Table of Contents
- When Your Parents Treat You Like a Child
- Little Known Fact: Men Really Just Want To Be Treated Like Grown Babies
- How Treating Dogs Like Humans is Abusive
- The dangers of treating dogs like humans
My dog Jerry is a lot of things. He’s a cuddle monster who steals all the sheets at night. He’s also an expert tug-o-war player, a carrot lover, and a nap champion. But he’s not my child, and never will be. He’s a dog, and that means I treat him differently than I treat actual children, for everyone’s benefit (including his).
“I personally don’t love the term ‘fur babies,’” explains Phillip Tedeschi, MSSW, LCSW, executive director for the Institute for Human-Animal Connection. “I really want them to be able to be a dog or a cat, not comparable to a human child. In some cases, there are similarities, but there are differences too.” Observing and taking note of those differences doesn’t just keep our pets happy — it can help prevent aggression too.
We’ve all seen so-called “fur babies” riding down the street in strollers or trotting next to their pet parents, wearing twee outfits that wouldn’t look out of place on a toddler. Sometimes, they’re posed on Instagram with ice cream cones, TV remotes, slices of pizza, or empty beer bottles with hashtags like #sundayfunday and #caseofthemondaze. These pets usually look happy enough. Their tongues are lolling out, and if you look closely, they may even appear to be smizing. But I can’t help but wonder, would these noble beasts’ ancestors regret first wandering into that warm circle of firelight for a bite of bison if they knew it would lead to wearing a striped onesie with a tail cutout?
You may be reading this with your dog’s Instagram account open in another tab, thinking of the hand-embroidered dog vest hanging in the coat closet. Maybe you’re even wearing a paw-shaped necklace. Let she who has not called her dog “My Little Fuzz-butt” throw the first stone. I also own a t-shirt that says “dog walks are my happy hour,” and have bought dog toys based almost solely on their aesthetic value. This isn’t to say dressing up your pet like a person is unequivocally wrong, or that doting on your pup makes you a bad pet parent. But before you stage that perfect like-bait on Instagram, think of how the animal beneath the costume feels.
Tedeschi prefers to treat his pets like their own, unique members of the household rather than just another one of the kids. “I think, in some ways, many people could have a deeper relationship with their pets if they allow an animal to be themselves,” he explains.
Think about all the decisions you make for your pets. You decide when they eat and what goes in the bowl. The placement of those bowls, their beds, and even which toy they play with is up to the humans, too. But Tedeschi explains that animals have preferences just like we do, and not paying attention to their subtle signals can have disastrous ramifications.
“We tend to force animals to do things that they don’t want to do,” he says. “And we often ignore signs of distress or in worst-case scenarios, see problems like unexpected bites. It’s not that we have an aggressive animal, it’s that we have an animal who’s advocating for itself in the best way it can.”
Preventing those kinds of consequences all comes down to communication. If your dog always drags one toy out into the living room and ignores the rest, that’s their favorite plaything. Dogs who shake or shiver, put their ears back and their tail between their legs when you bring out that cute little sweater are telling you they’d rather stick with their natural coat, thanks. And if a dog averts his eyes, licks his nose repeatedly, or starts to curl their lips when they see another dog or person, that’s their way of saying, “I’m not in the mood to play.”
“When we’re really observant of the animals in our lives, we get information about what they prefer, what’s comforting for them, who they enjoy meeting on a walk, those sorts of things,” Tedeschi explains. “That doesn’t always mean they get their way. In any healthy relationship, we have to negotiate, but we should at least recognize they have an opinion.”
And that communication goes both ways. If you’ve caught your pup staring at your out of the corner of your eye, they’re not just trying to Jedi mind trick you into an early dinner. A dog can detect changes in your facial expression down to 1/16 of a millimeter, making them acutely aware of changes in your emotions. You may be able to tell your partner you’re “fine” when really, you’ve had the worst day in the history of the workplace. That won’t fly with your dog. They know the truth, because they’re watching you carefully, ready to come to your rescue at the slightest sign of foul weather. A truly good pet parent will pay their pups that same courtesy.
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Lizz Schumer Staff Writer Lizz Schumer is the staff writer for Good Housekeeping, Woman’s Day, and Prevention, covering pets, culture, lifestyle, books, and entertainment.
Chapter 2: Things Are Gonna Be Different
Karen sits in her room for what seems like forever. Kristy walks in and sits on her bed. “Listen up Karen; things are going to be different now. When you moved in here it was to correct your attitude. Your mom couldn’t handle you, neither could Seth. And then my mom and Watson couldn’t handle you. You’ve always been a spoiled brat. And you still act like a baby even though you are clearly a teenager. So if you act like a baby, you’ll be treated as such.”
“What are ya gonna do? Spank me?” Karen asks in a mocking tone.
Kristy’s eyes narrow. “Oh yes, you will be spanked. But that’s not all. You are going to be treated like a baby. That means, you’ll be diapered, you’ll sleep in a crib, you’ll be spoon and bottle fed. Everything will be done for you. And you will speak like a baby.” Karen’s eyes go wide. “You want to act like a baby then you’ll be treated as such. We’ll do this for six months and then see where you are.”
“Daddy will never let you get away with this!” Karen said. She may not live with him, but she was still a Daddy’s girl, true and true.
“Oh but he is. And he called your mom. They think it’s a great idea. They’re even going to be paying for most of this.” Kristy tells her. “And before you go there, you’re still going to school. I’ll be calling the nurse and make sure she knows about your situation.” She leans in. “You asked for this Karen, so no complaining.”
