Sleeping with Pets: The Challenge of Twin Beds

It’s no secret: I sleep with my two best friends.

My wife, Susan, our Boston terrier, Lilly, and I have shared a bed since the day Lilly pawed and wagged her way into our hearts two-and-a-half years ago. This fact is not remarkable in itself (more than 70 percent of pet parents adopt the “family bed” according to a survey by the Novosbed mattress company). But what my wife and I appreciate is how adaptable Lilly was just this past weekend when our bedtime ritual was re-routed.

Every January, my snow-bird parents wing it from Chicago to the Coachella Valley for their annual thaw. Susan, Lilly and I visit frequently while my folks are nearby. The guest bedroom in their rental is large, though it poses one vexing hurdle to our threesome huddle: immovable twin beds.

Susan and I make do with this Victorian arrangement, but Lilly historically has a much harder time with it. Unable to “choose” which of us to sleep with, she often bounds back and forth between beds unable to quiet herself and settle into a comfy nook. Her occasional soft whines - possibly wrought of frustration and disorientation - invariably wake one or both of us multiple times a night. Often, we return home from these otherwise wonderful weekends with bags under our eyes to match our luggage.

We were anticipating a less-than-refreshing visit again last weekend as we prepared for our first night’s sleep of the season. Lilly sat quietly in her bed which we’d placed between the twin beds. Her head swiveled back and forth between her mommy and daddy as each of us wrapped ourselves in jammies and slid between the sheets. We each looked at Lilly, told her we loved her in a sweet, low, timbre, then watched as she rested her neck on the ridge of her plush pillow and closed her eyes. I turned out the light. No whining. No stirring. Nothing but peaceful, uninterrupted sleep for the three of us.

This miracle was not random, but the result of slow and enduring shifts in our pet parenting approach over the past year.

Before Lilly came to us, she was banished to the backyard. She competed for love and attention with established family pets. No one took responsibility for her care and training. Susan and I wanted nothing more than to fill her empty spaces with as much love and leniency as we could muster. Translation: we spoiled her!

If she wanted to devour her bully stick in one sitting, we let her. Outdoor sniff-fest six times a day? Have at it, baby! With all due respect to Gwen Verdon in Damn Yankees, “Whatever Lilly wants, Lilly gets!”

We gave Lilly everything except the chance to see how well she could do without something she wanted. We had confused unrelenting gratification with love. In the process, we taught her how not to master her impulses; we taught her how to whine like a petulant pup.

Gradually, we introduced time limits to play with desired objects (and withheld them when she was a brat). Over time, Lilly transformed from doggie diva to more of a debutante. She became tolerant of doing without her favorite toy (currently a stuffed hippo) and is much better-mannered.

Last weekend, Lilly showed us how she could sleep through the night, though we were not all sleeping together.

And we learned that less is more when it comes to indulging our doggie daughter.

What behavioral victories have you experienced with your beloved pet?