Sleeping (With) Bird Dogs

Not everyone sleeps with dogs. We do.

One of the purest pleasures I know is, upon getting into bed, having Peat collapse himself onto my left side, pressing his back against my ribs and torpedoing his head across my armpit, his nose inches from my face, and his relaxed amber eyes peering into mine as he sighs his little wheezy “tired old man” sigh.

Angus, the gentleman, consented to forego the bedtime “hole shot” to Peat once the younger dog proved trustworthy enough to join us on the bed, which was at about three months. Whether Angus was happy about this self-relegation I’ll never know; he doesn’t seem to have held it against me, and I miss having him in my armpit (I wrote about cradling Angus at bedtime in Gray’s Sporting Journal in 2015), a kind of sacrifice of intensity in our relationship that I worried would happen while we considered adding another dog to our household. True enough — it did. So the pleasure of Peat snuggling up against me isn’t quite so pure as it sometime seems.

Both our dogs spend most of the night with us in bed. They occupy different places, moving around, changing positions from fully stretched out (it’s amazing how long they can make themselves and how much king-size bed real estate they can commandeer) to curled like a furry donut, recalling the small circles of dirt I’ve seen while elk hunting which coyotes have carved out of snow for their beds in the woods. Often, they’ll each head to bed before we do, as if to let us know they’d prefer we join them, even though it’ll be 7:30 or 8; usually, this is a day they hunted or got a lot of exercise.

Bedtime, on a hunting day…

Angus prefers my side of the bed, at the end where my feet would be, with his head near the edge, and he’s always there while I’m getting ready for bed. Often I’ll sit next to him on the bed while I floss, and put my nose to his while I’m doing my cat-cow stretches on the floor before getting into bed. He expects me to move him toward the middle of the bed, which I do as carefully as I can — we both have arthritis in our lumbar area — and then I give him a neck, back, shoulder, and hip massage, which he seems to enjoy and I like to think has helped allow him to hunt hard without noticeable reduction in effectiveness well into his 12th year of life. I’ll finish by rubbing the inside of his ears, which always elicits a sigh of satisfaction, and giving him a kiss on his forehead.

Peat the retired sheet wrestler

Peat’s bedtime routine also begins before we get into bed, but is far more dramatic than Angus’s. Peat is the first “sheet wrestler” we’ve ever had. For the first couple years of his life, whenever he jumped on the bed — whether it was bedtime or not, and this could be several times a day — he’d violently pull the covers and pillows of the fully-made bed nearly clean off so only the fitted sheet remained intact. He still does this, but not quite as frequently. He also sheet-wrestles the couch, although we don’t keep sheets on it; instead, he removes the seat-back cushions and pillows, violently and haphazardly ejecting them from the sofa, clearing a space for himself about the size of the interior of a VW bug. We believe he’s trying to make a nest for himself, but his approach is like Genghis Khan on crack. Once finished, and it’s anyone’s guess what precisely might create the signal of completion in his brain, he collapses into a ball with a huge sigh, gives us a look that says, “Why must you make me do this every night?” and goes to sleep.

A Modest Proposal: Peat must barricade himself from all potential interlopers
A half-baked effort for a fully-baked dog

One of the good things, and there are a few, of being an insomniac, is that I get to witness my dogs sleeping on our bed more than someone who is a sound sleeper (such as my wife). I love seeing them dream, sometimes with their tails quivering happily as though they’re slaloming through sage on a fresh partridge scent. Angus, much more than Peat, occasionally whimpers while dreaming, sometimes desperately, which worries me and makes me reach over and gently pet him to interrupt what might be a canine nightmare. But who knows? Still, I consider it one of the great gifts of bonding with a dog to be able to imagine what they might dream about. This will always matter to me.

Peat dreaming of alectoris plethoris

Leslie also loves sleeping with our dogs, but she doesn’t get to witness the experience as much as I do because she’s, well, asleep. But she knows it happens, and often falls asleep serving as another one of Peat’s particular sleep-foils. He’s got his particular positions with her as he does with me; with Leslie, Peat takes advantage of the fact that she sleeps on her side, which gives him more surface area to collect body heat (at least that’s my guess).

Peat in his usual place with Leslie, often after I’ve gotten up to go to school.