Karen sits there in shock. She tries her best to remain composure. “When will this start?” She asks. Surely Kristy couldn’t start it right away.
“Well I asked my mom to get the diapers and other smaller details. Seth is working on a crib, high chair, changing table, all of that stuff (A/N: I don’t know how many BSC fans remember but Seth is a carpenter). Your mom is going to make all of the clothes. We should have everything we need in a few days. So that’s when we’ll begin. However, today we will do the spanking. Pants down, underwear off.”
Karen’s eyes widen. She had been swatted over her jeans a few times over the years but had never had a bare bottom, over the knee spanking since she was five. “Hurry Karen. Do it yourself or I’ll do it for you.” Karen still didn’t move. “Alright. That’s it.” Kristy pulls Karen over her lap and unzips her jeans. She throws them to the floor. Karen struggles as Kristy tries to take off the underwear, but Kristy swats her hands away. “Don’t make this worse than it is.”
“Please Kristy!” Karen pleads. “I haven’t been spanked bare since I was five!”
“Well then let’s just consider this the beginning of your punishment.” Kristy takes off the undies and puts them with the jeans. Kristy began to lay down the spanks, each one harder than the previous. She landed twenty swats to her bottom. By the end Karen was sobbing and her bottom resembled the red walls. Kristy put Karen so she was sitting on her lap. “There we go. Was that so bad?”
Karen doesn’t respond. Her bottom felt like it was on fire. Kristy stroked the girl’s hair. “Now, put on your panties and pants and then get in bed.”
Three days passed. Karen went to school but told no one of her upcoming punishment. She was just glad she didn’t attend the school that Karen taught at, rather the private school. That Saturday, though Karen’s life changed. That day she was taken shopping by Mallory and Jessie. When she comes back with the two, Kristy smiles at her.
“Hey there KareBear!” Kristy coos. Karen cringes at the baby voice. “Come on Pumpkin. Let big sissy Kristy show you your new room.” She takes the girl’s hand and takes her to the room. She opens the door and Karen’s eyes widen.
The walls are light pink, no longer the scarlet red that Karen had once selected. The rug was now white. Against the window was a large changing table with a pad on top. Under were a bunch of diapers, wipes, creams and other things. A white dresser was up against the wall. The handles for it were little rainbows, now matching the handles on the closet. A rocking chair was near the opposite window.
And then the crib. It was huge, larger than a normal baby crib. A mobile hung in front of it. Inside the crib was pink Carebear bedding. Stuffed animals were strewn about.
Karen looks at Claudia, then Mary Anne and then Stacy. All are smiling. Her eyes then go to her step-sister. A smile spreads across Kristy’s face. “Now come on baby. Let’s get you out of these big girl clothes.” Kristy picks her up and carries her to the changing table. She lays Karen down and begins to undress her. Karen turns red and goes to cover her private area but Kristy stops her. “Now, now, babies aren’t embarrassed. But babies also don’t have hair down there. Mary Anne, please get me a razor.” Mary Anne nods and goes out. She returns with a razor and wet soap. Kristy proceeds to shave off Karen’s private area, her armpit hair and leg hair. By the end, Karen is crying. “Now, now don’t cry little baby. It’s okay.”
Kristy grabs different items from under the changing table. She rubs some cream on Karen’s bottom and then puts on the powder, a lot. It all feels weird against Karen’s bottom. But then the soft diaper. It crinkled as Karen moved in it. Next Kristy grabbed a pink frilly dress from Karen’s closet along with black Mary Janes and white tights. She put them onto Karen. For the finishing touches she put in a pink pacifier and tied a pink bonnet to Karen’s head.
Kristy smiles and picks her up. She carries her over to the giant mirror hanging off the back of the door. Karen looks at herself. She looks like an oversized infant. She feels the tears well in her eyes. “Oh I think the baby’s tired.” Kristy coos.
“Maybe she needs a nap,” Claudia says.
“Definitely.” Kristy tucks her into the crib and spins the mobile. She leans down and pinches Karen’s cheeks. “Goodnight baby Karen.” She shuts off the light and walks out with the girls following.
“That’s different Mary Anne. He didn’t go this far and you weren’t a brat. You were extremely well behaved. Karen on the other hand was spoiled her whole life.” She lets out a sigh. “I truly blame Watson for all this.”
“Andrew was spoiled too and he turned out just fine,” Claudia points out.
“Yeah but he never was a brat. Karen was. And Watson and Lisa never did anything to really punish her. You know she hadn’t been bare bottom spanked since she was five up until five days ago? I was bare bottom spanked up until I was eighteen!” Kristy tells them.
“Maybe this will be good for her,” Stacey says. “And it’ll be fun. We can dress her up in cute little outfits.”
“And take her for walks through the park in that stroller Seth made,” Claudia says clapping her hands. Kristy smiles.
“This will be so much fun.”
My husband and I got married at the beginning of June. Within six weeks, we had been on our month-long honeymoon, rented a sweet house with a yard, and gotten a dog. Both of us had had golden retrievers growing up, and both of us had hated being without a dog during our college/apartment living early twenties.
Our dog was our baby. We took her to restaurants (San Antonio has plenty of dog-friendly patios,) went camping and hiking with her, bought her cute, seasonal bandanas, called her our baby, and referred to her as our parent’s granddog. We were, in short, “those people.”
