. Instead it is better to allow them to get closer to us if this is what they want, and always allow them the option to move away.