How Dogs Choose Where They Sleep
When my colleague pitched the idea of us making a mattress for dogs, I was a bit surprised. How do you develop a product for a creature that doesn’t speak?
Several months later, I presented a 197-slide research deck on how dogs sleep to the other product designers and engineers on the Casper team. I read through endless books and articles, interviewed animal behavior researchers, and talked with dog owners. I also observed a lot of pups picking their sleep spot. What followed was a a 562-slide design deck that was full of ideas on how we could engineer a mattress that speaks to dogs’ natural behaviors. Months later, our team had a final design.
One of my early steps was to better understand how dogs experience the world. While dogs don’t see colors as vibrantly as we do, their sense of smell is 10,000 to 100,000 times more acute than ours, according to one study. Books and articles described how dogs often “look” for a resting spot that smells like their owner (or other members of their “pack”). It was something I also saw a lot first hand. Dogs go through the world nose first.
There are also certain physical aspects to what dogs look for. Mark, a teammate of mine (and former dolphin trainer, but that’s another story), hooked me up with an animal behavior scientist who works at a public university, and we talked in depth about the evolution of wild to domesticated dogs. She described how dogs’ wild ancestors slept in dens, which is why you often see them relaxing under a table, tree, or other similar enclosure. They have a tendency to seek out places that feel protected and relate back to den behavior.
Next we wanted to understand how dogs like to prepare their bed. You may notice that dogs sometimes scratch the surface of your couch before taking a nap on it. This adorable bedding-down ritual relates to a behavior that dates back centuries. Wild dogs scratched away hotter topsoil or wet ground cover to get at the cooler and drier ground beneath. It’s how they get comfortable.
We found that dogs also need room for a different sleeping positions, just like we do. Dogs will actually change their sleeping position based on their needs. For instance, there is a commonly-known dog posture called “super pup” that allows for maximum heat transfer between dog and cool ground. They need some room to kick and wiggle.
Based on our research, we developed 8–10 different design concepts and 20–30 different constructions of our dog mattress. We started to narrow them down after we tested different constructions for the bolsters around the edges, tinkered with the microfiber covering, etc. I even washed the prototype cover in our lab’s washer and dryer about 30 times to simulate how they would stand up to a couple years of cleaning (they came out looking fresh). We finally had a few final versions.
The most fun we had was probably user testing. The team scattered prototypes of the final dog mattress design around our California workshop and members of Casper Labs came in to provide feedback. We made sure to randomize the positions of prototypes during our validation sessions as canines often have a natural preference for either right or left (i.e., a dog might always choose the dog bed on the right because he/she favors their right side). We watched how they interacted with the mattress, whether they went back to it, and more. For several months, it was like working in a posh doggy day care.
Over 700 slides and many months later, we were finally done. The final Casper dog mattress caters to what dogs look for most in a sleep spot: a sense of enclosure, the ability to scratch and dig in, and a comfortable bottom layer that allows them to sleep naturally cool.
—Jesse is a design director at Casper and holds patents ranging from bikes to furniture, all products that touch the body.