Upon researching whether or not dogs actually protect us in our sleep, I stumbled across interesting studies.
But research aside, let’s focus on what most dog owners think for a moment.
Judging by various forums and owners I’ve talked to, we certainly want to believe our pups are fierce protectors.
Your furry friend would certainly defend you when push comes to shove, right?
Besides the fact that exploring our furry friends’ minds is interesting, there’s an important conversation to be had.
What effect does dog ownership have on perceived security? How much should our dogs actually try to protect us?
Luckily, there are a couple of indicators that your dog may actually protect you when you sleep as well as ways to encourage your dog to protect.
Keep in mind that not all dogs are born guardians and what we perceive as protection can actually signal behavioral or medical issues.
According to some sources, more than 50%1 of dog owners sleep with their dogs while every third child co-sleeps2 with a dog. So security is of the essence, right?
Do Dogs Protect You When You Sleep?
Some dogs protect you when you sleep, especially if they display alert and protective traits and are bonded to you, but many dogs may fail at reliably protecting their owners in serious situations.
One study3 examing the sleep quality of nearly 1,000 adult women in the U.S. reported an increase in security and comfort when sleeping with dogs.
To be fair, there was also an increase in perceived security with a significant other or cat, but dogs scored higher.
That dogs who slept with their owners scored higher than cats on the Comfort and Security scale may be related to dogs’ abilities to deter intruders and warn their owners of potential threats in ways that cats cannot.An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing
However, this increase in comfort and security is perhaps not solely attributed to the potential of our pets to fend off intruders.
(…) pets may contribute to an owner’s ability to relax and feel secure in ways unrelated to threat deterrence. For example, the quality of the human–pet relationship may be an important factor impacting a dog or cat’s ability to facilitate relaxation.An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing
So we certainly think that our dogs are able to offer protection in some way, shape, or form.
But what if your canine companion is actually required to step up?
Another study4 found they might not actually be able to help, despite their desire to do so.
The study tested 60 pet dogs’ willingness and ability to rescue their owners.
Owners – confined to a large box with an easily movable door – were crying out for help authentically. No commands were given and the dogs were not trained.
1/3 rescued their owner. Not impressive?
Your dog may not know what to do or how to do it.
In a control trial, even fewer dogs were able to get access to food, so it’s not solely a lack of incentive.
“The fact that two-thirds of the dogs didn’t even open the box for food is a pretty strong indication that rescuing requires more than just motivation, there’s something else involved, and that’s the ability component (…) most dogs want to rescue you, but they need to know how.”Joshua Van Bourg, Arizona State University graduate student
This is only transferable to protection at night in a limited way but it’s still interesting.
Is your dog really able to protect you at night without knowing what the job exactly is?
Of course, a dog’s instincts may kick in and the intensity and speed of the response may depend on your dog’s breed, character, and bonding.
But when push comes to shove, it’s possible that your dog will be of less use than you might think.
That’s not to say that your dog is not trying to protect you when you sleep, just that there might be more suitable alternatives.
I know my Rottweiler certainly thinks she’s scaring away strangers by huffing menacingly.
Let’s check out how you can find out if your dog is trying to protect you.
5 Signs Your Dog Will Protect You When You Sleep
Dogs who are highly alert, preferably guardian breeds, are more likely to protect you when you sleep, especially if they’re well-socialized and confident.
Not all dogs are created equal when it comes to watching over their beloved two-legged friends.
Dogs who fulfill one or more of the criteria below are more likely to protect you when you sleep:
- Guardian breed
- Highly alert
- Barks at strangers
- Confident & well-socialized
- Strongly bonded with you
What breed is your dog?
Breeds such as the Rottweiler, Doberman, German Shepherd, Bullmastiff, or even a Giant Schnauzer are more likely to exhibit traits related to guarding.
There are lots of guard dogs for beginners if you’re seeking one.
But a small dog can bark just as well and that can suffice, assuming there’s no physical threat.
