It was just going to be for one night. Then boundaries would be established and enforced.
But the first domino had already toppled. Although Reese was not a planned adoption, I pledged on that winter day he acquired me as a sidekick to do all the right things to raise a courteous canine companion. On the long, snowy drive home, I composed a mental checklist, often pausing to replace the football-size Reese, then no older than 4 months, who had clambered from the passenger seat to my own. The list began with: The dog would not walk all over me. It ended with: The dog would sleep in its own bed. Well before we arrived home, Reese was napping in my lap.
I didn’t have time to procure a proper dog bed on our first day together, but I did create a cozy space for him alongside my own mattress, which at the time rested directly on the floor. Before I rolled into bed that night, I steered Reese into a blanket-lined box, which I cut down on one side for easy access. He circled, lay down, and curled into a ball. I slid under the covers.
Minutes later, I felt a presence beside me. I opened my eyes to see Reese’s face resting on my mattress.
He launched himself onto the bed. I scooped him up, put him back, and sat next to him and stroked him as he seemed to drift back to sleep. I eased myself into bed. No sooner had I pulled the blanket over myself and he was back, his head placed on the bed next to mine, staring at me with his big, brown eyes.
He shifted a forepaw onto the mattress without unlocking his gaze.
The other front paw.
“Don’t do it…”
He leapt onto the bed. I restored him to his box. This process repeated itself at least thrice more before I relented.
Fifteen years later, he’s still there. Fifteen years later, he still knows he’s not supposed to be.
Reese remains mentally sharp, but his age betrays him physically. His late-night attempts to sneak into bed between the humans are usually accompanied by labored scrambling and a heavy flop that are byproducts of hip dysplasia and arthritis. Despite the presence of more dog beds than we have dogs to sleep on them, including an orthopedic mattress purchased explicitly for Reese and that he has rested on exactly once, we nearly always let him stay.
Surveys suggest that about 50 percent of American pet owners share their beds with their pets, but I suspect more do so than are willing to admit. There has been substantial research into and philosophizing about the pros and cons of allowing a pet into bed, as if it is a simple right-or-wrong proposition.
Close contact with animals, such as petting them or laying next to them, raises levels of oxytocin, a versatile hormone that plays a role in social bonding and paternal (especially maternal) behavior, and in conjunction with other brain chemicals provides feelings of pleasure and peace.
But as a 2011 article in The New York Times pointed out, sleeping with pets can be dangerous for some people, particularly those with respiratory ailments or autoimmune conditions. Pets that are especially unclean or that are not safeguarded against fleas and ticks where appropriate can carry pathogens.
But most people keep their pets healthy and relatively hygienic, and the risks of allowing your furry friend in bed are minimal. Whether or not you actually get a good night’s rest is another matter.
The author of a 2015 Fast Company article cited a study indicating nearly a third of those who allow their pets in bed were awakened at least once per night by the animal(s). More than 60 percent of those who said they shared a bed with a pet more than four nights per week reported poor sleep quality. The writer compared his and his wife’s bed to a map of the United States, in which their dogs on a nightly basis colonize the Midwest “while my wife … clings precariously to the Atlantic seaboard and I try to avoid plummeting into the Pacific.”
Yet instead of booting these freeloaders off the bed and reaffirming our dominance, most of us contort around them and endure fitful sleep. Or give up and go to the couch.
Why? Because we love them, it makes us feel good, and—according to some anthropologists and behavioral psychologists—human-canine cosleeping may even be hard-wired into our DNA. There is evidence of people sharing their sleeping spaces with dogs dating back thousands of years in civilizations spanning the globe. Often this arrangement had practical purposes (warmth, warnings, etc.), though some seemed to just enjoy the company, and over time this joint sleeping urge may have become genetically encoded in us.
It’s not a far-fetched idea. In many cases, our instinct is to allow dogs in bed; we have to consciously remind ourselves that it’s our space. Whether the dogs win due to some innate inclination or because we’re suckers is up for debate. But I think Reese secretly knows the answer.