What could be cozier, a dog snuggled deep into the comforter on a raw winter’s night, warming the bed, groaning and sighing with drowsy contentment while the cold winter wind bites and whips against the bedroom window?
When my father and I floated the Cains River in New Brunswick, Canada during the last run of salmon in late October, the nights dropped down to zero. At dawn it was brutal to forsake a warm down sleeping bag, stir the coals in the pit just beyond our open face lean-to, and then shuffle down to the river to break the ice for fresh water. These were “three dog nights” to be sure, but we only had one, Rommel, our family German shepherd and each evening before bed the trick was to induce Rommel to one’s sleeping bag as he too began to look for a cozy place to settle down for the night. Each breakfast I plied Rommel with a share of my morning bacon, at lunch a corner of my sandwich and I capped off the day with a heavily buttered dinner biscuit; but alas my father and our guides had their bids in as well and each morning I awoke to fresh snow on my bag while Rommel was curled up on my father’s bedding warming his corner of our wilderness hovel. As things turned out, Rommel was the most well adjusted dog I’ve ever known and these yearly indulgences had absolutely no ill effect over the course of his long and happy life. So why then don’t I recommend sleeping with a dog on the bed at home?
Putting aside the incredible degree of dirt, sand and grime that a dog can track onto the bed and under the covers, I’ll present my overall case after first making an important observation. For one thing, Rommel never got up on any furniture or bed in our house and he never showed any inkling for; or longing glances at, the sofa when we sat around watching TV, and this was well before the era of plush dog beds. In fact I can’t even remember if he even had a bed, he probably made do with whatever patch of carpet was available. And this brings me to the main distinction: our river trip was characterized by constant motion, we were never officially settled in anywhere, every couple of days we broke camp and were always on the move, our constant focus being on the river, the salmon; the woods for hunting forays. The air was always charged with the excitement of the impending journey, in every sense of the word we were a group on the hunt. Whereas a domestic household is, energetically speaking, static and therefore since we were on the hunt the sleeping bag never became a “charged” place and this I believe makes a world of difference.
For example, by way of contrast my family in the nineties took our vacations at a camp on a lake in Maine. In late August it got pretty cold in the camp at night and I began to feel sorry for our little Papillon on his bed, as comfy as it was, that was positioned at the side of my bunk. So one chilly evening I invited him up to spend the night at the foot of my sleeping bag. The next morning when my kids came down from the loft to give me a good-morning-hug, “Pepe” growled at them. Now he was a very small dog that we obtained at one year of age and until then hadn’t lived with kids, and he was always afraid that one of the kids’ friends would try to pick him up, but it was the first time he had ever growled at a child. So, that was the end of Pepes’ bed privileges and for the rest of the vacation he slept at ground level on his own bed and he had absolutely no issue with the kids stepping over him each morning on their way to greet me.
Now bearing in mind that 9 out of 10 dogs that sleep on a bed will probably never manifest a serious behavioral issue for so doing; (they will manifest something, but probably only some minor annoyance that will then mistakenly be assigned as a quirk of their personality) and given that I deal with the 1 out of 10, or more precisely the 1 out of 10 of these, i.e. the proverbial 1 out of a 100, and so have a rather skewed slice of the continuum, why not let a dog sleep in the bed?
Nature is not random. Everything has a vibration. Every stimulus, situation, context or incidence of change has a pitch, a note, a tone, in other words, a specific energetic value as the net aggregate of its various variables. A dog’s sense of its place likewise is defined in terms of this specific energetic value and a dog needs a sense of place to itself just as we need a sense of time to ourselves IN ORDER TO FEEL CONNECTED. In other words, nature prefers assigned seating because feelings and thus actions can’t be synchronized when everyone ”vibrates” at the same frequency.
