By Daphne Sashin
In the darkest hours of Bruce Sallan's divorce when he didn't want to get out of bed, his two dogs were there jumping on the mattress and licking his face. And when his worries kept him awake at night, the big black German Shepherd mix and the Pointer mix with brown and white spots were there then too, lying beside him on top of the covers.
"Petting one of my dogs was almost like a way I'd calm myself down and fall asleep," says Sallan, a writer and radio host in California. But then he met and married Debbie, who had a dog of her own but suffered from allergies and liked her furniture free of dirt and hair. She was adamant: "No dogs in bed."
"He would have his dog on the bed and there would be dog hair on my pillow and I'd be sneezing," Debbie tells Paw Nation. The solution? She spent several hundred dollars on plush beds for all three dogs and ultimately, everyone was happy.
Some pet owners may be sheepish to admit it, but Sallan is far from alone. A 2007 survey of more than 2,500 pet owners by the American Pet Products Association found 43 percent of dogs slept in a person's bed at night, a steady increase from 34 percent a decade ago.
So is there anything wrong with pets in the bed? Like Bruce and Debbie, vets and animal trainers have strong opinions on the subject.
Sleeping in the same bed has strong emotional benefits for you and your pooch:
1. It's comforting to both the owners and the animals. The company of pets have been proven to lower blood pressure, stress and reduce feelings of loneliness. According to veterinarian Ira Roth, director of the Community Practice Clinic at University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine, having them close to you at night only magnifies those benefits, whether the animal is at the foot of the bed or under the covers.
Illinois dog owner Jamie Hand agrees with that assessment. "Rocky likes to cuddle, and he always has to be right next to me," Hand tells Paw Nation, referring to her Jack Russell Terrier mix who is very content sleeping in his owner's bed. "If I roll away from him, he scoots over so he's right next to my torso again. This doesn't disrupt my sleep at all. In fact, it's quite comforting to feel him snuggling up against me."
2. It can deepen the bond between dog and owner. New York City dog trainer Sarah Westcott, owner of Doggie Academy, always gave her dogs their own beds. But then she adopted Hank, a lab who kept to himself.
"Out of the blue one day, I put him in bed and he curled up next to me," Westcott says. Everything changed after that. "Whatever he's doing, even when he's a hyper maniac, if I invite him in bed he settles right down."
3. It can give nervous dogs more confidence. Sherry Bedard, an animal trainer and behaviorist in Montreal and author of "Sherry's Secret Dictionary, A Guide to your Dog" believes that the assurance boost of sharing the bed with their owners can "help the dog cope with everyday functions such as going out for a walk in public or meeting strangers."
From health reasons to relationships concerns, there are strong arguments against sharing the bed:
1. It can intensify allergies. Your airways are more susceptible to irritants at night, partly because when you're lying down, you're closer to the ground, where particles settle. Multiply that by plus or minus 8 hours and that's a lot of exposure, says Frank S. Virant, MD, an allergy and asthma specialist in Seattle. Plus, pet dander and fur stays on the pillow long after the animal has left the room. If you find yourself sniffling or wheezing, the pet should leave the bedroom, Virant tells Paw Nation.
2. It can amp up human/canine power struggles. Orlando dog trainer Todd Langston, owner of Pack Life K-9 Behavior Solutions believes that giving the dog the highest, most comfortable spot in the house sends the message that he is the leader of the pack. "Many of these dogs will even growl at their owners if they wake them in the middle of the night or snap at them if they try to get them off the bed," says Langston.
Westcott realized that she had this problem on her hands when her dog Hank began growling at her boyfriend Vinny, when he tried to get in bed. "Immediately I said OK, we can't have that. First and foremost this is mine and Vinny's bed. Hank was no longer allowed in bed until I had some time to work with him," Westcott tells Paw Nation. "I would invite him on the bed and say 'Up' and I'd give him chicken, and I'd say 'Off' and give him chicken. After working with him and really teaching him that it's not a terrible thing to be told to get off the bed, he willingly got off.
3. Noisy or pushy dogs can keep you from getting a good night's rest. In a 2001 study by the Mayo Clinic, more than half of pet owners seeking treatment for sleep disorders said their pets disturbed their sleep every night because of snoring, needing to go outside or hogging the bed.
"Having a pet that constantly moves around in bed or prevents you from sleeping in your preferred position can diminish the quality of your sleep affecting your daytime mood, focus, memory and concentration," says New York dog trainer Sheryl Matthys, author of "Leashes and Lovers: What Your Dog Can Teach You About Love, Life, and Happiness."
Matthys speaks from experience. She and her husband used to fight for bed space with two greyhounds, leading to many nights of "trying to shift around the long furry bodies in the middle of our bed." Ultimately she opted for comfy dog beds. "Although I do miss cuddling with our dogs, I have to admit I'm more refreshed in the morning," Matthys says.
Next: Allergy-Friendly Pets
4. It can cause arguments between couples. "I can tell you stories about fighting with a German Shepherd for room on my ex-boyfriend's full-size bed," says Christie Hyde, a public relations professional from Daytona Beach. "Apparently I was expected to sleep curled in a ball at the top of the bed."
Hyde's concerns weren't only about her discomfort but also about what bringing the dog into the bed meant to her relationship. When the long-distance boyfriend came to stay at her house, Hyde kept her pit-bull mix, Amber, out of the bedroom. "When he started inviting Amber to join us in bed -- and she would crawl right in between us -- I knew our relationship was heading in the wrong direction. We got to spend so little time together, I didn't care to share that much of it with our dogs," Hyde tells Paw Nation.
So the dog stayed, and the boyfriend went.