CANINE BEDFELLOW MAKES THREE
The night my girlfriend discovered she wouldn’t be my only bedfellow, she was baffled. “Where I come from, you only sleep with a dog in your bed if you’re single, or your central heating is broken,” she said upon finding Whisky, my 15pound terrier-spaniel mix, settled in comfortably for the night, her head resting daintily on my pillow. But this was a nascent longdistance relationship, and she had just flown more than 5,000 miles from London to Los Angeles to see me, so she let it slide. Since then, and even though she now adores Whisky (or claims to), she insists that “normal people” don’t share their beds with dogs.
After she pointed out - while prying her expensive-looking jacket from beneath a snoring Whisky - that my canine companion seemed perfectly content to sleep almost anywhere, I began to question it myself. Am I the unreasonable party? Who’s really deciding where Whisky sleeps, me or the dog? My girlfriend is British; I wondered if allowing one’s dog to share one’s duvet is a distinctly American custom, like Thanksgiving or the Super Bowl. “Don’t get me wrong,” she said one afternoon. “It’s very attractive to me that you’re able to care for another living being. I love that. But it’s a step too far. It’s like having another person in the bed.” The practice of sharing one’s bed with a dog, I discovered, is hardly modern. In “Cynegeticus,” a treatise on hunting, the ancient Greek historian Arrian of Nicomedia wrote, “There is nothing like a soft warm bed for greyhounds; but it is best for them to sleep with men - as they become thereby affectionately attached - pleased with the contact of the human body.” Nor is it peculiarly American to share the boudoir with a dog. According to “Pets by Royal Appointment: The Royal Family and their Animals,” by Brian Hoey, King Edward VIII allowed his terrier, Cora, to sleep on the royal bed, “following in the custom of his parents, grandparents and his great-grandmother Victoria, who had each not only allowed but welcomed the presence of their
pets in their bedroom.” Edward did, however, reign for only 326 days. In the United States, according to a survey by the American Kennel Club, approximately 42 to 45 percent of dog owners say their dogs join them on the bed. Likewise, Caroline Kisko, secretary of the Kennel Club of the United Kingdom, believes it is relatively common for dogs there to sleep with their owners. “There is a school of thought that says you shouldn’t do it,” she said, “but it isn’t one we particularly subscribe to.” Inviting the dog onto the bed can help confirm your role as pack leader, said Cesar Millan, the star of “The Dog Whisperer” on TV, who noted that it’s really a matter of personal preference.
“The thing to avoid is inadvertently teaching the dog to think, ‘This is my bed,’” he wrote in an email. “Which will happen if you don’t create that invisible boundary around it by claiming it as yours and then inviting the dog in.” But what did my dog think about all of this, if anything? “If one partner resents the dog being on the bed,” Millan said, “the
dog is going to sense that, so the bed won’t feel like a safe place to the dog. It has got to be a mutual and unanimous decision.” Clive Wynne, an Arizona State University psychology professor who studies canine comportment, said that dogs’ lives are “very intimately bound up with human beings.” His research suggests that dog behavior among humans is analogous to their highly social forebears, wolves. “If you take the wolves’ social skills and place them into a human context, then you have an animal that is unbelievably sensitive to everything that people do,” he said. Many dogs, he reasoned, are indeed happy to be allowed to sleep with their owners. “On the other hand,” he said, “it doesn’t do a dog any harm to ban it from the bed.” Dr. Stanley Coren, the author of “The Intelligence of Dogs,” sees cosleeping as a mutually beneficial, inherent need. For dogs, Coren said, “Part of it is warmth, and part is the comfort of affiliation. And it’s a safety thing. You know a dog feels totally safe around you when he can sleep with his back to you.” Similarly, Coren believes that human beings have a “predisposition toward being with dogs, and sleeping comfortably next to them.” But he admits this feeling is not shared by his wife, who uses her “patented puppy ejection kick” to protect her side of the bed. Humans who choose to sleep with dogs may be at risk. “I don’t think I would ever have a dog sleep on or in the bed, that’s for sure,” said Dr. Bruno Chomel, a professor in the department of veterinary medicine at the University of California, Davis, and a specialist in emerging zoonotic diseases. Chomel has studied the
KING EDWARD VIII ALLOWED HIS TERRIER, CORA, TO SLEEP ON THE ROYAL BED, FOLLOWING IN THE CUSTOM OF HIS PARENTS, GRANDPARENTS AND HIS GREATGRANDMOTHER VICTORIA, WHO HAD EACH NOT ONLY ALLOWED BUT WELCOMED THE PRESENCE OF THEIR PETS IN THEIR BEDROOM.
relationship between having pets in the bedroom and increased rates of Pasteurella infection, ringworm and even bubonic plague, which can be transmitted by fleas. “Our conclusion was, we strongly do not recommend this practice for people who have young children, or people who are immunocompromised: elderly people, and so on.” What I was hearing was a mixed bag, and it wasn’t until I spoke to Donna R. Pall, a Los Angeles psychotherapist who specializes in couples counseling (full disclosure, I’ve seen Pall as a patient), that I fully came around. “When someone comes into your life, you probably have to be prepared to take the dog out of the bed,” she said. “If you got the dog together, then it’s a couple’s decision. But when you’re a single guy and you have your dog in the bed, the message is: ‘This is my primary relationship.’” According to Pall, dogs can become an impediment to, and a substitution for, intimacy, and frequently incite jealousy among couples, since it’s often easier to express unambivalent love for a dog than another human. “All the affection that the person is not giving to you, the dog is getting,” Pall said. That becomes, in a way, the more intense emotional relationship. That’s bad, and it’s very easy for that to happen.” And so, I eventually gave in, fashioning a bed for Whisky on the floor using an old pillow and my favorite hoodie. I must confess, she appears quite blissful curled up on her new bed on the floor in the bedroom. For her part, my girlfriend has started to warm up to the idea of inviting the dog up on the bed for the occasional cuddle. “After all,” she said, “Whisky is rather cute.” (© 2015 New York Times News Service)
“WHEN SOMEONE COMES INTO YOUR LIFE, YOU PROBABLY HAVE TO BE PREPARED TO TAKE THE DOG OUT OF THE BED... IF YOU GOT THE DOG TOGETHER, THEN IT’S A COUPLE’S DECISION. BUT WHEN YOU’RE A SINGLE GUY AND YOU HAVE YOUR DOG IN THE BED, THE MESSAGE IS: ‘THIS IS MY PRIMARY RELATIONSHIP.’”