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Should I Let My Dog Sleep in my Bed?

Dear WOOF:

I have a question...I have had my 10-month-old shepherd mix for about 2 1/2 months now. When I first brought him home he had serious separation anxiety. He is a little better, but not much.

My question is that when I first got him, the only way to get any sleep was to allow him to sleep in bed with me. It doesn't really bother me (I would prefer he slept on the floor especially now when it's so warm out) but when we attended a local obedience class I was told that allowing your dog on the bed or couch was a dominance issue and should not be done. Is it possible to now break him of this. I don't want to have to crate him if I don't have to he is crated while I am at work). My dog does display dominance quite often and I don't want to encourage any bad habits.

Thank You for any advice.


I'm speculating that he's whining or otherwise carrying on at bedtime and that's what you're implying when you say "the only way to get any sleep was to allow him to sleep in bed with me." Although this isn't the primary reason you've emailed us, I feel that it is important to address. It sounds like this pup has really gotten your number! He's learned that his behavior - whining, barking, etc. - has resulted in you coming to take him into bed with you. Is he alright when he is alone at other times? If so, this should tell you something. The behavior is entirely learned in the context of bedtime, and therefore in my opinion and experience, would not be accurately assessed as "separation anxiety". See the separation anxiety section on our tips page for more information, and if you feel your dog really is suffering with separation anxiety, contact a qualified behavior professional for help.

Ok, let's move on to your question regarding whether having your dog sleep in bed with you will lead to "dominance" problems. I'll explain where the notion of "dominance" relative to companion dogs came from in the first place, which should help you make your own decision regarding it's validity.

The entire notion of "dominance" and the "alpha dog" came about from studies done in the 1940's on captive wolf populations. The keyword here is captive, and this alone invalidated any conclusions drawn from the studies; since the animals were not in a natural environment, they did not behave naturally either.

In a natural environment, wolves disperse from their family unit, also known as a "pack" (consisting of the breeding pair, and any other offspring) at about 2 - 2.5 years of age. In doing so, they secure a mate and start their own family, in which those two animals create offspring, and the cycle continues. In the captive population studies conducted during the 1940's, the wolves could not disperse as they would have under natural conditions, which led to significant tensions, and fighting. The idea that wolves fight for "dominance" and for "alpha dog status" came about from there, and those concepts were misapplied to domestic dogs too.

Many studies have been done on natural wolf populations over the decades since that provide an eye-opening look at the reality of the social behavior of wolves - and how they really behave. It's truly a shame that the completely flawed and invalid concept of "dominance" and "alpha" relative to our pet dogs - and wolves too - is still so prevalent three-quarters of a century later, and despite all the evidence to the contrary! Click here to read more and see an interview conducted with David Mech, the legendary wolf researcher and biologist You can also read more on the topic at our Training Tips and Behavior page.


The reality is that our dogs simply repeat behavior that is rewarding to them, so for example, if whining gets rewarded (you come and get him), he'll continue to choose that behavior! The best thing you can do for your dog and your relationship with him, is to embrace this concept, and forget the "dominance" stuff!


I hope that this information helps you to realize that if you want your dog to sleep with you in bed, that's perfectly ok!! My dogs sleep with me, and I wouldn't have it any other way! Of course, if you'd rather he not sleep in bed with you, consider training him to sleep on his dog bed in your room instead.

Best of luck, and thanks for writing.


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