So here are some ways having a dog is different than having a baby:
- If you want a dog today, you can probably get one today. Your local shelter would love for you to come adopt! If you want a baby, you have to wait at least ten months. And that is if you are very, very lucky.
- A few weeks of obedience school, a month or so of sleepless nights and house training, and your dog is set for life. With a baby, you worry about milestones from the beginning. And then you have to decide if and when to put him in preschool. Or daycare. Or whether to wait for kindergarten or to delay kindergarten for an extra year. And you have so many school options: Neighborhood school? Private? Parochial? Homeschool? And school lasts so many years!
- Your dog goes to the vet about once a year, gets her shots and annual exam, and is hopefully good. I mean, this wasn’t my dog (ear issues, skin issues,etc.,) but it could’ve been. I wait until my dog really has to go in to take her (sorry, pup,) but taking your dog to the vet with three kids in tow is no easy task! For your child, he goes to the pediatrician at least seven times in the first year alone. If he isn’t sick. Which never happens, ever. Kids get sick. And as a parent, you worry about them probably too much and go to the pediatrician for everything. My husband is a pediatrician, and I still take my kids to the doctor when they have fevers.
- Your dog eats huge bags of dog food that can be picked up at any grocery store. Your baby breastfeeds every hour for what feels like eternity and then spends months learning how to eat solid food before deciding that she only wants to eat fried chicken and macaroni and cheese.
We’ve had our dog for almost ten years now. Her life has been full of love, walks, belly rubs, and long naps in the sunshine. But my once spry and bouncy puppy has become a slow, sometimes grouchy, old lady. My parenting journey, however, is just beginning. My oldest is 6, and I have years of molding, disciplining, encouraging, and loving left before my kids become functional members of society. A dog’s life with you is brief in the long run; your babies are always your babies.
When Your Parents Treat You Like a Child
You’re majoring in chemistry, carrying an 18-hour load while maintaining an A- average. You’re tutoring a few freshmen for extra cash, and you’re a resident assistant, responsible for keeping track of 40-odd students on your floor. At least twice a week, fellow students drop by your dorm room for advice. This week, you dealt successfully with a dorm mate who became suicidal over plunging grades and the sudden death of a romance.
Life is grindingly hard — but you’re proud of the way you’re handling it. Now it’s Thanksgiving vacation, and you’re looking forward to spending a few days at home catching up on your sleep, not to mention your homework. After a three-hour drive, you hoist your bags out of the car and throw open the front door of your parents’ home.
“Wipe your feet!” your mother hollers from the kitchen. “Shut the door!” your father adds. “Do you think we want to heat the whole outdoors?”
Suddenly, you’re 10 years old again.
It happens to nearly all of us. We grow up and assume adult responsibilities, we’re accepted as adults by our peers. But every time we go home — for Thanksgiving, for Christmas, for summer vacation — our parents treat us like the children we no longer are.
“When I came home last Christmas, my parents and I went to visit some friends,” says 20-year-old Lawrence. “I was really enjoying talking to this couple — but then my dad kicked me out of the living room and told me to go visit with their kids. They were 8 and 13 years old!”
And then there’s Lindsey, a college sophomore who moved back in with her parents to save money. She takes half a load of classes and works part time, but still hasn’t figured out how to load the dishwasher — at least, according to her mom. “Every time she asks me to clean the kitchen, she tells me to take the clean dishes out and put the dirty ones in,” Lindsey complains. “I’ve only been doing this since I was 8 years old, but she still explains it to me every time.”
Then there are parents who can’t seem to accept that there are some things their college-age kids know more about than they do. Kelley, a 21-year-old computer science major, says he’s been “reading computer manuals since I was 6 years old. Computers are both my vocation and my hobby.” But whenever the family needs to buy new computer equipment “my dad totally disregards my expertise. He can’t give up control to me,” Kelley sighs. “At work, the most qualified person does the job. I don’t see why filial relations should be any different, but my dad always has to be right.”
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it doesn’t get any better when you graduate.
“My parents continue to treat me like I’m 12 years old,” says a New Yorker called Ian. “A year ago, I went home to visit them. My father had to cut something with a chainsaw, and he would not let me touch it. I was 35 years old! I’m thinking, When am I going to be old enough to use the chainsaw? It gets to the point of total absurdity. It’s humiliating.”
So is being told to hush up when you’re in your 40s. “When George W’s people need advice, they contact people like me,” confides a friend who works at a Washington, D.C. think tank. “But when I go home, my dad still shushes me, which is really irritating. Important people think what I say is worth hearing, but to my dad, I’m still a 15 year old with bad skin.”
I know just how he feels. Last summer I went home to Boston to visit my own parents for a couple of weeks — and once again, the Boeing 727 I was traveling on somehow turned into a time machine that sent me back to 1967 — the year I turned 10. One day my mother and I boarded a ferry, intent on shopping and sightseeing. As we prepared to disembark, in the midst of a large crowd of people, my mother suddenly turned to me and loudly asked, “Do you have to go to the bathroom?”
It’s a question appropriate for a little girl — not a woman in her 40s. Did I gently point out that I was old enough to figure out when I needed to answer nature’s call? No. Instead, I grit my teeth, shook my head and spent the next 15 minutes feeling irritated.
It gets worse when you have kids. I married young, and by the time I reached my late-20s, my parents were treating us, if not as full-fledged adults, then at least with a certain respect. But then we had a baby — and our collective I.Q. dropped by about 75 points. At least, it did in my parents’ eyes. My parents intruded into every childcare decision — from whether we should nurse or bottle feed, to whether we should use a microwave to heat formula, to whether we should change pediatricians. It was the cause of tremendous friction.