“Research shows that ‘occupancy cues’ like dogs are major deterrents in attempts to burglarize homes,” K. Campbell, a certified protection professional, told CNET.
Is your dog a light sleeper or generally highly alert?
If your dog is a light sleeper or sensitive to sounds, it’s more likely that your dog will try to protect you when you’re sleeping.
Heavy snorers and twitchers can awaken quite quickly but some dogs just can’t be bothered to do anything when they’re slumbering.
Does your dog bark at strangers?
Barking at strangers from inside the house is an indicator that your dog has guarding instincts.
This can easily transfer to nighttime, considering that’s when some dogs are extra vigilant.
Barking should not be confused with reactivity or other behavioral issues that require a professional behaviorist.
My Rottweiler is not a big barker, but she will bark if something sketchy is happening outside at nighttime.
For others, it feels like their dog won’t stop barking all night. If that’s you, check my linked article to learn how to get rid of excessive barking.
Is your dog a well-rounded canine citizen?
Well-socialized dogs are more likely to feel confident and assert whether something is a threat or not.
How strong is the bond you have with your furry pal?
Establishing a strong bond increases the likelihood that a dog will watch over you when you sleep.
If you want to make sure your dog is able to protect you at night, here are a couple of tips:
- Sleep next to your dog
- Choose the right breed
- Don’t discourage alertness and signaling
- Socialize your pup
- Build a strong bond
- Get a home security system
Dogs who often seek out spots with a good view of the room and door might seek these spots to properly guard their family.
Similarly, if you often catch your dog at nighttime staring at you, it is possible that your dog is guarding you, especially if connected to noises outside.
Big barkers who are noise-sensitive have the highest chance but any dog can serve as threat deterrence, even going so far as to make the whole neighborhood safer5.
But in the end, it might be better to get a home security system.
How Reliable Is Your Dog’s Protection When You Sleep?
You shouldn’t rely on your dog protecting you at night and instead view any potential vocalization as a bonus that provides you with a headstart but ultimately, a security system is superior to a dog.
Of course, having a well-raised guard dog can be beneficial, but it’s never a good idea to rely solely on your dog for protection.
Sure, a dog in the house will scare off many intruders and a large dog might even be able to act swiftly, but pet dogs are just that – pets.
When push comes to shove, some dog owners might be surprised by what their dog is actually capable of.
However, it’s best to let them stay in their happy-go-lucky bubble and perhaps even let them think they’re doing a wonderful job guarding.
Protection-trained dogs, on the other hand, might be able to reliably defend you at night.
However, never protection train your dog at home without professional supervision.
Protection dogs are only necessary in rare cases and training them yourself can backfire.
- Krahn LE, Tovar MD, Miller B. Are Pets in the Bedroom a Problem? Mayo Clin Proc. 2015 Dec;90(12):1663-5. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2015.08.012. Epub 2015 Oct 23. PMID: 26478564.
- Rowe H, Jarrin DC, Noel NAO, Ramil J, McGrath JJ. The curious incident of the dog in the nighttime: The effects of pet-human co-sleeping and bedsharing on sleep dimensions of children and adolescents. Sleep Health. 2021 Jun;7(3):324-331. doi: 10.1016/j.sleh.2021.02.007. Epub 2021 Apr 30. PMID: 33935015.
- Christy L. Hoffman, Kaylee Stutz & Terrie Vasilopoulos (2018) An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing, Anthrozoös, 31:6, 711-725, DOI: 10.1080/08927936.2018.1529354
- Van Bourg J, Patterson JE, Wynne CDL (2020) Pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) release their trapped and distressed owners: Individual variation and evidence of emotional contagion. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0231742. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0231742
- Nicolo P Pinchak, Christopher R Browning, Bethany Boettner, Catherine A Calder, Jake Tarrence, Paws on the Street: Neighborhood-Level Concentration of Households with Dogs and Urban Crime, Social Forces, 2022;, soac059, https://doi.org/10.1093/sf/soac059