You Need Help: Wanting To Move In Together but Unsure About Sharing Bed With Dog

Q:

A recent question about cats in relationships encouraged me to bring this question here! I’ve been seeing my girlfriend for a little over 8 months, and things are going well! We thought about moving in together around the six month mark. It was partially a financial decision, but we’re also both eager to live together as the back and forth between apartments is starting to feel silly and we’re really really ready for the next step! I was the one who put it on pause for a bit though, and I told her it was because I’m not quite ready to part ways with my personal space yet, and thankfully she was understanding but I feel bad because I wasn’t…entirely honest. It’s not so much that I don’t want to give up my space…it’s that I’m having trouble imagining sleeping with a dog in the bed every single night.

My girlfriend has a super sweet lab mix who I love dearly, but I’m very new to the concept of sleeping with a dog in the bed. I thought they made dog beds for this exact reason?! I’m not even grossed out per se…it’s more like I just wake up a lot when sharing the bed with her dog because he snores, gets up to move around, and makes me overheat. It’s fine for sleepovers here and there at my gf’s but I greatly prefer when she sleeps at mine for this exact reason. (She brings the dog over, but he sleeps in a dog bed when at mine which she was super open to from the get because she understood me not wanting him in my own bed.)

It makes sense to me to set my own rules about the dog in my place, but if I move in with her, I don’t think I’ll have as much of a say over what the dog can and can’t do especially because the dog is used to sleeping in her bed at this point. But I genuinely am not sure I can imagine sleeping with a dog EVERY NIGHT for the rest of my future! Am I overthinking this? Will I just get used to it? Is there specific etiquette for moving in with someone when it comes to like new house rules or something? I love my girlfriend and I love her dog! I just also love sleep!

A:

I honestly love that people are bringing me their pet drama! And fortunately, I can answer this one pretty easily as I too was someone who as a bit hesitant about sharing a bed with a dog upon moving in with my now-fiancee.

First of all, I think it’s totally normal to have reservations about this. I’m not surprised you delayed the move-in process because of it. It’s a big deal! Mixing sleeping patterns and habits is one of the harder parts of moving in with someone. And mixing pets or starting to live with a pet full time are big deals, too. I actually want to start with one of the questions near the end of your letter: Is there specific etiquette for moving in with someone when it comes to like new house rules or something? I think this is an interesting and complex question! I have almost always been the person to move in with a partner rather than them moving in with me. The first time I did it in a serious way, I didn’t vocalize any of my preferences for house rules. I just fully adopted my ex’s way of living. Part of this was because I was young — both in terms of literal age but also in my queerness. I hadn’t been out for very long, and I struggled to really advocate for my true wants and needs in a relationship.

When I moved in with my current partner, I had more confidence and understood myself better. A lot of this actually came from a bout of acute insomnia I experienced at the end of my last relationship that affected me on so many levels I was determined to never let myself fall back into it if possible! So one of the first things I said to my girlfriend as we were moving in together after being long distance for a while was that I didn’t want a television in the bedroom. She agreed to adhere to this even though she was sacrificing something she’d always lived with. And it’s not like I would have ended the relationship if she hadn’t agreed; but her willingness to bend a bit was deeply meaningful to me. I think the partner who is moving in with someone should get some say in the living arrangements and rules and this shouldn’t be seen as an imposition. Because sure, the other person has already been living there and has their habits and preferences, but introducing a new person to a space fundamentally changes the space. You’re the one moving in, but both you and your girlfriend are taking this step together.

I had no clue what I was really getting into by living with my girlfriend’s French bulldog. I hadn’t thought about it much early in the relationship, because in addition to being long distance, I also assumed when we moved in together that I would be bringing my cat from my previous relationship. Maybe this would make some people more anxious — I know mixing pets can be hard! But in my mind, it was more of a level playing field; we both would have a furry companion with us during the transition to living together. I wasn’t bringing much from my previous life: no furniture, no kitchen things, just clothes and books really. But my cat felt like an important tether to my life before and like a sense of stability during major change.

Things didn’t go the way I expected. My ex kept the cat. I freaked out. I didn’t have my tether anymore. But then I turned a corner and just decided to lean all the way into change, into uncertainty. I moved in with my partner and her dog under pretty high stakes conditions: We were moving across the country to a city neither of us had ever lived in for a semester-long residency she got that then turned into a much longer residency because it was early 2020. I like to say we went from long distance to lockdown.

We nested when we first got to her residency, excited to make things cozy and ours. But then the pandemic began and there wasn’t really time to figure out how to live together under normal circumstances, so we got a crash course in cohabitation. All during this time, I was indeed adjusting to the fact of the dog and the fact of her sleeping in the bed with us.

I grew up around dogs but never with one in the house. The dogs I did know slept in dog beds. Now, this French bulldog might be small (and probably is smaller than your gf’s lab mix?) but she is not exactly a silent, still presence. She snores. She gets cold and then wants to be covered. She makes her presence known. And I love her dearly! I was calling her my “stepdogter” within the first month of living with her.

But I won’t lie: Adjusting to having her in the bed was hard. Here are some things I wish I’d had a better understanding of when moving in with a dog: You can definitely be strict with them about which part of the bed they occupy. I sort of just let the Frenchie smash up against me if she wanted to, and my partner was like “you know you can make her stay at the end of the bed right?” I did not know that! Having a blanket that’s specifically hers at the end of the bed helps with this, too. And then it’s easy to wash that blanket separately from your own bedding if you want.