Even Dr. James Dobson had trouble getting his parents to treat him like a grown-up. In his book Parenting Isn’t For Cowards, Dobson describes coming home from college for Christmas vacation — only to have his mother “asking me what time I would be coming in at night, and urging me to drive the car safely, and watching what I ate.” “My mother,” Dobson recalls, “had … failed to notice that I had changed and she needed to get with the new program.” Matters came to a head one evening when, Dobson says, after “a brief flurry of words between us” he left the house in a huff.
The problem appears to be universal. A few years ago Focus on the Family conducted a poll asking listeners what their biggest problem was when it came to dealing with their parents. The number one answer: The refusal of parents to accept their children as adults — to let go and let them lead their own lives. Listeners in their 30s, 40s, and 50s wrote in to say that their parents still regularly criticized and corrected them, attempting to impose their will on offspring who had left the nest decades before.
Why do parents do this? How does it escape their notice that their babies have grown up and no longer need, or want, to be treated like children?
Part of the answer is probably that in 1990s America, adolescence has been artificially extended. A generation or two ago, many Americans finished school, started work and got married — all while still in their teens. But today, a high percentage of young people go to college. Many of you go on to graduate school — which means you’re often financially dependent on your parents well into your 20s. And the unfortunate reality is that when your parents are still supporting you, they’re inclined to think of you as a child and want to tell you how to live your life. (My own parents paid my expenses through my third year of college, and whenever I came home, my father expected me to come in by a certain time in the evening, get up at a certain time each morning, and expected final say on whether my clothing and makeup were appropriate.)
There’s another reason why parents have trouble letting go, according to Dobson. American parents are, he says, “among the best in the world. We care passionately about our kids and would do anything to meet their needs.” But that very characteristic makes it extremely difficult to let go, he adds. “The same commitment that leads us to do so well when the children are small … also causes us to hold on too tightly when they are growing up.” Some parents — even Christian parents — manipulate their kids to keep control through guilt, bribery, threats, intimidation, fear and anger, Dobson says.
Even when parents don’t engage in these tactics — even when they merely mean well — they have to learn to let go. Dobson recommends that you get together with your parents, perhaps over dinner, identify the specific problem area, and tell them lovingly, but firmly, that you are an adult now and expect to be treated as one.
Easy enough to say. Harder to put into practice. It’s especially difficult when you see your parents only for short periods, separated by months or even years. You tend to think, “I’m only here for a few days. Why rock the boat?” That’s been my own strategy for dealing with conflict — and here I am, 20 years later, still getting frustrated every time I go home. Our visits don’t go well, and my parents aren’t sure why.
Why don’t I tell them? My mother doesn’t react well to criticism. My father? Well, he tends to make a joke out of anything I say. Although I have a husband, two children and a responsible job, he still treats me like a little girl.
One friend who’s been more successful than I in her dealings with her parents says it didn’t take a gentle confrontation — it took lots of gentle confrontations.
“My parents live near me, so we had to resolve these things,” Jennifer told me. “My mom used to call me and say, ‘I don’t mean to criticize, but that dress you wore last night looked terrible on you.’ Finally, whenever she started a conversation with the words ‘I don’t mean to criticize’ I’d say, ‘then don’t!’” After a while, she got the message.”
“For a time,” Jennifer adds, “I had to constantly reinforce the way I wanted to be dealt with. Our relationship is now much more positive and constructive. We’re much more like friends than parent and child.”
Dr. Dobson, too, was able to convince his parents that, as an adult, he wanted friendship with his parents, not “a line of authority from them.” Of course, that’s what we all want — especially when we are successfully navigating through adulthood. But most of us have to respectfully ask for it.
And if we still don’t get respect? We need to remember that Scripture teaches that children are to show respect to their parents, even when their parents drive them crazy.
I have a friend named Bob who’s made an art of this. A spiritually mature man, Bob knew he had a deeply stubborn streak. Early in adulthood, he made a decision: That he would show his overbearing father respect — even if it killed him.
And he did, too. When his parents moved overseas to serve as missionaries, Bob and his wife took over the family farm. For seven years, they labored there. Then Bob’s parents returned — and the first thing his father did was tell Bob he was operating the tractor improperly. Bob, who had spent the past seven years working with that very tractor, listened respectfully — and did things his dad’s way.
Yes, the ideal is to turn the parent-child relationship into a friendship, and we should certainly work toward that. But if all else fails — if our parents won’t change — we must try to manage respect.
Me? I’m going to try to take Dr. Dobson’s advice. I’m going to bite the bullet and gently but firmly tell my parents that I want to be treated like an adult.
I’ll do it the very next time I go home. Really.
Little Known Fact: Men Really Just Want To Be Treated Like Grown Babies
By David Wygant
Women really over estimate who we are.
Let me explain.
The other day I saw this woman.
She grabbed her kid and she said, “God, I miss you so much and I love you!” and just kept kissing the kid. I noticed that she had no ring on her finger.
So I started talking to her and I said, “You know, that is so beautiful the way you are with your kid.”
“Let me tell you: the next man you meet, to greet him like that every single time, and tell him you missed him and give him a big kiss and treat him just like he’s two, and you’ll keep a man forever and forever.”
Check out why David Wygant says treating a man like a child is the secret to maintaining a happy relationship on YourTango.com.
