Is It Okay to Let My Dog Sleep in My Bed?

A drawing of a woman sleeping in bed, her dog curled up on top of the blanket, surrounded by dog toys
Oleksandra Balytska

It’s funny to think back to a time when I thought I valued any possession more than my dog’s freedom to destroy it. When I first took Peter in as a foster, I was under the impression that he would not sleep in my bed. It was against the rescue’s rules, first of all, but I’d also recently purchased a linen duvet cover that cost $169, and that was on sale and with a discount code. I loved it very much. The duvet cover was beautiful—soft, pristine, and a soothing pastel pink, the exact color of Peter’s inner ear. I barely let myself sleep on it. It seemed ridiculous to me that I would invite a dog to ruin something that I enjoyed explicitly for its immaculateness.

This article was adapted from The Particulars of Peter by Kelly Conaboy.

Peter slept in his crate the first night. The next day, while I was typing on my laptop in bed, he popped up on the side, and surveyed the on-top-of-the-bed situation. He didn’t jump up—oh, he wouldn’t dare!—he was just politely checking it out. He looked like a seal emerging from the water, with slicked-back ears, a little smooth head, gigantic eyes, and, well. God damn it.

Now I’ve adopted him, and we sleep together always. And unless it’s a particularly good day, the best parts are always in the morning in bed with Peter and at night in bed with Peter. When it’s time for bed, I’ll ask Peter, “Do you want to go to bed?” He doesn’t really have any agency in the situation, because he is technically my prisoner, but I like to offer him the illusion. He’s always thrilled at the prospect and bounds away to my bedroom.

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People can get a little squeamish about dog-human co-sleeping. This is wrong, so I thought it might be useful to enumerate the reasons why they get squeamish and then forcefully shut them down.

1. THEY THINK IT’S GROSS

Well, yeah, it is gross. Basically, in order to enjoy sleeping with your dog friend, you just have to pretend it isn’t disgusting. Convince yourself that you aren’t affected by the fact that you have to lie in repose among the many things that have fallen off a dog’s body. It’s essentially a meditative practice.

My bed is full of Peter hair at all times. I change my sheets and wash my duvet regularly, but the amount of time it exists without dog hair is: never. The moment I put my sheets on the bed, they are haired. I now own a hand broom with rubber bristles made specifically for “sweeping the bed” to remove dog hair, et cetera, and actually it’s fine. It’s fine.

2. THEY THINK YOU’RE “SPOILING” THE DOG

In my opinion, eat shit. Excuse me; that was a little heated. I’ll start again. In my opinion, eat shi—ah! Oh gosh. Okay. My apologies. In … my … opinion … —gah, oh no … eat … oh jeez.

3. THERE IS A SOMEWHAT, WELL, LET’S FACE IT, SEXUAL CONNOTATION ASSOCIATED WITH SHARING A BED

The fact that I’m constantly telling Peter that he’s the handsomest man alive and that I want to marry him is bad optics, I admit, but I do feel like this idea says more about the idea-haver than it does about me or you.

4. THEY THINK DOGS ARE DISRUPTIVE TO SLEEP AND HEALTH

This one will take longer to forcefully shut down.

I am not a good sleeper. I have dreams; I wake up; I toss and turn. Peter is similar. It’s possible that sleeping together is disruptive to both of us, but I think only in the way that buying scented candles is disrupting my ability to purchase a home. Yeah, it’s probably not helping, but it’s not, like … the main issue. We are maybe not the most representative case. I suppose we should consult science.

I asked Bradley Smith, of Central Queensland University in Australia, if I should be afraid of zoonotic diseases, the kind that can be transmitted from animals to humans. “The [risk] is so low, it’s ridiculous,” he told me. “If your dog is healthy and vaccinated, there is basically no risk.” Okay—good.

Smith, a canine researcher who works at the university’s sleep institute, has done a small study on whether dogs disrupt their owner’s sleep. Five female dog owners, and their dogs, wore activity monitors for seven nights. I hate to tell you this, but the dogs did, in fact, negatively impact sleep. Dog movement was related to human movement, and humans were 4.3 times more likely to be awake during dog activity than inactivity.

I asked Smith what this meant. Does science suggest that I stop sleeping with my sweet dog whom I love so much, even though he has such sweet eyelashes, and I love to kiss his doggy face, and even though sleeping with him provides me with more joy than any other element of my life? Or what? “Can I be a real scientist and say ‘It depends’?” he asked. Ugh. If you must. “I say this because there are just so many variables. For example, the number of humans and dogs in the household, the size of the dog, the size of the bed, whether the dog is toilet trained; the list goes on.”

Basically he said that although the science indicates that, just like any co-sleeping partner, dogs can cause sleep disruptions, the impact is “measurable, but relatively mild.” Plus, when asked to record their own experience, people report fewer disturbances than they experience. “I take this to [mean] that the benefits of co-sleeping, for those that do it, far outweigh the negatives,” Smith said.

Well, well, well. It seems this reason is looking pretty forcefully shut down after all. And can I tell you something else? I hope it’s not something about another study, you’re thinking, and, well, in fact it is. I’m sorry. This 2018 study surveyed 962 women living in the United States, and found that the women with dogs were more likely to report having a restful night than women who slept with either cats or humans. Ha-ha, of course, to cats.

In the end, my pink duvet cover got absolutely destroyed. Peter peed on it twice, vomited on it several times (most memorably after I’d mistakenly given him a rather large meat treat), and finally tore an enormous hole in it. It’s fine. After the hole got too big, I threw it away.