Source: Newsweek (Extract)
Posted: September 14, 2023

Chances are that your dog would give anything to spend all night tucked up in bed with you, if they’re not already extended this privilege.

But why do dogs love snuggling up to their owners after a long day? More importantly, does relaxing the bedtime rules in this way negatively impact the dog’s training and wellbeing?

Leigh Siegfried is an experienced dog trainer based in Philadelphia. The award-winning owner of dog training organization, Opportunity Barks, has worked with over 10,000 dogs and their owners in her lengthy career while making guest speaker appearances at conferences run by the Humane Society of the United States.

The trainer, who currently manages three Opportunity Barks studios across the U.S, told Newsweek that any animal with a social need is likely to favor bedtime cuddles with their owner. Dogs are high on that list of animals because they are one of the most socially dependent species due to their pack nature.

Social Animals Like Cuddling

“Any animal that enjoys affiliating, but also just has an innate need for comfort through touch and shared warmth, that’s an animal, likely a dog, that’s a very likely candidate for wanting to be near people, sleep near people, or lay near people,” Siegfried told Newsweek.

“It’s not so much their liking of their owner’s bed as it is the animal just really valuing and enjoying people, being petted by people and being handled by people. Much of this has to do with the temperament and needs of the individual dog, and if the dog has always been in close proximity with people. This will determine whether they may choose to sleep in the same bed as their owner or not,” she added.

The dog behaviorist went on to suggest that dogs could be crawling into bed with their owners as a way to make up for the time they’d lost with them during the day, while their owner was out or at work.

“For most of us, if we’re busy or working during the day, that five-to-10-hour timeframe where we are pretty stationary offers some ability for us to be in proximity with our animals,” Siegfried explained.

Too Much of a Good Thing Can Be a Bad Thing

Siegfried argued that it’s not always the most responsible decision to indulge in the sweet habit and let dogs have free rein of their owner’s beds. The dog behaviorist told Newsweek that although the majority of dogs may favor sleeping in their owner’s beds, the experience may turn out to be harmful to them in the long run.

“Is letting your dog sleep in bed with you always a good thing? No,” Siegfried told Newsweek. “It can be dysfunctional, and it can undermine some dogs’ confidence in being left alone or worse still, lead to them developing separation anxiety.”

Although it’s common for dogs to form strong attachments to their owners and siblings, this in excess, alongside an inability to be left alone, could be deemed a case of separation anxiety. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) writes online that separation-related behavior (SRB) occurs when a dog is left alone and resembles anxiety disorder.

“In many cases, the behavior is a result of distress,” writes the RSPCA.

Common signs of separation anxiety include a dog howling or barking, urinating indoors or being destructive when left alone or kept apart from their loved ones.

The animal welfare organization recommends that dogs prone to separation anxiety be left in a stress-free environment with toys they are fond of or people they know to minimize any discomfort they may feel. Over time and with training and persistence, separation anxiety can be reversed.

According to Leigh Siegfried, puppies aged between 8 and 12 weeks old are most vulnerable to developing separation anxiety because they are going through a lot of “developmental steps.”

The behaviorist said younger dogs, who have gotten used to being joined at their owner’s hips through nighttime cuddles, could struggle to sleep alone or even to be left alone. By this logic, letting dogs into our most private spaces could backfire.

“If you take a very young puppy, them choosing whether they want to sleep with a human depends on their early learning experiences and their level of confidence. It’s a problem that many dog owners faced during the pandemic, because dogs got so used to their owners being at home with them that they then struggled to adjust to them going back to the office or on holiday when the world opened up again,” Siegfried said.

The dog trainer went on to say that this is precisely why crate and independence training may not be such a bad thing, given that the dog’s social and biological needs are already met and that the dog is confident alone.

Despite her concerns Siegfried is sure that it’s not just dogs who enjoy sleeping with their owners. The latter enjoy it too.

“Dogs generally seek sharing opportunities to be with people in some sort of exchange,” she said.

All in all, it’s this close social and familial bond that Siegfried cites once again as being the primary reason why dogs are so eager to follow their owners to bed.

“The same way a child may cuddle with an adult is the same way a dog may want to cuddle with their owner,” she said.