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There’s an old saying that goes something like this: ‘Beware. If you treat your dog like a human, don’t be surprised if they treat you like a dog.’
One of the biggest problems I had as a former professional dog trainer, was trying to effectively communicate the message to dog owners, perhaps understandably confused about what role they should play when confronted with a barrage of conflicting advice about dominance, pack leadership and ‘becoming alpha’, that dogs do not see us as other dogs. Our dog’s ability to distinguish us from their own species is not only obvious, it’s also pretty important for the evolution of all animals to recognise their own species from others, says Ryan O’Meara.
I say the confusion is understandable because we now live in the information age and it seems more likely than not that if you took a cross-section of one hundred new dog owners, all with regular access to the TV and Internet, each would have heard, watched or read around fifty different ‘rules’ about how best to teach their dog good manners.
By way of a short example. One (particularly) famous trainer is not alone when issuing guidance such as this:
‘Always walk out the door ahead of your dog when leaving the house. This will show your dog who is in the leadership role. On walks, make sure that your dog is not in front of you, pulling you down the street. Instead, keep your dog to your side or behind you. This will also demonstrate to your dog that you are the alpha figure.’
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’m a new dog owner and I see something like that I’m probably going to take from it a message that unless I establish a pack leader role my dog might very well attempt to overthrow my authority in my own home. It’s actually quite frightening to assume that there are many people, normally intelligent people, who are assuming their dog’s view them as just another, slightly larger and weird looking other dog.
Take this to the bank. Dogs do not see humans as dogs. Giraffes don’t see monkeys as giraffes. Cats don’t see birds as cats. Octopuses don’t see sharks as octopuses. And dogs don’t see humans as dogs. They just don’t. As such, by bestowing our canine house guests with human attributes are we doing both them and us a disservice or, worse, harm?
Are You Guilty of Anthropomorphism?
For years Hollywood has portrayed film-star canines as animals whose motivations are based on human perceptions and values. Lassie saves a rabbit from death, for example, or Benji solves a crime, or Rin Tin Tin, pictured below, protects the fort from outlaws. These animal films are very entertaining, and the canine actors are extremely well trained, but they’ve popularised the notion that our dog’s abilities to think, feel and reason mirror our own.
Could this misguided view of canine psychology be a major contributing factor to a large percentage of undesired dog behaviour seen in thousands, if not millions of homes around the world?
Expecting a dog to do things he simply cannot or has no understanding of is not uncommon. Expecting dogs to think as we humans do is also widespread. The reason the dog beats off competition from all other animals to the title of man’s best friend is in no small part to do with his sheer skill at adapting his way of life to fit in with ours. It is this skill that is the likely cause for our frequent misreading of his intentions and motives.
Us modern dog owners are, almost without exception, guilty of inadvertently teaching our dogs bad behaviour by simply not, for want of a better expression, treating a dog like a dog. Ouch! Why did I feet a little pang of guilt when I wrote that? Why do I feel like the bad guy or some kind of archaic, Victorian disciplinarian for saying it’s not only OK to treat a dog like a dog, it’s the BEST way to live in harmony with them?
Many dogs have their personalities labelled fairly early on in their lives. They can be painted as daft, stubborn, jealous, mischievous and sometimes just plain bad. ‘You bad dog!’. We’ve all heard it and many of us have used it.
The problem is, whenever we try to evaluate canine behaviour using human values we are misinterpreting our dog’s emotions and behavioural motives.
All but the very worst anthropomorphic dog owners can improve their relationship with their dog and subsequently their behaviour if they make a valid effort to understand their dogs unique emotional make-up.
It’s certainly no heinous crime to be anthropomorphic, even the very best dog trainers are guilty at some point or another. But it can lead to big problems if little or no effort is made to better understand our canine friends.
Giving your dog a special dinner on his birthday or filling a Christmas stocking with dog toys and treats is anthropomorphic in the extreme. Is it a bad thing? Of course not. In fact, it’s a nice thing to do. It shows how we value our relationship with our pets in the same way as we value our relationships with people. But what about if we’ve blurred the lines of actually, truly understanding that dogs don’t, no matter what we might believe, think as humans do?
Owners should be wary of their anthropomorphism when it is likely to impinge on their dog’s behaviour especially when it comes to good timing and fair corrections. For example, owners often correct their dog based on a ‘guilty look’ on the dog’s face, assuming he ‘knows’ he was wrong. The dog doesn’t know, any more than he knows it is his birthday or Christmas.
Some classic behavioural mistakes are made due to anthropomorphism. Dog runs off. Dog doesn’t return when called. Dog slinks back to annoyed owner looking ‘guilty’. Dog is admonished. Owner is happy. Dog thinks he’s been punished for coming back to his owner. His demonstration of a fearful response, thoroughly justified.
It’s hard when we use our human emotions to reason but in this circumstance, the dog should have been well praised. It’s hard because anthropomorphism is in full swing. Our emotions are mixed up with our dogs.
Another example. Many dog owners – especially owners of younger dogs – experience a chewing problem at some point. Many owners are left frustrated when their dogs chew furniture, rugs, shoes, and the like when left alone in the house. They say that they have tried everything. ‘He knows he has done wrong,’ they say. When asked what they have done to correct the dog, they say, ‘I shout at him and show him what he chewed. I tell him he is bad. Sometimes I smack him with the newspaper.’
