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.
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’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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.