Should Our Child Sleep with Our Dog?

Dear Sharon,

Our five-year-old son sleeps with our dog every night (a loving and tender Irish Setter). We’re concerned that he is too dependent on him for company and will not be able to sleep alone in the coming years. What do you think?

A Concerned Mom

Dear Mom,

When I first saw your question I happened to be with a 22-year-old friend of mine who loves animals, particularly dogs. Her reaction to your concern was, “I have a 25 year old friend who sleeps with his dog. He loves his dog. It is great to love your dog.”

I generally agree that it is wonderful for children and adults to love their pets. I too know many people who sleep with their animals and enjoy doing so.

It is also true that many people, children and adults, would rather not sleep by themselves. I have rarely met a young person who chooses to sleep alone even though there are many reasons it might be best for them to do so.

Many parents I speak to have to sort through if, how and when to have their children sleep by themselves when there is resistance to doing so. Often times music, soft blankets, favorite stuffed animals or siblings become sleep mates to fill the void and help with the transition to sleeping alone. It is also common that pets help provide company to a “lonely” child and help them sleep through the night with some much appreciated “company.”

It is often difficult for parents to remember that children go through stages of development. The interests and level of independence of a 5, 10 and 15 year old child are very different. As little ones get older their needs at night (and during the day) change a great deal. Most children develop an interest in their own physical space and personal autonomy especially as they get close to adolescence. As children grow in size and emotional understanding a pet such as an Irish setter who climbs into bed every night can start to take up too much physical space or be “troublesome” in other ways.

Parents of any age child should probably be concerned if their son or daughter is relying on a pet for extensive companionship during the day when ongoing relationships with friends and adults should be primary to a young one’s social life and overall development. If a child’s connections with their Mom, Dad and other children are going well then I believe that sleeping with their beloved dog at night is probably fine.