This procedure is usually repeated many times while the dog continues to destroy the house. Eventually, the time arrives when the owner comes home and the dog runs and hides. Some dogs may even stand and shiver with a terribly ‘guilty look’ on their face. Then, periodically, the owner will come home and not find a mess. The owner will be happy and will praise and pet the dog. The dog will respond to the happy sound and good-feeling rubs with a wagging tail and a happy appearance.
This cheerful behaviour reinforces in the owner’s mind that the dog knows that avoiding chewing is ‘right’ and that chewing up the house is ‘wrong.’ ‘He just wants to get even with me for leaving him at home.’ Nothing could be further from the truth.
Anthropomorphism is widespread among dog owners. But it’s certainly not all bad.
University of Portsmouth psychologist Dr Paul Morris and colleague Christine Doe recently conducted a study of 1000 domestic animal owners which revealed overwhelming evidence that owners believe their pets share similar emotions to people. Are they right?
Dr Morris, who is an animal behaviour expert, explains:
‘It (the study) challenges the long-held scientific belief that only humans and chimpanzees are able to experience secondary emotions such as jealousy, guilt, shame and pride.’
Morris said dog owners showed ‘remarkable consistency’ in reporting jealous behaviour.
He said dogs could feel intense pangs of jealousy and animosity when in a ‘love triangle’ involving the carer and another person or animal.
‘The study set the typical behavioural index of jealousy as pushing between the carer and the third party, and this is what happened more than 80 per cent of the time,’
‘It is not necessarily anthropomorphic to describe animals in terms that we also use for humans. Just because humans have legs and dogs have legs it is not anthropomorphic to say that dogs have legs. Legs are a shared attribute. If a loud unexpected noise occurs both humans and dogs are surprised and display alerting behaviour.
No scientist would argue with the fact that dogs get angry and also have fear. So it is important to realise that there is a huge degree of overlap between humans and other animals.
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We share a common evolutionary history, our brains are remarkably similar, the areas of the brain controlling basic emotions such as anger, fear, joy, surprise, depression are exactly the same as are the neurotransmitters.
A lot of what we know about brain behaviour relationships in humans is based on animal research. The limbic system which controls primary emotional drives is exactly the same in all mammals.
When we see a dog scratching at a door and trying to push it open it would be really crazy not to realise that the dog is trying to get through the door. The important point is that describing animals in psychological terms that are also attributable to humans is not necessarily wrong.
The difficult part is to sort out which are correct attributions and which are false attributions.
Emotions are the way that evolution makes sure that behaviour is appropriate, you run away from things that could harm you, you fight for things you need, you are jealous of your mate etc. I don’t think that dogs reason or think in any way like humans, however, I do think that their emotions are in some way like humans.
I suspect the emotion of jealousy was around long before humans were around! I do not make the case that a dog’s jealousy is exactly like human jealousy. For example in human emotions we often relive them constantly in our private mental lives, dogs jealousy I suspect is confined to the situation that caused it. The function of the more complex social emotions is to regulate social interaction. I find it highly unlikely that dogs as a highly social species would not have sophisticated social emotions.
I do not think they have precisely the same set as humans (for example I doubt that dogs experience shame or embarrassment) or they experience in precisely the same way, but the idea that they don’t have any of them at all I find really unlikely.
The purpose of our study was to investigate what grounds people were making the claims for their dogs displaying certain emotional traits usually associated with humans, and the contexts described were appropriate.
As a scientist, all you can ever know is the context and the behaviour. We can never know what is going on inside another organisms head. Humans included!’
Dogs and humans have got a good thing going. They’re good for us, we’re good for them. They, above any other animal (with only the cat offering a remotely decent challenge), have established themselves as the animal humans are most likely to invite into their homes to share daily life with. Dogs have a decent understanding of us. That’s part of their appeal to us. They are amazing at reading queues. Perhaps, even better than us. As a result, we sometimes misinterpret this as dogs having a human-like thought process.
Man has shared this land with millions of animal species since the dawn of time but only one has earned itself the title of his best friend, our faithful ally the dog.
Domesticated from wolves, the dog sits proudly as the world’s most recognised companion animal. A truly noble, loyal, exciting and fun pet, the dog’s legendary relationship with people is a match made in heaven.
No other animal has adapted to play such a varied role in human society as well as the dog has.
Dogs not only offer us their unconditional friendship, but they also protect us, hunt for us, herd for us, see for us, uncover hidden dangers on our behalf and now they’re even using their amazing talents to help us detect cancer.
‘Disneyfication’ of Dogs & Why It’s Dangerous
Turn on the TV and we’re confronted with talking dogs, heroic canines who save little children who’ve fallen down wells. We’ve got dogs who solve mystery’s, we’ve got mice who outwit cats using cunning and intelligence. We live in a world where a talking sponge who dresses himself in square pants is one of the most popular characters in all of television.
We can’t get away from it. Our kids can’t get away from it and, if your parents are under 90 years old they can’t get away from it either. Animals on our TV, books and cinema screens have been given human attributes throughout our lives.
That has to have an effect on how we view them if we were to compare our view of them in comparison to, for example, Bedouin tribes who also shared their lives and worked with dogs more than 2,000 years ago. Think about that for a second. The animal we see on TV riding skateboards or solving crimes is, give or take a few lines of selective breeding, the same animal being used by our ancient ancestors to hunt game and contribute to their daily lives. Our ancestors would view dogs in a different light to us. They would train them, they would sleep close to them, they would embrace them but they would not view their canine companions as if they were human.
