Does having a dog in your bedroom at night hurt your sleep? It depends on where your dog sleeps. A Mayo Clinic study found that sharing your bedroom with your dog at night does not disturb sleep. But letting your beloved pup on your bed is a different story.

Study: 40 healthy adult volunteers who regularly let their dogs sleep in their bedrooms wore motion-tracking devices for seven nights. So did their dogs. The humans also kept sleep diaries, recording bedtimes, the dogs’ locations (in the bed or just in the room) and how they perceived their own quality of sleep.

Finding: Having a dog in the bedroom did not disrupt sleep, as other studies had suggested it would. But when dogs slept on the bed, there was a significant decrease in human sleep time. (Dogs, in case you’re wondering, slept just as well wherever they were.) People who slept with their dogs on the bed still got a pretty good night’s sleep—just not as good as those whose dogs slept on, say, the floor. So if you share your bed with your canine pet and you’re really sure that you’re sleeping fine, you don’t have to change.

But if you’re a dog lover who would like to sleep better than you have been, renowned veterinary behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, DVM, author of Pets on the Couch: Neurotic Dogs, Compulsive Cats, Anxious Birds, and the New Science of Animal Psychiatry, has some tips for how to make your dog understand that your mattress is, well, your mattress.

Bonus: Teaching your dog to stay off your bed can help protect you from pet-borne diseases.

USE REWARD, NOT PUNISHMENT

The key to this training is to reward, not punish. Harsh methods such as yelling or hitting have been proven to make everything worse. If you raise your voice, your dog won’t like it—and may even become aggressive. Rather than punishing a dog for doing something you don’t want, train it to do what you want it to do. If, for example, you want your dog to lie down on its dog bed, reward it for that.

Surprising tip: Be inconsistent! Initially, you might reward your dog every time, and then you might not reward it one time. Then you might reward it twice in a row, followed by not rewarding it three times in a row. Intermittent reinforcement has a powerful reinforcing effect. Your dog’s always going to go on its bed…because it never knows when a treat might be coming.

Now some specifics…

A COMFY SLEEP SPOT

To keep your bed dog-free, provide another inviting place in the bedroom where your dog can sleep such as a…

  • Crate. Not every dog loves a crate, but many really like to be in a small place to sleep. Choose a crate with solid sides, or if it’s a wire one, put a blanket over it so it’s like a den…and put some thick foam padding on the bottom. Then begin to train your dog to enter the crate to pick up treats. Reward it every time it goes in there. Last thing at night, say “OK, crate.” The dog goes in there, gets its bedtime biscuit, and you say, “Goodnight, buddy.” Then secure the crate for the night. If this works, keep this routine indefinitely. (If you don’t know whether your dog likes crates, you might want to borrow one from a friend or buy one from a store that lets you return it—you’ll know right away if your dog likes or hates a crate!)
  • Dog bed. If your dog doesn’t go for crates, put a comfy dog bed at the foot of your bed. You say, Go to your bed, lie down—and give the dog a food treat and lots of praise. (If your dog doesn’t already know the “lie down” command, teach it…with treats). Attach a leash to the dog and tie the other end to a bed leg or perhaps a nearby sturdy radiator, making it short enough that the dog can’t get up onto the bed. If your dog gets up sometime in the night, it takes a couple of paces and hits the end of the leash and can’t get on the bed. In time, your dog might learn to stay off the bed without the leash.

TEACH AN OLD DOG NEW SLEEP TRICKS

It’s easier if you’re training a dog who’s never slept in your bed, but what if you’ve allowed your dog in your bed for months…or years…and want to break this habit? The key is to make a clean break. In some ways, it’s similar to teaching a very young child to sleep on his or her own. At bedtime…

  • Escort the dog to its dog bed (or crate) and ask it to lie down. Tether it if that’s the technique you’re using.
  • Go to bed yourself.
  • The dog might get up and fuss, taking a pace or two away from its comfy bed.
  • Replace your dog on the dog bed (or in the crate), saying, Lie down. Don’t worry, I’m here.
  • Then go back to bed.
  • Next time the dog fusses, leave it for five, then 10, then 15 and finally 20 minutes before attending to it in the same manner.
  • Your will must be done!
  • Taking a page from the routine that the legendary pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton, MD, recommends for children—continue attending to your dog at 20-minute intervals if it fusses or leaves the bed.

The first night might be tough for you—but it will only take two or three nights before your dog gets the picture that it’s there to stay. Be patient and persistent. And once you’ve broken the habit, don’t allow your dog into your bed again or the spell will be broken!

Keep in mind that once your dog is weaned off of sleeping in your bed, it will sleep elsewhere just as happily as ever. And you might sleep better.