How many times have you heard that letting your dog sleep on the bed is the cause of your dog’s separation anxiety? How often have you heard someone tell you that the reason your dog has separation anxiety is that you let them sleep on the bed with you?
If it's not the bed, then it's something else, like: “Oh, you mustn’t let him get on the couch. That's why he is so anxious,” or “Don’t let him follow you around the house. You’re making him worse.”
Yet there’s no evidence to suggest that letting your dog sleep on your bed causes separation anxiety. In fact, we don't actually know what does cause this all-too-frequently-misunderstood problem.
If we don’t understand what causes separation anxiety, it's strange that people are so quick to judge that your bed sharing habits are the culprit.
Factors that do affect separation anxiety
There's been an awful lot of research done into what causes separation anxiety, but no one has found a clear cause as to why our dogs react the way they do when we leave them.
However, there are some factors that do pop up as possible contributing causes such as gender, whether the dog is neutered, whether they were rescue dogs, and if there have been changes in the household. But nothing is really concrete.
Of all the possible causes that have caught researchers’ attention, owner-attachment, or letting your dog sleep on the bed, was definitely not one of them.
There have been some excellent, well-researched studies which have looked at the link between owner-attachment signs (including sleeping on your bed) and separation anxiety.
They looked at owner attachment from a number of different aspects – the way your dog greets you or is with you around the house.
These studies concluded that an owner's attachment didn’t differ between the dogs with separation anxiety and those without anxiety.
There were more differences within the two groupings of dogs than between the two test groups themselves. It's not that separation anxiety causes over attachment to an owner, or that over-attachment causes separation anxiety; rather, we are learning that attachment style seems to be based on a dog's individual personality.
Your and your shadow-dog
Now, that's not to say that if your dog does have separation anxiety, you do not want to consider encouraging him to sleep elsewhere. It's helpful to encourage independence training in our separation anxiety dogs. Separation is separation.
If your dog can learn to become comfortable being in a different room from you, it may well contribute to your goal of improving their isolation anxiety.
However, I caution you from focusing on this idea too much for a number of reasons:
1. You need to encourage your dog to sleep elsewhere, not force him. I don't know about you, but it takes a lot of effort and a strong will to work gently through the night with a dog who wants to sleep on your bed and who will cry if he doesn't. You’ve got to encourage your dog. You can't force your dog. There is an important distinction.
2. There are better things to spend your dog training time on. So, whether your dog sleeps on your bed and or sleeps elsewhere, this isn't going to be a huge deal breaker when it comes to fixing separation anxiety. Lots of dogs get over separation anxiety and still sleep in their owner's bed.
3. If you want to create independence in your dog, the best thing and the most efficient thing to do is to focus on showing your dog how to be independent when they are on their own, alone in your home. You'll see that as you begin to work with your dog, they will also start to show independence in the home, too. If your dog is struggling with you going out the door, you might start with some independence exercises in the house. Then build up to absences.
4. If you don't let your anxious dog sleep on the bed and he gets upset because you've made him sleep elsewhere, that's actually going to make things worse.
Point out to the people telling you to stop letting your dog sleep on the bed, as though this will solve your problem, they are actually putting your training progress at risk. Like I said in point one, you have to encourage him to sleep on the floor, not force him.
In summary, don't worry about too much about your dog sleeping with you. It's one of those myths that seems to pervade, and it just makes owners feel bad.
Allow your dog sleep on your bed if you want to. If you want your dog to sleep on his own bed, then gently encourage him to do that. Either way is fine, and more importantly, it is not going to make a difference to his separation anxiety.
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