Let’s take a look at a famous dog. Lassie is by far, one of the most famous dogs of all time. Created by British-American writer, Eric Knight, Lassie is a fictional character who became much-loved by all. Lassie’s first appearance was in 1938 in an issue of The Saturday Evening Post, in a short story called ‘Lassie Come Home’. The short story was later adapted by Eric Knight into a full-length novel in 1940. It tells the tale of a Collie and her journey to reunite with her family.
The setting is in Depression-era England, and the dog had to journey because the family was forced to sell her for money. This was only Lassie’s 2nd reincarnation though. Over time, Lassie would be adapted by many authors and by many countries. Knight could not have known the spot that Lassie would find in people’s hearts.
In 1943, Lassie Come Home was adapted for the screen and starred Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowell.
The movie was so successful that it was later followed by several different films, including ‘Son of Lassie’, ‘Courage of Lassie’, ‘Hills of Home’, ‘The Sun Comes Up’ and ‘Challenge to Lassie’ to name just a few.
Interestingly enough, for the first seven movies, Lassie was played by the same dog, Pal, a male Collie. Lassie has always been portrayed by a male Collie, as they are larger dogs and allow the child actors more years before they outgrow the dog. Additionally, male dogs have thicker coats, which is more aesthetically pleasing for films.
Prior to television, there was a Lassie radio show that was regularly broadcast, and from 1954-1973, there was a television series, Lassie, which notably won two Emmy’s, began with Lassie living on a farm and ended with her living at a ranch.
A sequel series followed in the 80s called ‘The New Lassie’, pictured below, and in the 90s a remake of the original ‘Lassie’ series was produced and broadcast in Canada.
Lassie is one of three animals to have their own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with Rin Tin Tin and Strongheart. In people’s memories, Lassie most likely appears in several variations due to the longevity of her presence in pop culture in so many varied ways. Today, Lassie still makes appearances and is associated with several pet care products and a pet food line.
We all know Lassie. I, for one, have sometimes looked at one of my dogs who has obviously been trying to communicate something to me and I’ve run through a little Lassie dialogue with them. ‘What’s that? Little Timmy is stuck down a mineshaft? Show me.’
Dogs have the skills to ‘talk’ to us without ever uttering a word. It’s little wonder the entertainment industry has no problem convincing us that dogs are part human.
Here’s where it gets dangerous.
If we truly start to believe dogs think like humans, take action based on some human devised moral compass, we have a problem. To put it simply; to believe a dog thinks like a human is to misunderstand them. To misunderstand a dog can be a very problematic thing to do.
Would a dog not bite a child, if left unaccompanied with one, because it understands that child means a lot to us? Or because that child is a family member? A friend of the family?
Would a dog share its toys/resources with a neighbour because it knows that the neighbour is a friend? Would a dog understand it can’t jump up on a toddler because the dog happens to be very large and heavy and the toddler very small and weak? Would a dog feel guilty for doing something that went against normal, human-defined acceptable behaviour?
You see where the problem lies, yes?
We have a great relationship with the dog. It is essential that we never lose sight of the fact that what makes them so perfect as a companion is NOT because they think and act as we do but because they’re clever enough and willing enough to want to fit into our societal structure. We must always remember that dogs are great because they’re dogs, not furry little people.
How Treating Dogs Like Humans is Abusive
Maybe our affection for pets could lead to treating dogs like humans. This can be extremely dangerous. Animals have very different needs than our own. Let’s see how humanizing them is also a form of abuse.
We must be aware of the similarities and differences between dogs and us. Only then can we become tolerant and respectful. So, we can enjoy living with our dog, and he can do the same, as well.
They have needs that are attributed to their canine species. Applying different ones can lead them to lose their personality or worse. For example, dogs do not need to sleep in a bed or change menus every day.
Treating dogs like humans can lead to them having negative, human-like thoughts and feelings like revenge or resentment.
Good training is essential for having a good home life with your dog. To achieve this, we must also understand that they do not think like us. They learn thanks to associative memory. They are able to remember the consequences of their actions and relate them to something positive or negative. Then, they act in accordance.
Similarities with us
Like us, dogs are sociable and need company around, not just to be happy but to survive.
They also like to listen to music. Thanks to their sensory acuity, when they perceive something pleasant, their bodies generate cortisol and endorphins that give them a feeling of well-being and relaxation, so much so that music therapy is done with dogs too.
Differences from us
Dogs have an incredible olfactory capacity. They are capable of perceiving stimuli that we will never perceive. This means that they can be used for search and rescue operations.
On the other hand, these animals do not have a great ability to differentiate flavors, so they have all the necessary nutrients and nourishment in the food made especially for them. Moreover, feeding the animal food that we eat can be more harmful than beneficial.
The dangers of treating dogs like humans
Since dogs are very different from us, it is clear that their needs are different. Therefore, meeting unnecessary needs will only confuse the animal. This could cause problems with cohabitation and behavior.
Dogs are herd animals. In order to educate them so that they behave in the way we want, they must feel that we are their leader. If we are treating dogs like humans, they could get confused. Maybe they want to occupy a position that does not belong to them.
This could trigger aggressive behavior with family members, with other pets and even with other people.
On the other hand, humanizing a dog would make it lose its identity. If the dog does not feel like a dog, he will no longer be excited about going out, eating when it is time, wallowing in the ground, or playing with other dogs.
Another problem that humanizing a dog could trigger is related to socialization. A dog that is treated like a human does not want to be with other dogs, something that is essential for his personality and his good development. This would make it so that the creature is not a happy animal that enjoys the company of its fellow dogs, and we would be stealing a part of itself.
