Is More Always Merrier?

How many dogs are in your bed?
By Karen B. London PhD, July 2016

A three dog night refers to weather so cold that three dogs had to be called into bed to keep a person from freezing to death. We don’t know whether this expression originated in the Australian outback, or far north in either the Americas or in Europe. What we do know is that for many of us who sleep comfortably indoors in houses with central heat, having only three dogs in the bed is for amateurs. There are a lot of dog lovers out there with four, five or even more dogs sharing a pretty limited sleeping space.

My cousin Leslie posted this picture of her husband with four of their dogs sharing the bed with him. (It’s not obvious where my cousin sleeps, but she jokingly claims to have rights to the other corner of the bed.) These four dogs are small, but anyone who has settled in for the night only to have 16 additional feet and their attached bodies climb aboard knows that crowding is a hazard. Dogs of any size can steal the covers, cause you to overheat and wake you up multiple times.

They also keep you cozy while making you feel safe, secure and very loved. It’s a wonderful feeling to have dogs snuggle up at night, or even during a nap. Many people sheepishly admit that their dogs sleep with them, only to find out that the person receiving this confession also has canine bed buddies. There’s so much love and joy when we share the bed with our best friends, so I’m happy that judgment about it is less common that it used to be.

In some families, there are dogs with bed privileges and dogs who are given their own comfy bed or a spot on the rug. It may be the dog’s choice, but more often, the guardians make this important decision. Sometimes size influences a dog’s sleeping position, with extra large dogs interfering too much with sleep. In other cases, it’s dogs’ behavior that determines whether or not they are welcome on the bed. Dogs who settle down and sleep calmly all night are welcome in the big bed while dogs who spend the night walking around or who mistake the comforter for a tug toy are more likely to find themselves sleeping on the floor.

I know of many couples who must compromise because one person wants the dogs in the bed but the other person wants the bed to be for people only. In those cases, often just one dog is allowed up. It may be the same dog every night, or they may rotate so each gets a turn.

How many dogs share your bed and how is that working out for you?

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral problems, including aggression. She is the author of five books on canine training and behavior.