What do I mean by “vibration?” Perhaps you remember sand lot baseball when after sides had been picked, the next step was to determine which team went to bat first. The two captains squared off and beginning at the base of a bat, in a sequence of grabs they worked their way to the top until they ran out of room. The last one able to wrap their hand around the bat won the face off. Both teams can’t be at the bat at the same time and so one kid “out-vibrated” the other. This is how nature and our nervous system works, always trying to “out-vibrate,” (i.e. increase the pitch) another in order to avoid stasis and the dreaded lack of “momentum” which is anathema to the animal mind. For example, a bunch of people start clapping in unison and we observe that the beat constantly accelerates until it terminates in a climactic spasm. This is also why musicians play faster in a live performance as opposed to when they lay down tracks in a studio. We are hardwired this way because nature abhors a vacuum and it abhors a vacuum because in a vacuum everything is the same, and in living systems energy can’t move if everything vibrates at the same intensity.
I haven’t been able to find the study on line, but I remember reading a fascinating study in the eighties of a biology project studying wolf howling. The team would drive out on logging roads into the Minnesota wilderness and record wolves howling. They then isolated each individual note and on a subsequent night, broadcast one of these notes back into the group howl. They were surprised when the next sounds they heard from the night were of the wolves fighting. In other words, two notes the same aren’t music but are friction and this triggers an alarm, like two planes at the same altitude. Thus whenever an organism with a nervous system is confronted with environmental stasis it will feel “accelerated,” like the intensity one feels when a conversation lags into an awkward moment of silence. In such conversational gaps we vibrate (small talk, personality displays) in order to maintain a sense of movement, and this external vibration gives others an opening wherein they can sync up with us.
So in our mind, our dog on our bed is lying there in a state of blissful repose, a benign scene of egalitarian rapture, “Kumbaya,” one-for-all, all-for- one, my best Bub. But in reality its nervous system is vibrating in order to be a little more intense than its owner. This is why many dogs when you move around them as they lay, hold their breath, open their eyes, many dogs emit a low growl. (I shudder to think how many kids each year get bitten and mauled for violating this cardinal rule of instinct.) Occupying this specific pitch is how the majority of dogs sense their connection to their owner. However, for the rest of the day and this is a huge issue with problem dogs, the owner is constantly out vibrating the dog by being the one driving the car, opening the bag of dog food, opening the door to the great outdoors. And all the while the dog’s nervous system must “vibrate” at a more intense pitch than the owner (barking, personality displays, whining, jumping up, nipping at the other dogs) doing these things so that it can differentiate itself and thereby still feel connected to the owner since a very important line of demarcation and thus grounds for differentiation is being erased by virtue of both parties occupying the same vertical plane on the same contiguous platform all night long. (On the other hand, only by flipping polarity within an overarching waveform are both individuals able to process more and more energy without having to out “vibe” the other. The group is the source of harmony, not the pack and this should be the dog’s definition of connectedness to its owner.)
The wave form as the basis of social structure, and the high emotional capacity as the basis of canine adaptability, is why dogs are responsive and galvanized by verbal sing/song praise tone and cadence. THE PURPOSE OF SOCIABILITY IS NOT COMPANIONSHIP, it is to move energy. Companionship follows from here, not the other way around. This innate drive in the heart of every living being for structure has been crudely approximated and grossly mischaracterized as a pecking order or a dominance hierarchy simply because no other model has been apparent in order to account for this universal phenomenon for order. These days in canine circles there is vague talk about wolf packs as a family dynamic, but this is just punting the intellectual football down the road, it doesn’t really say anything and begs even bigger questions. Social order can far more accurately be likened to a musical group. If everyone in the choir or orchestra sang or played the exact same note, for the same duration, with no modulation to break up the instinctive mechanism that motivates a singer to increase their intensity in order to be heard above the others, there wouldn’t be any harmony, it would be monochromatic, bruising to the ear and would certainly fail to move the audience; in other words, it wouldn’t be able to conduct energy.
Energy moves as a wave and the movement of energy is the one and only motivation in animal behavior. So to have a happy, well adjusted, calm and obedient canine as companion, one’s dog must be eager to flip polarity from one intensity value to another in service to the feeling of flow. This is the heart of the group dynamic, not “friendliness.” So even if a dog doesn’t manifest an overt problem, I believe they are calmer and happier when they know their place, and are eager to give it up in a flash when flow beckons.