I realize not everyone sleeps with, or approves of sleeping with, their bird dogs. The reasons for not doing so might be moderately persuasive to an open-minded person: their restlessness can interrupt your sleep cycle; it makes them soft; you can get meningitis and giardiasis from them (I often wonder about this since both our dogs are both saprophagic and coprophagic); it’ll ruin their ability to tolerate temperature extremes; it will damage their olfactory receptors; and they’ll ruin your sex life. I’m sure there are other reasons, but I really didn’t do much research on the question because I’m not actually interested in changing my behavior because I am pretty close-minded about this. First, my sleep cycle can’t be any more interrupted than it already is, and it has nothing to do with dogs on the bed; I’ve had insomnia as long as I can remember, at least 25 years before ever getting my first dog. Second, if my dogs are “soft” from sharing my bed, I shudder to imagine what a hardened version of themselves would do to the local chukar population; I fear chukar would go extinct from “point-fright.” Next, given the frequency, for more than a decade, of wet, bacteria-laden, often feces-infused canine saliva from Angus’s (and now Peat’s) licks and kisses, and the fact that I’ve never gotten sick from them, I’m not too worried. Maybe I’ve developed an immunity or something, or it could just be luck and I’ll actually end up dying from a kiss, like Jesus did. I can think of worse ends. Fourth, it does seem my lazy dogs are overly sensitive to heat, especially in the early season. But I can honestly say that I’ve never considered their endurance to be a limiting factor on my hunts. If anything, it’s always and only the reverse. And as far as cold goes, I’ve seen them shiver a few times, but — again — they can endure much more than I can, and it’s not like I’d ever ask them to go hunting by themselves when it’s 20-below. Fifth, similar to the “softness” question, if my dogs’ noses functioned better than they already do, I’d feel so sorry for the birds that I’d probably have to stop hunting as it would no longer be “fair chase.” Finally, well, I’d better not talk about the last thing.

My ancestors, I’m pretty sure, slept with dogs, and some of them probably still are sleeping with them. I’m talking about those medieval knights (I realize I’m assuming I’m descended from at least one knight like this) whose graves are adorned with brass rubbings showing them in their armor, with the two most important things a knight could own: his sword, and his faithful dog. The dogs are always at the feet of the knight, which makes sense aesthetically and otherwise. The best sense it makes to me is that it’s a bridge from then ’til now: the two most important things I own, when it comes to chukar hunting at least, are my gun and my dog.

A brass rubbing I did in England in 1978, now hanging in my classroom.

The question always arises: were these loyal dogs buried with the knights? I’ve heard that they were but then that brings up the terrible question, what if the dog was still alive when the knight died? I couldn’t find any answers to this on the Internet, so I’m betting the dogs’ bones aren’t actually in the graves with the knights, but rather that they’re symbolic. Of what I’m not sure, but probably they symbolize what dogs would symbolize on anyone’s memorial today: loyalty, unconditional love, one could go on. Maybe even the poet Billy Collins’ ideas about what dogs think of their owners might pertain.

Curious what your dog might think of you? You might be surprised.

I doubt I’ll be buried with one of my dogs. I think I’ve asked to be cremated, and unless an awful coincidence occurs and my dog and I shuffle off this mortal coil at the same time I’d be horrified if someone even thought of dispatching my dog so he (or she) could go with me. But I wouldn’t mind if what was left behind of my brief stint on earth was some kind of evidence of my love for these creatures (which might seem over-the-top to those lucky bastards who’ve had dogs their whole lives; I didn’t get my first dog until I was 38), and — if I am lucky — their love for me.

I love sleeping with bird dogs. These bird dogs.

20 Replies to “Sleeping (With) Bird Dogs”

  1. When I was young I thought you had to keep the dogs in a kennel, not anymore. Hannah is a joy, never moves a muscle, Pepper was great but hogged the bed and now she’s too old to get on the bed. Luc was fidgety but in his old age his prostate was as bad as mine so we both would go out in the backyard at 2 am to pee. I love having my dogs sleep with me. Our family tradition is that we are cremated and our ashes scattered in places we love by our children. I have the ashes of my hunting dogs to be scattered with me. At some future time (hopefully long time off) if you hear of a dust storm in chukar country maybe it was our time to be scattered.

  2. In some households the bed sleeping arrangement can be a problem when the “pack” order has not been clearly defined. If dogs do not accept the humans in their everyday existence as the alphas, they will do simple things to establish who is the real boss in their mind. In the bed, if they lay their head or paw over any part of the human, its a show of dominance and while asleep its undetected. That can then lead to issues which sometimes are hard to recognize unless schooled in animal psychology.

