One of my childhood dogs, a feisty Norfolk terrier named Jessie, would fling her muscular and slightly overweight little body at you as soon as you walked in the door. But she refused to ever sleep in a human bed. So I was touched when she snuggled up near my pillow one night. I was her favorite human. I could just see her curling up at my feet every night, me and not my parents or siblings. Hours later, I woke to strange, soft noises. Jessie was padding around my bed, probably trying not to wake me as she retched in small piles, creating a sort of crime-scene outline of puke around my sleeping body.
If you’ve never spent 30 disoriented seconds in the middle of the night coming to the realization that you’re being vomited on, just know that it stays with you. I still think back to this moment whenever any dog wants to jump in bed. My initial reaction is not delight that a warm, soft creature will protect me from serial killers, but instead, Did you eat something suspicious earlier today?
I would love to celebrate, as many people have, a recent study published in Anthrozoös claiming that women sleep better alongside dogs. But Jessie, and many other good dogs I’ve met in my prolific career as a dogsitter, have given me reason to be skeptical. Researchers from Canisius College surveyed 962 American women, 55 percent of whom report sleeping with a dog, and found that many of them perceived dogs as less disruptive to their sleep than human bed-mates.
I present as counterpoint the dog who farted toxically all night and the other who had to change position every hour on the hour, and pawed frantically at the blanket for snakes before lying down. (I’ve looked it up, it’s because of snakes.) To the many study respondents who also thought a dog in bed increased their feelings of comfort and security, I present the dog who stared intently at the ceiling and growled a little, then fell asleep, leaving me up on ghost watch late into the night.
I love dogs, and I’m not saying all of them are annoying sleepers. I know exactly five dogs who sleep peacefully enough to share my bed.
Here are some things most dogs do that are cute but only when you are not trying to sleep in their vicinity: snore; lick their butt for five minutes; run and bark in their sleep; roll onto their back, limbs akimbo; put their cold, clammy nose in your face; hulk over you and stare/whine/bark until you give them a tummy rub; lay across your legs (applies to dogs over 70 pounds) or directly on your chest when you are trying to breathe (applies to dogs of most sizes); and, worth repeating—fart audibly.
As far as I can guess, most humans who could be categorized as “disruptive” sleepers really only do two or three of those things. If your human bed-mate’s list extends beyond that, you should probably choose a less concerning bed-mate, no?
To prove my point, I turned to my fellow Outside employees, who are shameless Dog People. All of them vehemently disagreed with my overall argument that many dogs are too annoying to allow on the bed, then proceeded to share anecdotes that directly prove my point. These include, but are not limited to: extremely loud snoring; extremely loud barking at a possum; getting body-slammed by a particularly long-limbed dog; getting peed on; getting woken every few hours by small dogs who jumped off the bed but want to get back on the bed; and having to sleep inches away from the face of a dog that just vomited in the truck bed.
You know who does sleep well with an animal in their bed? The embattled few Outside cat owners. They believe their pets have been painted in an unfair light in this study, being described as “equally as disruptive as human partners.” Our cats do not snore, body slam, or use us as their litter box. Sometimes they’ll aggressively knead us like loaves of bread in the morning when they must be fed, but otherwise they are most likely to be found sleeping in our beds like soft, comforting, and (ahem) noiseless brioches. If you prefer vomit breath, barking, and incessant blanket-nest-making over this, perhaps you should consider loosening your grip on your dog-person biases.
The dog owners made one fair argument: In terms of brute strength, innate protectiveness, and the ability to make loud noises, dogs have the upper hand over cats and most humans. We’d prefer them as tent partners on most camping trips. Still, we lack evidence that dogs are less disruptive of sleep than humans. In fact, my coworkers willingly admit that their dogs often lower their sleep quality, but they share their beds anyway because to be a dog owner is to abandon all logic.
Editorial production fellow Madeleine LaPlante-Dube summed it up nicely: “Erin, you bring this question to us like we have the power to tell our dogs no. Dog owners have no spines.”