OpEd: I am a big believer in the family bed. For the first 13 years of marriage, a herd of cats and dogs joined my wife and me in bed every night. After that, our two children, who were four years apart, joined the menagerie. The results were extraordinary. The bonding with our pets was so formative that they were easily trained without any expertise on our part. Potty training was never an issue because they let us know immediately that it was time to go outside. They simply responded positively to every command with little reward.
Our children became magnificent individuals. Our son completed a Master’s in public administration and is now the assistant city manager of our hometown, and our daughter completed a Master’s degree at Georgetown University in mathematics and is now doing a doctoral program at Princeton University. I credit the family bed.
A Mayo Clinic survey from 2014 about pets in the family bedroom confirms the same positive effect of this sleeping arrangement. Most pet owners found that they felt more secure and slept better with pets in their bed.
How many of you remember the rock music group Three Dog Night? The name is a reference to Alaskan native-Americans, who judged the severity of the cold nights by the number of dogs necessary to keep warm. This concept harkens back to the original domestication of the wild dog, who joined man at the camp fire and later snuggled closely with him for mutual warmth.
No doubt, the bond formed by such close contact hastened the role of dogs as man’s best friend. Relationships, whether human-to-human or human-to-animal, are about consistent proximity and bonding. The family bed fosters such relationships.
Training is Easier When You Share Sleep with Pets
I have no expertise as a dog or pet trainer. I offer little advice to my veterinary clients for their behavioral problems. The reason is simple: When clients seek my advice it is far after the optimum socialization window for their dog. It also follows on a time period of distant crate training or other distant sleeping arrangement with their dog that resulted in little bonding.
It seems to me that all of this intensive training of pets with professionals or the need for professional advice is compensation for an inadequate bond between the owner and their pet. I simply have never experienced their problems because my dogs and cats slept with us and we “clicked.” No training, no discipline, and no rewards; just mutual understanding of expectations.
And this has covered a diverse collection of dog and cat breeds. The dogs have included a miniature Poodle, German Shepherd, Doberman Pincher, Black Lab, and a Yorkshire Terrier, only one of which came to us as a puppy; the others were adults past the socialization window. None ever required a leash and were under voice control no matter what the situation or circumstances. None ever had an “accident” in the house and readily told us when it was time to “go.” And I have no dog training experience of any kind. I don’t know how to use a clicker and have never used food treats as training tools. The dogs just responded because our bond was so close.
Our cats ranged from a purebred Siamese to an assortment of various fur patterns and colors of domestic short and longhairs of both sexes. Not one of our cats clawed our furniture or urinated in the house, including a small 12’ x 60’ mobile home. They slept wherever they wanted, including the family bed.
For me, training is all about bonding—at any age. The family bed fosters that bond and makes training very simple and easy for humans and pets.
So relax if your children would rather sleep with you. You will all sleep better and they will flourish. Let the pets join you and they will also flourish and make for more wonderful companions.
Dr. Ken Tudor