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Anthropomorphism

As dog owners we want to do what is best for our beloved pets, we take care of them in many different ways, we feed them, we take them on walks, we provide shelter for them, but sometimes we as humans miss the mark.

We are humans, our dogs are dogs, and sometimes miscommunication can occur during this cross-species relationship. One of the biggest mistakes that we are prone to making with our animals is anthropomorphism, which is throwing human emotions and desires onto the behaviors of our animals.

This does not mean that animals are incapable of feeling emotions that are similar to our human emotions, however when we interpret animal behavior and wrongfully throw a human emotion onto it where it does not belong we are not doing our dogs justice and it can damage our relationship with them.

Anthropomorphism started in ancient times with mythology. Humans would give the gods in mythology human emotions such as lust, hatred, love, jealousy, etc, in order to feel closer to their gods.

“The first area where anthropomorphism can damage our relationship is in the form of expectations.”

We as humans do the same with our animals, throwing emotions onto them so that we can “relate” to them and they can be a part of the “family”.

This is our human nature taking place as we naturally want our animals to be like us. When this is done in moderation it can be beneficial, but if done too often then the relationship with our dogs can become drastically ruined.

The first area where anthropomorphism can damage our relationship is in the form of expectations. When interacting with a fellow human we can expect certain behaviors and responses from them such as being able to strike up a conversation with someone we have never met before.

Dogs are a very different species and they can be very selective of who they choose to engage with, to expect our dogs to interact and to be friendly with every dog they see is to place human expectations on our dogs.

This is never fair to the dog as we will often view our dog as “broken” because they do not wish to interact with other dogs outside of their small group, when in fact we need to respect that dogs are a different species than us and have a different form of socialization than we do as humans.

When we place these expectations on our dogs, we can become disappointed that our dogs are not everything that we had dreamed of. This can greatly damage our relationship with them if we continue to expect certain types of behaviors from them that are not in their nature.

By expecting our dogs to display certain “human” behaviors we also deny the dog certain needs and desires that they thrive on.

“Dogs are brought into our lives and are a blessing to be cherished, however we too often take too much from the dog and leave them empty without fulfilling their needs. “

In the canine world dogs thrive upon communication, structure, and boundaries, all three of these things are not quite as necessary when interacting with our fellow humans.

When we begin to treat our dogs as our fellow humans, we deny them these three important necessities that are vital to their well-being. The only word that I can use to describe a human who denies a dog’s innate needs in order to fulfill their own human desires is self-narcissism. 

Dogs are brought into our lives and are a blessing to be cherished, however we too often take too much from the dog and leave them empty without fulfilling their needs. Many humans rely upon their dogs for emotional needs and throw so much emotional baggage onto their dogs that the dog can then become confused and stressed. 

Our animals look up to us for guidance and structure, to then demand of them that they be our firm foundation when they themselves need a solid leader in their lives takes away from them and leaves them with nothing left. 

Along with making realistic expectations for our animals we also must not take things personal when our dog displays certain behaviors. Dogs will display behaviors that are in their best interests. If a dog gives you puppy eyes they are doing so because they are benefiting from that behavior and their human will usually give them a reward in the form of a soothing voice.

Likewise, a dog who growls at someone who approaches their food is doing so because they want to guard what they have. Many people believe that the dog who gives puppy eyes is showing signs of love, while the dog who is growling is angry or feeling hatred towards the owner.

This is not the case however, both behaviors are done because the dog is trying to get something that it wants.

“Many an owner has dropped a dog of at the shelter and said “he doesn’t recognize us as family anymore” when in fact the dog was only displaying a behavior that was getting it what it wanted at the time.”

When people take things personally with their dogs then the relationship begins to break down on the end of the human. This is not an excuse to allow bad behaviors to continue and training should take place in the form of using counter conditioning, however by understanding that the behaviors are not meant to be personal, owners can go about training their dogs without adding any emotional baggage.

Many owners who take the dogs behavior as personal do not seek to heal the relationship via proper training as they believe the dog “hates” them. Many an owner has dropped a dog of at the shelter and said “he doesn’t recognize us as family anymore” when in fact the dog was only displaying a behavior that was getting it what it wanted at the time.

The biggest hurdle for many owners to overcome when trying to better understand their dog is coming to the realization that their dog does not have morals.

Many owners would like to believe that their dog knows the difference between right and wrong, only to have their world shattered when their dog chasses a cat or small dog and kills it before their eyes.

Dogs do not have an understanding that what they are doing is wrong and do not feel remorse for the things that they do.

Dog owners need to be continually aware that their dog is just that, a dog. Through training and proper socialization dogs can become socially neutral to other small animals, but they only do so because they have been taught what is appropriate by their humans.

Our dogs are very different from us in a variety of ways. Understanding and appreciating these differences helps us grow in our relationship with them.

By understanding our dogs, we can give them the appropriate desires and needs that they require in order to live a happy and fulfilled life, failing to do so risks destroying our relationship and harming our dog.

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