What better way to spend quality time with your dog than to share your bed with them? Dogs love comfort just as much as humans do and being close to their human is as good as it gets. There has been significant research done surrounding the concept that sleeping in the bed causes aggression and the general conclusion is that it does not. Most dogs will continue to be happily part of a family bed and it will not cause any issues. BUT, while most dogs will not experience any issues, the problem lies in the ones that may have a tendency to what’s referred to as resource guarding. This tendency often does not show up in the first year of life, but may become more apparent as the dog reaches a state of maturity around 18–24 months of age, when they are more likely to attempt to assert themselves.
Resource guarding is defined as an animal’s effort to prevent access to their highly valued items, including beds, laps, bones and toys through aggressive displays. This is the number one cause of aggression towards family members and may be demonstrated through growling, lip lifting, air snaps or actual contact. The key point here is that sleeping on the bed does not cause the aggressive display, but simply provides one more high value element to protect, and one that will necessarily include contact with a family member.
So if sleeping on the bed doesn’t cause aggression, why be concerned about it? Many dog owners may not recognize the slow increase in protective behaviour that happens as their dog matures, until it has reached the point of a full challenge. This challenge may never in fact happen, but if it does the long term impact on the relationship is a negative one. For this reason, I highly recommend that dogs not be allowed to sleep on a regular basis on the bed for the first year, although inviting them up for a cuddle is great and a good first experience to teach them that this is a privilege to be earned and enjoyed.
Teaching dogs to wait for an invitation onto the bed helps them understand clearly that they should look for direction from their human when accessing high value resources. It will also be important that the dog is taught a consistent ‘off’ command, so that at any given time they understand that maybe they’ll be on their dog bed tonight. By practicing the protocol of getting the dog off the bed with no issues, the likelihood that they will feel entitled to protect the space is greatly diminished.
The key take away here is that your dog sleeping on the bed with you is wonderful, but that rules of use need to be introduced early on and followed through on, so that the dog that may just have a tendency to guard doesn’t feel that it is even remotely an issue in this situation.