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Source: Creative Commons License CC0

Just who are you sleeping with right now? No, this is not a Playboy or Cosmopolitan survey about your sex life, but rather a question of whether your four-legged Lassie (or Rover) is snuggled in bed next to you. One recent survey found that about half of all dog owners allow their dogs to sleep on the bed with them. Lassie’s chance of sharing your mattress depends upon your age and sex. The highest percentage of people found sleeping with their dogs are single females between the ages of 18 and 34. Nearly 6 out of 10 women in this group allow the dog on the bed. The group with the largest likelihood of booting the dog out of the bed are married men over 45 years of age. However, even for this class of people, just shy of 40 percent still sleep with their dog.

Many famous, rich and powerful people have given their dogs bed privileges. According to information carved into his tomb, we know that the Egyptian pharaoh, Rameses the Great had a hound named Pahates who was given the title of “Bed Companion to the Pharaoh.” Alexander the Great was known to have rested from his battles, sleeping beside his great greyhound, Peritas. Much later Queen Victoria actually died in bed next to her favorite Pomeranian, Turi. Peter the Great, Czar of Russia, slept with his Italian Greyhound, Lisette and Frederick the Great of Prussia slept with another Italian Greyhound, Biche, and so it has been with many historically important people.

For most people, having a dog in bed is psychologically comforting. The dog serves as a loving companion close at hand, and it keeps you from feeling lonely or insecure no matter how dark the night. Anthropologists have noted that sleeping with dogs is an ancient practice. After dogs were domesticated, in many cultures they shared sleeping areas with early humans, warning them of the approach of predators or hostile humans, and even curling up next to their owners and providing warmth. Without central heating (and sometimes without dwellings) humans had to face the harsh climates associated with winter on the plains or in forests, or even in the desert where the nights can be bitter cold. Dogs, with their body temperature being higher than that of humans (104°F or 40°C), can be a significant source of heat if you have to sleep under cold conditions. In fact, the term "a three dog night" is said to have come from the fact that if it was chilly you took your dog to bed with you to keep you warm, while a really frosty night might require the services of three dogs to adequately protect you from the cold. Some anthropologists have speculated that the idea of dogs sleeping with humans may be an ancient urge encoded in the DNA of dogs and/or people, pointing out the fact which anyone with children knows, namely that kids usually have to be specifically taught to keep the dog off of the bed.

A change in our sleeping conditions, combined with our desire to have our dogs sleep on our beds has spawned a small but growing industry. The stimulus for this is that the bedding industry has been raising the altitude of its products. Beds are becoming higher, in part satisfying customer preferences for ever-thicker mattresses, and in part because people living in apartments or condominiums with limited space want beds with built in drawers under the sleeping surface to provide additional storage. It is not unusual today to find a bed which may be 30 inches (76 cm) high. This may provide a problem if the bed has a short occupant, namely the dog. A small dog, like a Pug or a Pomeranian, could find this height quite difficult to scale. Even if you lift the dog onto the bed, when it wants to leave later it must take a flying leap off of a bed which may be three or four times higher than he stands. This may require an act of courage but it also could result in injury. Furthermore, with the canine life span rising due to better nutrition and veterinary care, that old dog who once gracefully leapt up beside you might now have difficulty jumping onto the bed and may injure himself in the attempt to get on or off. In response to these difficulties, the pet supply industry has created a product that allows Rover to reach the bed surface without flying through the air — namely "pet stairs." These staircases come in a variety of styles ranging from decorative wooden steps, to carpeted stairs, and even some that incorporate ramps rather than steps. If you Google "pet stairs" you will find that these are readily available in a wide range of prices. One retailer told me that over the past five or six years she estimates that the sales of pet stairs have risen approximately 10% per year. She added, "some of my older customers have also told me that they find that their dog's stairs give them a welcome boost as they try to climb into bed with their arthritic knees."

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Source: Creative Commons Licence CC0

However, there is another potential problem with having Lassie as a bed partner. The same survey also found that 13 percent of the couples studied included a partner who so objected to the dog being on the bed that it had actually become a point of controversy and emotional strain in their relationship. Historically this was the situation with the Indian fighter, General George Armstrong Custer. General Custer had frequent heated disputes with his wife Libbie over the presence of dogs on their bed. It eventually came to the point that she threatened to no longer sleep beside him if it involved sharing the bed with his dogs. They eventually reached a compromise agreement. When Custer was at home the dogs could sleep in their bedroom but not on their bed. In the field, however, Custer shared his cot with his greyhounds Blucher and Byron and the fawn-coloured deerhound Tuck, who died with him at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Thus, tread lightly in this matter. Your selection of bed partners can have a powerful influence on your life — even if that additional bed partner has four legs and a tail.

Stanley Coren is the author of many books including: The Wisdom of Dogs; Do Dogs Dream? Born to Bark; The Modern Dog; Why Do Dogs Have Wet Noses? The Pawprints of History; How Dogs Think; How To Speak Dog; Why We Love the Dogs We Do; What Do Dogs Know? The Intelligence of Dogs; Why Does My Dog Act That Way? Understanding Dogs for Dummies; Sleep Thieves; The Left-hander Syndrome

Copyright SC Psychological Enterprises Ltd. May not be reprinted or reposted without permission

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