Socialization is fundamental for the emotional balance of your animal, so not doing this could cause the dog to overreact to certain situations, which could cause unnecessary suffering that could have been avoided.
With all this, we do not want to imply that we should not love our dogs any less, but that we should do it in its proper measure for what they are: dogs, not humans.
A note at the entrance to a Tel Aviv apartment building caught my eye recently: “Hey dog, even though our entry gate is the favorite spot for you and your friends to urinate, please don’t do it because it makes us sad. Your neighbors thank you.”
The request, appealing to the dog’s goodwill, sounded like nothing more than an urban joke concocted by the building’s occupants, their creative way of protesting the pee stains on the sidewalk. But the next day, in a different part of town, I came across another such request, this one complete with vowel signs and addressed to both genders: “Dear male and female dogs, please do not pee here.”
I quickly realized that the appeal to dogs’ sensibilities is a significant trend, and symptomatic of a much deeper change – an attempt to make animals part of the human community. Even if the notes’ authors don’t really expect dogs to read what they’ve written, they still imagine the dogs as four-legged people.
An examination of contemporary culture shows this to be quite a widespread phenomenon. One striking example is the prominent representation of the animal kingdom in popular culture. Until about a decade ago, films and images of animals generally focused on the savagery and otherness of the animal world. A typical movie would show a cheetah pursuing an antelope on the Serengeti plain in Tanzania, catching its prey and devouring it. But the tendency now is to portray nature very differently. Often, attempts are made to depict animals as “more human than humans.”
Popular YouTube clips show an odd harmony between species, like in end-of-days prophecies: True friendship between a kitten and an owl; a polar bear and a dog frolicking together; a lioness feeding a tiger cub.
And if nature doesn’t provide these saccharine images itself, they will be created artificially. A much-viewed video on social media, for example, showing a pack of wolves being led by its older and weaker members, turned out to be fake – like many clips from the “human animals” genre.
On the face of it, the contemporary era is characterized by greater sensitivity for animal rights, reflected in the spread of veganism and the enactment of legislation to protect animals. But it’s also becoming increasingly clear that an effort is being made to strip the animal world of its animality. Nature is being portrayed as non-beastly and, therefore, human.
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This shows a lack of respect for the foreignness of nature to the human world. It demonstrates an inability to tolerate the existence of a creature that does not share the values of liberal society; that in fact does not share values of any sort, because animals do not have values.
It’s easy to predict the next stage of the process: an attempt to impose human laws on the animal kingdom. It’s likely that the extension of universal rights to animals will lead to a demand to reduce the immense suffering and distress that animals endure in the wild. Already today, there are calls for animals to be protected from the diseases, hunger and violence to which they’re exposed in nature – in part from other animals.
Recent years have seen the publication of numerous books and articles calling for the introduction of a policy of “wildlife welfare.” There are also practical suggestions. British “transhumanist” philosopher David Pearce urges the elimination of suffering from the world through genetic and chemical means, as “Aversive experience is a sinister anachronism in the age of post-genomic medicine.” This would end physical pain in the world for humans and animals alike.
A demonstrator wears a dog face mask prior a march against the government of President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 31, 2017.Ariana Cubillos / AP
Obviously, such efforts are doomed to fail. Indeed, it’s clear that, in contrast to other publics that suffer from an attitude of symbolic erasure, animals are not offended by having humanity imposed upon them, in the perception of humans.
In any event, the discussion about animal rights is a one-sided affair. It’s not superfluous to note that animals don’t read Facebook posts or attend academic conferences. The realm in which animals exist is completely different from the human sphere. Though animals possess emotions and feelings, the absolute majority of them lack any self-comprehension, still less concepts about people. It’s only in movies like “The Jungle Book” that animals address each other by name and have views about the proper attitude to be taken toward mankind.
Return of the big bad wolf
In fact, it’s humanity itself that is being hurt by the humanization of animals. There is a danger in attempting to annul the animal and assimilate it into the human. “A dog’s life is short and has to suffice for many experiences and much pampering,” the opening of a report on Channel 10 News asserted recently. According to the reporter, then, it is seemingly impossible to imagine a life that is not consumerist – including a demand for self-realization and a self-indulgent leisure culture. Similarly, reports about the Israeli army’s canine unit, Oketz, depicted the dogs as ambitious, patriotic, reconnaissance soldiers, interested in meaningful combat service.
We educate children who do not recognize the possibility of a radically different existence from their own self-experience. Ultimately, this is an extreme extension of narcissism – imperialism of “the absolute ego,” which leaves no room for anything external to it.
From this perspective, there was something refreshing in recent reports that wolves in the Judean Desert have been trying to prey on the children of hikers in the area. Precisely after wild animals were wholly subdued – to the point where they exist, in the human consciousness, only as a decoration, as a reflection of the bourgeois self or an object of saccharine compassion – the big bad wolf of fairy tales has suddenly lurched out from the darkness. This is a wild dog that does not need experiences and pampering, does not respond to requests to behave nicely and has no qualms about “saddening” humans or snatching their babies.
But you do not need a vivid imagination to guess what happens next: The wolves will be destroyed. After all, they are not behaving the way they should in terms of what’s acceptable in a progressive society. Because if animals have rights, they also have obligations. The same logic that seeks to foist humanization on animals will lead to the physical destruction of the animals whose behavior doesn’t live up to expectations. This time, though, it will not be symbolically, but with the help of a bullet to the head.