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Q. I love having my dog sleep near me, but he takes up the entire bed. Is it possible to train him to stay on his own side of the bed so that I can sleep more comfortably?
A. Just over half of the dog-owning population sleep with their pets, making bed hogging a big deal for pet lovers who choose to share the mattress with their canines. And it’s not only small dogs that get to sleep in people beds — in one study, 41 percent of dogs sleeping with their owners were medium-sized, and one out of every three were large breeds. The bigger the dog, the more bed space he takes up, although small dogs can stretch out surprisingly far for their compact size. Add another human to the equation and multiple canines sharing the sheets, and it’s no surprise that pet parents end up with only a sliver of the bed to sleep on.
Before you invite Fido into your bed, talk to your veterinarian; there can be risks involved with sharing sleeping spaces with pets. Zoonotic diseases, or those passed from pet to human, are more easily spread through close contact, such as sharing kisses or sleeping areas. Immunocompromised individuals, such as the elderly or small children, are especially vulnerable to these illnesses and should not sleep with a pet in their bed. Be sure to keep your pet on your veterinarian’s recommended schedule for all required vaccinations and parasite control, and follow up with any other medical care recommended by your veterinarian.
Once your canine has been cleared for cosleeping, the next step in stopping his bed hogging is to designate a small portion of the bed as your dog's sleeping space, rather than allowing him to plop down and spread out wherever he pleases. The easiest way to do this is to clearly mark an area of your bed as his sleeping space by using a pet bed, towel or blanket. Teach your dog to “target” this area and lie down there by practicing with the designated blanket on the ground first. (Watch Mikkel's video on teaching your dog to target a mat and lie down.)
Once your pet is readily targeting the mat, blanket or pet bed, and is lying down when asked, place his sleeping area on top of your bed. Bring your pet up on the bed and work with him on targeting this same area, just like you practiced on the floor. Keep in mind that when you first move the targeted sleeping area to a new place, your dog may need a little guidance. Toss treats onto the sleeping space to lead him to lay down, or reward him for small steps such as simply putting a paw on the sleeping area.
As soon as your pet starts targeting the mat and lying down as readily as he did on the ground, add longer-duration down stays on the mat. This is convenient to practice at night when you are reading a book or relaxing in bed and can intermittently toss a treat to him on his sleeping area or simply offer him praise and petting. If your dog moves off his marked sleeping area and sprawls out on the bedspread, gently guide him back onto the sleeping area with the “go to your mat” cue. Using reward-based target training to teach this leads your dog to associate his sleeping zone with wonderful things, such as treats and praise; this, in turn, teaches him to love lying in this area, making it less likely he will want to move off his designated space.
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