Another thing that helped immensely: upgrading from the full-size bed we had at the residency to a California king. I’m not sure what size bed your girlfriend has but…for as expensive as they are, a giant bed is well worth it when there are bed pets involved.

But something that gives me a lot of hope about your specific situation is that you haven’t actually moved in together yet, which means you are absolutely in a perfect place to actually talk about this with your girlfriend and see if there are possible compromises or solutions to be made. How much does she know about your reluctance to share a bed with the dog? If she’s being an understanding and reasonable partner, she won’t take this reluctance as some sort of indictment of her dog. If she does, that’s a problem honestly! It should be perfectly fine for you to say you’re unsure or nervous about sleeping with the dog every night. This was a literal conflict on The Ultimatum: Queer Love, and I do not think Tiff handled it very well when Sam said she didn’t really want to sleep with the dog. Pets are important parts of our lives, of course. But it should be normal to expect some growing pains when asking a partner to move in with your pets. There will be an adjustment period, and there will likely be some concessions or changes that need to be made to make everyone comfortable. That’s just part of moving in with someone in general.

I’m glad to hear there are at least different sleeping arrangements when you sleep at your place, which makes me think your girlfriend does have some knowledge of your preferences but also makes me think it could be possible to shift the dog’s behaviors if that’s what you and your girlfriend decide to do. If he can sleep in a dog bed at your place, it might be an easy transition to get him to sleep in a dog bed all the time or at least part time. It’s of course possible your girlfriend won’t want to change the dog’s behavior. Perhaps she actually sleeps better with him in the bed. But I think she should at least be open to hearing your thoughts and should take this seriously; your sleep is important, too! And once there are sleep-related problems when it comes to living with someone, I feel like that can be a really slippery slope into bigger issues, because sleep really affects so many parts of of health and lives!

I don’t think you’re overthinking this. I think it’s a really significant thing. But I also don’t think it has to be some automatic relationship dealbreaker. I do think you should talk about it before you commit to moving in. You were ultimately right to delay that timeline, but you should definitely be more honest with her about why you delayed.


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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 870 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. Are you open to moving into a new place together instead of your gf’s? It’s a great sign that the dog is willing to sleep in the dog bed at your place and maybe it wouldn’t be too big of an adjustment for him to sleep in a dog bed from night one at a new place you share together, if you and the gf can agree on that. My old dog slept in my bed and there were parts of it that I enjoyed, but have found that my sleep quality is vastly better since he passed and I’ve decided my future dogs will definitely be in dog beds at night.

    • I could be totally overreading but I think maybe this is a wider sign that by moving into her place (as you state, has this specifically been agreed?) that you assume it remains her place with you there and not “your place” and therefore she sets the rules.

      I’d chat about what living together looks like- ask her if she has any dealbreakers – guests with shoes off, late night parties, what seems fair in terms of what you will both contribute etc.

      The dog can definitely play a part in that. You can be clear you genuinely love the dog but are a light sleeper and see what she suggests?

      Whilst I get not wanting to upset the apple cart there is very little “right and wrong” relationship rules if both parties are happy. So really the only advice you need is that you should speak to your partner.

      If you don’t feel able to do that then maybe now isn’t the time to move in? I don’t mean that in a patronising sense – fully get the overwhelming economic and time drivers. Just it feels like you are a very empathetic person who would probably feel increasingly stressed the longer you don’t raise it!

  2. I don’t sleep full time with my human partner even though we live together. It’s non-negotiable to me to have my own bedroom, and although I like being able to fall asleep with her once in a while, I sleep better by myself. My partner moved into my place and having her own room has made a huge difference in her feeling at home and like she has space that’s hers as well.

  3. I was a dog walker for 8 years and learned so much about dog behavior and training. I went from letting the dogs do what they wanted to becoming a true alpha wolf of my pack.

    I’ve noticed since then that many dog ppl don’t really have alpha status with their dogs. Dogs will take the alpha role if it’s vacant. Dogs really don’t mind being trained because they are hierarchical pack animals.

    All this is to say, it’s totally ok to train a dog to follow new rules when the pack experiences changes. When the pack has young, dogs can’t sleep next to a newborn human, for example.

    So, I encourage you to lovingly assert your needs around sleep, and the dog will be fine, especially if treats are the reward for sleeping on a dog bed! Dogs don’t mind being told what to do; it’s their nature to take orders from the alpha.

    Dogs can cuddle any time, so if your partner wants cuddle time with the dog, it doesn’t have to be during sleep hours.

    Personally, I love sleeping with dogs, but I am the alpha and I will let them know if they are in the way or poking me with a paw, and they have to obey, because I’m the alpha, and they do, because that’s how dogs think. And then I can actually sleep.

    I think a lot of ppl don’t want to be hierarchical with their animal companions because it’s wrong to be hierarchical with humans. Our species is different than dogs, with long histories of intraspecies abuse, colonialism, and atrocities. A wolf pack or wild dog pack does not have those problems. The smartest and most capable are the leaders and the rest follow and coordinate their roles for the survival of the pack. The lower status members babysit the young so the alpha couple can hunt.

    Our animal companions are not human baby substitutes and we can be the alphas and treat them with loving kindness and decide the house rules and lovingly enforce them.

    I have no idea how your partner interacts with the dog, and I’m not trying to assume anything about that, I’m just hoping that my semi-expert dog behavior info will be helpful background info for what is ahead as you become a co-human of a dog.

    Enjoy life with furry adorableness!!!

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