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Posted on Tue, May 29, 2012 : 4:40 p.m.

Should you allow your dog on the bed? The answer depends on the pet's overall behavior

By Julia Levitt


Julia Levitt | Contributor

When a client asks me if thedog can sleep on their bed, I answer back with a question: Does your dog pee on the bed? While my question may surprise some of you, peeing on the bed is a symptom of other undesired behaviors going on in the house. So if they answer "no," my answer is, “Yes, let your dog sleep on the bed.”

But if your dog is aggressive, or dominant, or suffers from anxiety, the answer is not so simple. I would say “No. For now…”

Here’s why: If a dog is in charge of your house (in other words, in charge of you), elevating a dog to a higher physical place — while it means nothing to you — means a lot to a dog. When a dog is at the same level as a human, in the dog’s mind it is very powerful. In a dog’s mind they are equal to a human.

Many people might comment that “It’s okay for my dog to be on equal footing with me.”

To look at this from a dog’s point of view, it is helpful to understand that dogs are hierarchal. Yes dogs observe status within a group of dogs. There is always a leader. The leader gets to eat first — gets the first of everything. This is understood in dog lingo.

The leader is not the most aggressive bullying dog, and it can also be a very small dog. Minus a pack of dogs (e.g., in a home) — dogs assume the pack mentality with members of the family, and humans become part of their pack. They are hardwired this way.

In my latest puppy class, this was played out much to the surprise of the class members. Within seconds, four of the puppies began to play and roughhouse with each other. The fifth puppy calmly walked into class. It neither looked nor interacted with the other puppies.

“Pippa” calmly walked into the room and, as if by magic, all of the other puppies parted to let Pippa pass. Pippa calmly walked around the room . She neither sniffed nor engaged with the other playing pups. They all deferred to Pippa. It was instantaneous.

When I pointed this out to the class, they were amazed. This is the power of energy and body language.

How does this example relate to having your dog sleep on the bed? When we as pack leaders convey the same calm leadership to our dogs, the dogs recognize this and, as with the other puppies and Pippa, defer to us.

The concerns arise when we allow biting or growling at us, barking at the door at friends and strangers — all behaviors done to keep us in line. Hey — it works. We are then good pack followers.

But the dog -human relationship is upside down. When dogs live with other dogs no anxiety or aggression is seen. Why? Dogs are comfortable when there is stability within the pack. Stability does not happen when a dog is anxious. These behaviors are not found in nature.

Bruce let his little Rat Terrier, Sparky, sleep on his bed. The place Sparky chose was Bruce’s pillow. Whenever Bruce got into bed, Sparky would growl at him. Eventually this behavior escalated into nipping. Sparky now sleeps in a crate — next to the bed.

So when you ask your trainer “Can my dog sleep on my bed?” tell them about other issues you have with your dog. Whether or not your dog should sleep on your bed is not a simple yes or no issue.

Julia Levitt is the founder of In Harmony Dog Training ( in Ann Arbor. She can be reached at or at 734-645-4707. Julia provides individual training for dogs and their owners, and also conducts dog training classes at Ann Arbor Animal Hospital.



Thu, May 31, 2012 : 11:16 a.m.

my 100lb golden is allowed in my bed whenever he pleases... thankfully he is sweet enough to not jump in bed while we are sleeping, the second he hears us wake up though he walks right up to the bed and waits for an invite.


Wed, May 30, 2012 : 7:07 a.m.

Levitt seems well meaning & committed to animals. The article is fairly innocuous and even "cute." The problem is that her theoretical assumptions are faulty and based entirely upon the scientifically discredited teachings of Cesar Millan; a celebrity but not a certified dog trainer/animal behaviorist. His *dangerous* techniques rest upon very flawed understandings of "pack leadership," dominance and hierarchy and it is troubling that the AAAH would sponsor a CM trainer considering the warnings of these veterinary/animal associations against his techniques/teachings: Italian veterinary behaviourists, Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (SVBT), National Associciation of Italian Veterinary Doctors (ANMVI), Association of Pet Dog Trainers (UK) (APDT), American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), Association des Médecins Vétérinaires du Québec (AMVQ), Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC), Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), Australian Veterinary Association (AVA), Australian, Veterinary Behaviour Interest Group (AVBIG), British Small Animal Veterinary Association (BSAVA), British Veterinary Association (BVA), Canine Partners for Independence (CPI), Dogs Trust, DKK - Dansk Kennel Klub, NKK - Norsk Kennel Klub, DCH - Dansk Civile Hundeførerforening, European College of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine – Companion Animals (ECVBM-CA), European Society of Clinical Veterinary Ethology (ESCVE), Norwegian Association for Pet Behaviour (NAPB)/Norsk Atferdsgruppe for Selskapsdyr (NAS), Pet Professional Guild (PPG), Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), The Blue Cross, The Blue Dog, The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, Inc. (CCPDT), The Flemish Veterinary Working Group on Ethology (VDWE)., The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC), The Kennel Club, Wood Green Animal Shelter, World Society for the Protect


Wed, May 30, 2012 : 10:49 p.m.

I give up, it's not posting properly... hmm


Wed, May 30, 2012 : 10:47 p.m.



Wed, May 30, 2012 : 10:44 p.m.

Susan, my concerns are not about Levitt's advice in this article but about how she supports that advice. Specifically that she cites (as fact) discredited and misleading theoretical assumptions about "pack leadership" and dominance in this article and in others she's written. Dominance based dog training *is* absolutely danger and she is proudly a part of that tradition, however well-meaning and animal loving she is. That she, and ergo this theory, is supported by a respected veterinary clinic I find disappointing and seriously troubling. In my very humble opinion, the foremost danger of this thinking is that it is so seductively, reductively, simple: a "misbehaving" dog is just being dominant. So, instead of training being positive and tailored to the needs of individual dogs (who might be improperly socialized/fearful/etc.), dominance based training generally involves intimidating a dog until it "knows its place." That's dangerous, for humans and dogs. Millan's own show (Levitt is pictured with him on her webpage) is evidence of the dangers of aversive/ dominance based training (he's even been sued for killing/injuring a number of dogs he's been "training"). The number of dogs with trachea injuries from choke collars and such has also risen precipitously with the popularity of the show. There's also the issue of redirected aggression and a slew of others. While articles like this seem benign, they support a fundamental misunderstanding of animal behavior and have the potential to harm the relationships between even well-adjusted dogs and humans. For dogs with problems, the results can be pretty devastating. I'm no expert, so I yield to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior:


Wed, May 30, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

So what exactly did the author recommend that you think is dangerous? I am curious and would like to know.


Wed, May 30, 2012 : 12:57 a.m.

I wish more people understood their dogs and stopped treating them like humans. I went over to a friend's house and then we went over to their friend's house. They had two "puppies" like doberman almost grown and a mastiff puppy. One growled at me. And the owners kept on petting it and telling it was all right. Gee, thanks for that. I love it that you are egging your dog on to not like me! My cats sleep on my bed. But I already know I'm their servant.

Julia Levitt

Wed, May 30, 2012 : 1:31 a.m.

You are too funny Grimmk ! How does the expression go? Cats have staff? thank you-Julia


Tue, May 29, 2012 : 10:48 p.m.

Thanks for the insights!

Julia Levitt

Wed, May 30, 2012 : 1:32 a.m.

Thanks for writing Navy ! Julia

Linda Peck

Tue, May 29, 2012 : 9:56 p.m.

Excellent article! I learned a lot about dogs and people, too.

Julia Levitt

Wed, May 30, 2012 : 1:29 a.m.

Thank you for writing Linda. I am glad you enjoyed the article-Julia