Exploring the Dual Nature of Anthropomorphism: Understanding its Benefits for Dogs While Respecting their Canine Identity

Anthropomorphism, the attribution of human characteristics or emotions to animals, has been a longstanding phenomenon in our interaction with pets, particularly with our loyal companions, dogs. Over the years I've leaned towards this being a somewhat positive if we are encouraging compassion and empathy towards animals, however, it's not that simple. While anthropomorphism can undoubtedly enhance our bond with these furry friends, it's crucial to recognize the fine balance between humanizing dogs and respecting their inherent canine nature. Otherwise, we do see welfare implicated.

The Benefits of Anthropomorphism

Strengthening the Human-Canine Bond

According to renowned ethologist Mark Bekoff, "Anthropomorphism can help people take better care of their pets by increasing their empathy and compassion." One of the most remarkable benefits of anthropomorphism is the way it strengthens the bond between humans and dogs. By attributing emotions and traits to dogs that we understand and relate to, we create a deeper sense of connection. Treating dogs as more than just pets, but as integral members of our families, fosters empathy and companionship. When we believe our dogs experience emotions similar to ours, we're more likely to engage in activities that prioritize their well-being.

Enhancing Communication

Bekoff further explains that "attributing human emotions to animals can serve as a gateway to better understand their behavior." Anthropomorphism can serve as a bridge to communication between humans and dogs. Ascribing emotions and intentions to them helps us interpret their behavior and needs more accurately. For instance, recognizing a dog's "happy" or "sad" demeanor can guide us in providing appropriate care and attention. This can lead to better training, socialization, and overall understanding, thereby creating a harmonious environment for both the dog and its human companions.

Promoting Responsible Ownership

Viewing dogs through the lens of anthropomorphism can encourage responsible pet ownership. When we consider their emotional and psychological needs, we're more likely to ensure they receive proper healthcare, nutrition, mental stimulation, and exercise. This approach shifts our focus from mere caretaking to nurturing a holistic and fulfilling life for our four-legged companions.

The Importance of Respecting Canine Identity

Avoiding Misinterpretation

Bekoff reminds us that "while attributing human emotions can help, it's crucial to remember that animals don't think and feel exactly like humans." While attributing human traits to dogs can enhance our understanding of their behavior, it's essential to remember that dogs don't experience emotions in the same way humans do. Misinterpreting their actions through an anthropomorphic lens might lead to misunderstanding and improper handling. For example, growling isn't necessarily a sign of "anger" in dogs; it can be a communication tool or a response to a specific situation.

Respecting their Unique Needs

Mark Bekoff emphasizes that "we must appreciate animals for who they are and not who we want them to be." Dogs have evolved with distinct physiological and psychological needs that set them apart from humans. Their communication methods, social hierarchies, and ways of processing information differ significantly from ours. Projecting human emotions onto them could lead to ignoring their genuine needs, such as appropriate exercise, socialization with other dogs, and mental stimulation tailored to their species-specific requirements.

Preventing Harmful Expectations

Over-associating human emotions with dogs can lead to unrealistic expectations. This is particularly true when it comes to training and behavior modification. Dogs are highly trainable and adaptable, but expecting them to comprehend complex human emotions might set them up for failure. Emphasizing their own learning capabilities and instincts will yield more successful training outcomes.

Anthropomorphism undoubtedly has its merits in enhancing the human-canine bond, facilitating communication, and promoting responsible pet ownership, as highlighted by the insights of ethologist Mark Bekoff. However, it's vital to strike a balance between understanding dogs on our terms and respecting their unique canine identity. Embracing their distinct needs, communication methods, and evolutionary history allows us to be better stewards of their well-being while appreciating the unparalleled companionship they offer.

© copyright 2023 by Bravo Dog Training Inc.

Dog behaviorist and dog behaviour consultant in vancouver, north vancouver, west vancouver, british columbia

© copyright 2023 by Bravo Dog Training Inc.

North Vancouver and Vancouver dog trainer and behaviour consultant