Let sleeping dogs lie, just not on your bed

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - There's nothing that warms the heart quite like a fluffy, four-legged companion snuggling up close. Be it canine or feline or something else entirely, the benefits of owning a pet are well known.

"I highly value the human, animal bond so they can actually reduce loneliness, teach your children responsibility, they actually reduce blood pressure and cholesterol," said veterinarian Dr. Andrea Anderson.

However, there's an old saying, "If you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas."  Turns out, this can be quite literal, and fleas may not be the only thing you get up with.

"There's always going to be risks with anything. There are a lot of zoonotic diseases that you can pick up from your pets," said Anderson.

Zoonotic diseases are diseases that infect animals, but can be passed on to humans.

It's common for people to let their pets sleep in the bed. In fact, a survey from WebMD estimates that about half of the American population snuggle up with Fido. However, parasites, bacteria and other illnesses can be transferred from your pet to you through licking or scratching, pests and poor pet hygiene.

"You don't want to go around petting the dog, biting your nails or picking up feces in the back yard or walking barefoot," said Anderson.

Zoonotic diseases include cat scratch fever, diarrhea causing bacteria and rabies. Fortunately, the CDC says cases involving pets transmitting diseases are not very common.

According to Anderson, most pet diseases are passed onto humans through pests like fleas or mosquitoes.  She says you can greatly lower any risks by keeping your pet up to date with preventative medicines and annual veterinary check ups.

The CDC has a list of zoonotic diseases as well as additional resources for keeping any pet healthy. Click here for more information

Health concerns are not the only reason experts say sharing the bed may not be the best idea.

"Sometimes it can create some fairly bad behavioral responses which can really mess up the structure of the pack which includes your dog and your family," said dog trainer Joseph Tullier.

Dogs in particular are pack animals. Tullier says dogs see you and your family as pack members.  When you let a dog in the bed or on the couch with you, your pet can begin to think that he's the one in charge.

The trainer says this can lead to aggression.

"It can be very minor where you go to grab a toy and the dog growls at you or shows their teeth. It could be all the way to somebody comes in the house and they want to attack that person," says Tullier.

Tullier is a former Military Working Dog Handler, and is the owner of Acadiana Canine Training.  He says any bad habit a dog may have can be broken, but that it is easier to teach good behavior- like staying off the bed- early on.

To break the habit of a dog sleeping with you, Tullier suggests gently pushing them off, and not allowing pets back on.  He says after a while, a dog will give up but consistency is key.

"The more you do it, the more you stay consistent the better reaction you're going to see. There's no giving in every once in a while. It has to be cold turkey," said Tullier.

However, if a pet's behavior is too much for you to handle, Tullier suggests going to a professional trainer for help and advice.

Acadiana Canine Training also has several dogs available for adoption, including the black lab named John Wayne who was featured in the video. Click here for more information

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