For decades, movies making dogs appear more “human” have been bringing in the cash at the box-office. From Marmaduke the Great Dane, to Lou the Beagle in Cats and Dogs, movie goers just can’t get enough of blockbusters offering a glimpse of dogs behaving like humans.
Pets are Family
Pet owners experience a real connection with the dogs in their lives. Dogs provide company, companionship, and a non-judgemental ear. They are man’s best friend. A 2015 Nielson survey reported 95% of pet owners in the U.S. see their dogs (and cats) as part of the family. Owners talk to their dogs, dress them in fancy clothes, and share their food (and even their bed) with them. It’s all just a bit of fun… isn’t it? Movies notwithstanding, it’s not.
What is Anthropomorphism?
Anthropomorphism is defined as “the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to an animal.” In other words, it’s what owners do to make their dogs seem more like a human. While many people think it’s cute to treat their pug like a baby, anthropomorphizing your dog can actually cause a long list of issues reputable dog training authorities like Come and Train It K9 are called in to address.
One example of the harm anthropomorphizing a dog creates is the expectation dogs have human emotions. Owners may love their dogs so much that they can’t bear to be apart. They fear their dog feels lonely or depressed when they are home alone, and so the owner chooses to spend every waking hour with them. Dogs want the companionship of their pack, but they need to be shown how to function independently of their owner too. Failure to do this can lead to a dog to expect and beg for exclusive attention, and engaging in bad behavior when they don’t get it.
Canine cognitive studies suggest dogs have a mental age equivalent to that of a two-year-old human, so it is not surprising when owners describe and react to their pet’s actions like they do with their children. Owners who anthropomorphize their dog describe them as being jealous or depressed when they’re boarded at a kennel or a baby is brought home. The dog’s response is not emotion-based but more in line with a toddler’s temper tantrum.
A Dog is a Dog, Of Course, Of Course
A dog’s basic needs are very simple: food, water, shelter, exercise and, in some cases, grooming. They are loveable, yet modest creatures that thrive when they know their place and understand the rules of the household. They don’t need to sit on the living room furniture (though they will to please their owners). If they sit on the sofa once, dogs will expect to do it all the time, even when your elderly aunt is visiting because they cannot understand the nuances of behavior we do. A dog cannot determine it’s not okay to sit on the sofa when company is visiting.
Most dogs that wind up back in shelters are there because their previous owner over-personalized or anthropomorphized them. Their owners did them a disservice by ignoring natural dog behavior and teaching them bad behavior.
Remember: personified puppies can become demon dogs, so treat your dogs like the adorable animals they are, not the human companions you wish they were.