  3. My Brittany,now 8 and a Dave Walker dog does the same sheet pushing and couch clearing. He only gets to sleep with me at the hunting trailer wife wont let him sleep in our bed at home. I too have saved the ashes of my former hunting buddies, to be scattered with mine over my favorite Nevada chukar spot.

  4. Hey Bob…I can’t believe how timely your post is…I was just thinking about that the other day…I plan to ask Rick Smith how he felt about “sleeping dogs”…I have been to several of his seminars…he is an amazing trainer and much of the pleasure of his seminars is watching him interact with the dogs…it is nothing short of magical…Rick comes to the west coast once a year and no matter what level of hunter you or your dog are you can learn something from him…he comes to my “home club” Quail Point Hunt Club in Zamora Ca. but I digress…yes I sleep with my dog and yes if that makes him soft I will deal with it the best I can…I’m not a perfect hunter so I guess I don’t need a perfect dog, although he’s perfect to me…as Dez Young says “never spoil your bird” as Dash or Hank crawls into bed with him…

  5. My eight year old Dave Walker Brittany does the same sheet sweep at my hunting trailer. My dogs have always slept on the bed but not at home, wife doesn’t want him there. The ashes of all my previous dogs will be scattered to the winds with mine at my favorite Nevada chukar haven. As for Brittanys a man couldn’t get a better lifes companion.

  6. Because one of our dogs appears to be intent on depositing enough hair to carpet the floor, I only get the pleasure of sleeping with dogs when I camp–this time of year, generally to hunt chukars–and their body heat and joie de vivre are most welcome. Being alerted to the passage of deer by the tent door at 2 AM is a bit less desirable, but one takes the good with the bad.
    Once again, thank you (and Leslie) for the text and photographs over the past year. Your efforts, and the obvious time you put into them, are very much appreciated. Enjoy the rest of the season, and be well.

    1. Thanks for your kind words, Michael. I hope you can make inroads at home to enjoy the sleeping dogs somehow. The other morning about 4 a.m. Peat barked with an unusual fervor outside for a longer time than I recall him ever doing that. The next morning we saw elk tracks going by our house in the snow. I’m always amazed at the hypersensitive hearing he displays, despite how annoying it can be.

  7. Nice family tale.

    Your early trials with Peat mirrored what I was going through with PePe and his pup daughter Anouk that came into our lives in 2014. In addition to near constant terrorization of PePe she was found to have a congenital kidney disease which went untreated for months resulting in me getting up every 3-4 hours to let her out. There were times that hatred was the correct word for what I felt.

    Anyway, I was rooting for Peat to come around from the get go and for you to keep him. I never read your posts or see Peat’s picture that I don’t think about what you would have missed out on had he been given away.

    Best wishes for the new year.

    1. Thanks for recognizing and reminding of how close we (I) came to making a huge mistake with this little dog. I almost got Geoff to take him. I have much greater respect for and appreciation of nightmares now, especially since he’s turning into a dream. Have a wonderful 2019.

  8. Cody approves of your guest bed, and I hope Peat and Angus approve of ours. I have a picture of Peat jumping up in the upstairs bed with me for a (most welcomed) sneaky cuddle sesh.

    We are slowly wearing Dan down, and I predict Cody will be in our bed full time in the future.

    I have quite limited experience, but GSPs seem to be better bedmates than labs.

  9. Had to send this to my wife as it would be our home/bed if it was a 45lb English Setter(Sophie) and a 90lb Drahthaar(Gus).

    Add to these pics the 90lb lap dog that loves to curl in my wife’s lap nightly for his message while he gives me that “you jealous Dad?” look why we watch TV!

    I love to hunt, but every day, more of my motivation comes from them, so no I can not imagine leaving the in a kennel. They are family, at least to us. I do think this mentality is stronger now that our we are empty nesters and the boys are on their own.

    Our graveyard of ash boxes is growing and unfortunately my 13yo Drat(Maggie) is not far away. Very sad. Sucks to leave her behind on our way to hunt!

    I must admit, one benefit of the curly coated crew is they do not leave the hair that damn little white setter does. Still not as bad as a lab, but white hair can not be hidden.

  10. Our Brit (Joey) was brought in as a 3 year old rescue that wasted no time chasing our two cats up a tree and chewing up anything and everything! From day one she has been kenneled at night. She has worked passed all that now (except eating paper towels and Kleenex?). She doe’s love the camping trips in the R-Pod where she is allowed to sleep with us on the bed!! Loved reading this Thanks Bob.

Chirp away

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