July 21, 2020
What are the dangers of anthropomorphizing your dog?
There is almost nothing cuter than seeing a dog dressed up like a little person or seeing a meme about a dog going to a business meeting. However, treating your dog like a human or assigning human emotions to your canine friend can have negative consequences.
What is Anthropomorphism?
Anthropomorphism is attributing human characteristics to nonhuman creatures. For a dog, that might mean thinking they “look guilty” when they’ve peed on the carpet when in reality, guilt is a human emotion we are projecting onto our dog. The dog might be reacting to your annoyance about the carpet, but they don’t understand concepts like guilt.
Why is it bad to treat my dog like a human?
To put it simply, dogs and humans are very different. This might seem like an obvious answer but the reality is that we often speak to our dogs like they are fellow humans. Dogs have a whole different system of communication. Treating your dog like a human can lead to:
- Setting the dog up for failure – If you ask the dog to get off the couch and the dog doesn’t respond because they don’t speak English and then you get frustrated because you asked so nicely, you are setting the dog up for failure.
- Giving the dogs more abilities than they possess – You wouldn’t ask your dog to make you a cup of coffee, right? All of the abilities that dogs possess are learned abilities. If you want your dog to perform a task, like getting off that couch. You first have to train the dog through positive reinforcement, signals, and treats. Also remember, every dog will have a different skill set. Work with the dog that you have!
- It sets expectations too high. If you think that your dog is just like a human, you will expect them to perform like a human, but your dog is a dog and they will only ever be able to perform as a dog.
- Owners feel justified for punishing a dog when they think a dog “knows what it’s done.” – Being mad or punishing a dog because you think the dog has a human understanding could lead to reinforcing behaviors that you don’t intend. The dog will most likely not connect your anger or punishment with peeing on the floor. Especially if the punishment is administered after the crime is committed.
Dogs will be Dogs
Dogs live in the moment. They don’t have the same sense of time as a human, so trying to ask a dog to connect your disappointment or anger for a behavior that occurred in the past won’t make any sense to them. The best way to communicate with a dog is positive reinforcement for a behavior that’s happening in the moment. For example, if you want your puppy to stop peeing inside. You should treat them and praise them when they pee outside. They will be able to understand that message.
Remember your dog will only ever be what they are, a dog. If you keep that expectation, the dog will always live up to it. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t dress them up like Harry Potter and call them Hairy Barker!
Zoe Sjogerman is the North-East manager for Rover-Time and has been part of the RT team for four years. When she isn’t walking dogs she is the executive director of Avalanche Theatre and an avid book reader. She lives in the north-side of Chicago with her fiance. Although she doesn’t have a pet of her own, she loves getting to walk pups all over the Chicagoland area.