Anthropomorphism And Its Traps

What is anthropomorphism? To put it simply, it is humanizing your cat or your dog. These people think their pet can understand everything they tell them and they have the ability to feel spite, guilt, or think in an abstract way. Honestly, there is no problem with humanizing your dog. I even do it with my own dogs and cats. When I am home alone I often find myself talking to them. It’s fun and for many people, it’s comforting. I believe this is the reason why it has been proven that pets lower our blood pressure and help to lessen stress in our lives.

 But as a trainer, I see the traps that anthropomorphism creates with many people.  Because people get in the habit of humanizing their dog, they can’t understand why they can’t reason with them when things go awry.  Dogs respond according to their nature(genes) and their conditioning(training and upbringing). Many times dogs get hurt emotionally or physically because people don’t understand this one concept. One major thing I see is scolding your dog for something that happened in the past such as finding your slippers chewed when you have been away from home. Dogs don’t think in an abstract way. Scolding a dog by telling him how bad he was is fruitless and your dog won’t understand your words. The only thing he will pick up on is your anger. The real reason why he chewed the slipper is because dogs like to chew and the slippers smelled tasty.

 Another mistake that humans make is that thinking dogs feel guilty after they see that you are mad for chewing your slippers. Actually, all they are doing is reacting to your emotion. If you come home angry enough times, your dog will soon look guilty every time you come home whether you are angry or not or whether he chewed slippers or not. We humanize this cowering as guilt and it is far too complex an emotion for a dog to experience.

 I feel it’s possible to have an emotional and even a spiritual connection with your dog. This is what makes pet ownership so great. When I look at my dogs’ faces and they look back at me, I sense a real consciousness that they are aware of me in a way that I can’t possibly describe. What I don't want to do is to project my feelings onto them but to try to understand them

 All in all, there is nothing wrong  with humanizing or anthropomorphizing your dog just as long as you keep it in check. Continue to tell your dog that he is “handsome and wonderful” because even though he won’t understand the words, he will respond to the tone and it will make you both feel good  Just stay away from, “he pooped on the floor to spite me when I came home late.”  Remember most dogs' love is unconditional.