It’s taken a couple of decades, but slowly, stealthily, Columbia’s dogs have made their way from the yard and into the beds of their owners. Best of all, nobody’s complaining.
At six foot seven inches tall, Richard Jordan never planned on sharing his queen-sized bed with his dog, a 90-pound Goldendoodle named Chuck. But one cold night a couple of years ago, he decided that a little extra body heat would be nice and invited Chuck to join him. The dog never left.
“He’s sneaky,” says Richard. “His head is the same height as the mattress, so he watches me, and just as I’m drifting off he’ll slide on, one paw at a time. At that point, I’m too tired to push him away.” Although Richard sleeps just as well with or without Chuck in the bed, he admits that when he wakes up most mornings, the dog is taking up more than his share of the mattress. “With so much body mass between the two of us and his tendency to sprawl, there’s just not a lot of room left!”
Richard and Chuck are far from unique. All over Columbia, dogs of all shapes and sizes are crowding their happy owners out of nighttime real estate. In Kings Grant, Gil Cavanaugh’s Chorkie, Quincy, a cross between a Chihuahua and a Yorkie, sleeps curled up against her stomach. “It’s like I’m pregnant,” Gil laughs.
At his Shandon house, Mark Zimmer’s two pit bulls, Mabel and Lucy, transform his king-sized bed into a straitjacket every night by bookending him under the covers. “They’re on top of the blankets on either side so I can’t move,” he explains. “Either that or they push me all night long so I end up along one skinny edge.”
Even tiny dogs can make their presence known in a big way. Boo, Karen and Scott Blackmon’s nine-pound shih-tzu, takes up what the couple considers an inordinate amount of space for her size, and often wakes them with her dramatic dreams. “She barks and moves; we wonder just what’s going on in her head,” says Karen. Boo also lets the Blackmons know when it’s time for bed. “Around 9 p.m., she’ll stand and bark at us,” reports Karen. “She doesn’t want to go out. She wants to go to bed, but not alone!”
Experts once believed that inviting dogs into the bed would lower the owner’s esteem in the dog’s mind, possibly resulting in difficulty training or disciplining the dog. Over the years, though, that mindset has changed. Dr. Neal Atkinson, a veterinarian with Shandon-Wood Animal Clinic who sleeps with “a dog to the right and a cat to the left,” attributes the shift to an evolution of owners’ attitudes about pets in general. “When I first started practicing, dogs spent so little time with their families that I wondered if people would eventually just stop having them. Instead, I’ve been fortunate enough to see it go the other way. People have increasingly found that their pets relax them and provide companionship and even confidence.”
Dog groomer and owner of Carolina Paws Kimberly Powers thinks that dogs who sleep with their owners are actually better behaved than those who don’t. “Since they’re used to being with people, they don’t get overly excited about getting attention,” she says. “They’re calm.” Kimberly also adds that, while they prefer to be in a bed, her dogs don’t object to sleeping on the floor when they are house guests in someone else’s home. Dogs are cleaner than they used to be, too, thanks to the proliferation of dog spas and advances in flea protection.
Still, Dr. Atkinson doesn’t believe pets should be given carte blanche. “Take the dog’s personality into account and make him or her earn the right to be in the bed with you,” he explains. “Most pets will do what you allow them to do, so if the dog takes freedom of the bed too literally and begins to snap or growl when you move into what they consider their space, it’s time to get the crate back out. That’s just not acceptable.”
Teoti Anderson, a certified professional dog trainer and owner of Pawsitive Results, suggests that owners make their dogs meet three criteria before letting them in the bed. “First, make sure your dog is completely potty trained,” she says. “If they don’t know to wake you up when they have to go, they won’t.”
Teoti’s second rule is to make sure the dog is out of the chewing stage. “If you’re a sound sleeper, you won’t hear a thing as they destroy your room.” Her third suggestion, watching for any sign of aggression, which mirrors Dr. Atkinson’s advice, but Teoti says that owners also need to be on the lookout for separation anxiety, which can manifest itself as nonstop whining when their owner leaves the room or as anxious behavior when they see the car keys. “There’s nothing wrong with spoiling your dog, but you don’t want them to become overly dependent on you. Independence is taught and learned.”
For owners who want to sleep with their dogs but don’t necessarily want to share pillow space, Teoti says to simply train them to sleep at the foot of the bed. “The key is consistency. Let them sleep on your head, and they’ll want to do it every night!”
Dr. Nori Warren, of Four Paws Animal Clinic, recommends taking a look toward the future before deciding where the family pet should sleep. “Since the average dog now lives to be 13 to 16 years old, you need to think about where your life will take you in that time,” she explains. “The family dynamic has changed, and dogs have taken a different spot in the family. I think it’s great to have your dog in the bed, as long as you know what you’re getting into, because once you start it, it’s hard to stop.”
No matter where families decide to let their dogs sleep, experts agree that crate training is a vital part of the formula for a happy, healthy dog. “There may come a time when, due to health issues, your older dog just can’t be in the bed anymore,” explains Teoti. “If he or she is used to the crate, transitioning off the bed and into an enclosed space will be less traumatic.”
Dr. Atkinson agrees. “By inviting your dog into the bed, you’re telling them that they will find comfort there, and they’ll rely on that. It’s a commitment.” As for mattress-hogging or blanket stealing? “The joy I get supersedes any difficulty, and I think most people who sleep with their dogs understand and agree with that,” he notes.