How to Choose the Best Bed for Your Dog

Just like humans, dogs need a comfy place to lay their heads at night. But do they need a bona fide dog bed?

Dogs take sleep seriously. So seriously, in fact, that they spend up to 14 hours a day doing it, says Rain Jordan, a canine behavior specialist and certified dog trainer. This is quite a contrast to humans — according to the American Sleep Association, many of us get significantly less than the recommended eight hours of sleep per night.

And unlike cats, who will curl up and nap just about anywhere soft and/or warm, dogs tend to sleep much better in a dedicated space to snooze. For many dogs, that means a bed all their own.

Do Dogs Need Beds?

Can’t my dog just sleep at the foot of my bed? Yes, says Nicole Ellis, a professional dog trainer with Rover. Many dogs even prefer it. But that doesn’t make it ideal in every situation.

How so? Well, first of all, your dog’s movement and snoring might keep you from getting enough shuteye. And depending on your dog’s age and physical dexterity, jumping onto the bed can be challenging, if not impossible. Senior dogs in particular sleep better on beds designed to support their joints. The surface or your beloved light-as-air mattress will not fit the bill, Ellis says.

Also, dogs love to be near their humans. A dog bed (or beds) where family members spend their waking hours will let them get their naps in while you work, exercise, watch TV, help your kids with homework, etc. And some dogs, no matter how much they love you, need personal space. The fact that their bed is theirs and theirs alone allows them to feel like they can “get away” if they need some peace and quiet. This is especially true of dogs with anxiety, says Jordan.

The bottom line? Your dog may not need a bed specifically for sleep, but it’s probably a good idea to have a dog bed available.

Choosing a Dog Bed

How do you know what to look for in a bed for your dog?

First, consider the size of the bed in relation to the size of your dog. Obviously, a Great Dane needs a lot more space than a Yorkie. Most beds will indicate the size/weight range they accommodate, but you can also eyeball it.

Your dog’s preferred sleeping position is also key, Ellis says. Do they like to curl up, or stretch out with all four legs going in opposite direction? Do they want their head elevated? Do they prefer sleeping on their back? All these factors need to be taken into consideration when selecting a bed.

Material is important, too. Dogs that run hot will probably get overheated if their beds are too fluffy, Ellis says. Other dogs will relish the opportunity to curl up in thick, feathery-soft beds.

Also consider the age of your dog, adds Ellis. A puppy that is still teething is not a candidate for a fancy dog bed with blingy embellishments, for example. An older dog with arthritis? As mentioned above, joint support is top priority.

Your dog’s habits and personality also factor into the decision. Jordan advises avoiding dog beds covered in delicate fabrics, especially if your dog enjoys digging — the bed will likely be ripped to shreds in no time. Ultimately, however, it is the dog that chooses the bed. If they like the bed you bring home and take to it, great! If not, you may have to try again. (You can donate the bed they rejected.)

Types of Dog Beds

OK, so now you know your small adult dog likes to curl up in a little ball when it’s time to catch some zzzs, and your bigger playful puppy is all about the fluff. Within those parameters, what do you shop for? It seems like there are just as many dog beds as there are dog breeds.

While this is not an exhaustive list, some of the more common dog bed styles are:

Basic dog beds: Usually round or rectangular, these are free of embellishments and are probably what most people envision when they think of dog beds. They simply provide a soft spot to rest.

Heated dog beds: Dogs that get cold easily will appreciate a bed that helps them stay toasty. If this is your pooch, look for a “self-warming” bed — these are made with insulated filling that uses the dog’s body heat to generate warmth. Electric-powered heated dog beds are also a good option, if you have an outlet near your dog’s preferred sleeping location.

Cooling dog beds: For dogs that find themselves too warm at times, a cooling bed will help regulate their body temperature. Available in many shapes and sizes, the secret to the cooling bed is the combination of memory foam and micro-gel beads (they help pull heat away from the body).

Calming dog beds: Dogs with anxious tendencies tend to sleep well in these soft, donut-shaped beds.

Elevated dog beds: Usually steel- or PVC-framed, these sit several inches off the ground and are a great indoor/outdoor option. Some offer warming and cooling features, as well. Here is a raised dog bed you can make yourself!

Novelty dog beds: Maybe your dog is ultra-playful, or maybe it’s you. In either case, perhaps a unicorn dog bed, or even a teepee-style bed is in order?

Orthopedic dog beds: Typically made of memory foam, these are the aforementioned beds for senior dogs, dogs with arthritis, or any dog that prefers (or requires) a little extra support.

How Often to Clean and Replace a Dog Bed

Unless your dog is unusually rough on a bed (or you happen to choose a particularly flimsy model), you can expect it to last a fairly long time. To increase a dog bed’s lifespan, Ellis recommends one with a washable, removable cover.

Dogs do have accidents; they do throw up,” she says. “The ability to wash it is important, because I want the bed to smell nice … and of course to stay clean for my pets.”

Frequency depends on how dirty your dog gets and how much shedding is involved, Ellis says. However, a good rule of thumb is to put the cover in the washing machine whenever you launder your bedding. (Don’t forget to read the care instructions first).

Be sure to use a pet-friendly laundry detergents, too, Jordan advises. Many traditional detergents are irritating to dogs. You can also use an odor-removal additive like Skout’s Honor to the load if the bed cover is particularly smelly.

Dawn Weinberger
Dawn Weinberger is a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon who has contributed to numerous publications and websites over the past 20 years, including RD.com, Glamour, Women's Health, Entrepreneur, and many others. Dawn has a BA in journalism from Western Washington University and is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She writes about everything from health and medicine to fashion, shopping, and business.