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Home / Articles / Columnists / Dog World with Tina /  Anthropomorphism
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Wednesday, March 3,2021

Anthropomorphism

By Tina Valant-Siebelts  
The depth of the bonds we form with our dogs is astonishing – in spite of our species being vastly different. Scentual information is innately instinctive for dogs, from the moment they take their first breath. Through out their lives, dogs continue to rely on their main sense: smell. Yet we often expect them to perceive the world exactly as we do: through sight, sound and touch.

We don’t even speak the same language, yet a lot of us spend more time with our dogs than we do with humans (especially this past year, OY!) Regardless of our appearance, age, size, or bank balance, our dogs think we are the bone-diggity!! Known for their unconditional love and loyalty, in dog we trust.

How often are we unknowingly projecting our feelings, fears, desires and attributes onto our dogs? Why can it be harmful?

Consider these examples: Recently we had canine visitors. These dogs had formerly lived with our foster dog. We assumed they would be happy to see each other. Intros outside, they recognized each other. We joked that our girl’s reaction looked more like this: Oh, nice to see ya. BUT, don’t THINK you’re cutting in on my action here.

She became very possessive of us and snooty to her former packmates.

Someone stated their small dog was afraid of Rottweilers. They observe body language and make determinations by scent, sound and sight. After further conversation, it became apparent who was really afraid, due to being chased by one as a child. Every time she saw a Rottie, she would fearfully react. That energy transferred to her dog.

“Anthropomorphism (an throw po morf iz um) is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to nonhumans. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology.” – sourced from Wikipedia Attributing universal human characteristics to living things makes them more relatable. In actuality, this is ignoring many things that make dogs so wonderful. We selfishly mold them into being more like us.

We are doing our dogs a disservice when we anthropomorphize, or project ourselves onto them. Like small children, dogs need schedules, guidelines, boundaries and consequences. To ensure our loved ones’ (two- and fourlegged) survival and to set them up to be self-sufficient, well-adjusted and happy, we must provide leadership, consistency and guidance, tailored to age, maturity and comprehension levels.

You might be surprised at how often we anthropomorphize (and confound) our dogs. Do you:

Feed your dog from your plate?

Leaders don’t offer resources until THEY are satiated.

Buy your dog frequent gifts? Treats, toys, etc.

All they really want/need is our time/attention.

Dress your dog (other than for health/weather)?

Clothing your dog cloaks their body language.

Believe city dogs would rather live a country life?

Dogs are highly adaptable, and live in the moment.

Think littermates should always be adopted together?

Like teenagers, most young dogs crave independence.

Advocate dogs from the same home be adopted together?

Unless bonded they adapt quickly, and thrive.

Treat your dog every time they “do business” outside?

Dogs are confused by this weird human behavior. A simple verbal reward of “good girl/boy” is enough.

Participate in dog weddings, pageants, bark mitzvahs?

Satisfies the need for human attention/socialization, and usually is not something the dog enjoys.

Use a stroller to take your dog on regular outings?

Even prisoners get an hour outside to enjoy the scents, sounds, sights and textures of the environment. Let them walk.

Coddle your fearful dog during fireworks/thunderstorms?

You could be affirming their fear, as you reward the behavior with your attention.

Hug/kiss/allow others to get in your dog’s space?

Akin to running up to an unknown child and smothering them with unwanted affection. Getting in a dog’s personal space, notably, their face is not a welcome, accepted greeting – from kids, especially. Is doing what you want worth being bitten? It does not matter if you’ve “had the dog since a puppy, or think they would never harm your child.” Different species – respect different rules.

Think only a puppy will bond to you/ be properly trained?

Dogs (especially rescued) are gratefully sentient beings. Old dogs can and DO still learn new tricks.

Anthropomorphism is universal and runs rampant in our culture, from William Wegman’s famously photographed Weimaraners to animated characters in movies like “Finding Nemo” and “The Lion King.” We aren’t doing dogs any favors by pushing selfish aspects of our humanity upon them.

Love, care for and respect them for the unique individuals they are.

 

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