Anthropomorphism takes place when humans attribute human qualities to animals. Learn why its effects can be devastating.
Saying that many owners adore their dogs can be an understatement. Dogs, nowadays, are almost considered to be members of the family: dog owners celebrate their dogs’ birthdays, treat them as brothers, sisters, daughters or sons, and often attribute them with human-like qualities. The intelligence of dogs indeed often makes them almost look like they may be capable of thinking as humans.
As a matter of fact, dogs are intelligent beings, this cannot be denied. Canines are extremely sensitive to our moods, our movements, and our routines. They are structured with sensitive senses that make them almost appear as if they were gifted. But they still remain dogs. As much as humans would love to think that dogs are blessed with the capacity to reason and act like a human, it is making them a tort to believe they can be just as humans. The best way to love dogs and respect them indeed, at times, involves just this; accepting them for who they truthfully are.
The Devastating Effects of Anthropomorphism
While dressing up a dog for Halloween may be fun or assuming dogs can understand what owners tell them are all pretty innocent behaviors, there are some behaviors that can have a devastating effect on dogs, and this occurs when anthropomorphism affects them negatively. In such scenarios, anthropomorphism may lead to social neglect, punishment and even abandonment in shelters.
One of the most common misconceptions due to anthropomorphism is perhaps the old cliche’ of the dog owner assuming that the dog behaves badly on purpose. These humans truly believe their dogs act based on feelings such as spite and revenge. Indeed, these owners can prove these feelings upon returning home and finding their dog with that guilty look in their face.
Such owners often claim ”Rover knows he did something bad again. Every time he must get revenge for being left alone. He is such a bad dog, and worst of all, he knows this all too well”. Yet, there is no scientific data to back this up. Dogs who urinate, destroy and chew on items, or dig and scratch doors when left alone, are most likely suffering from separation anxiety or boredom rather than thinking to ”get back” to the owner. They are not trying to convey human emotions such as ”revenge”or ”spite”.
But what about that ”guilty look” on the dog’s face? That ”look” is simply the dog’s response to the owner’s negative energy. Indeed, try to get mad at your dog at any time even when he has not done anything bad, and very likely you will see that look again.
An Interesting Study Sheds Some Light
Alexandra Horowitz, Assistant Professor from Barnard College in New York, actually did a study on this according to Science Daily. Owners were asked to leave a room after telling a dog to not eat specific treats. In their absence, some dogs were coaxed to eat the treat while others were not. Upon returning in the room, some owners were told their dog ate the forbidden treat, while others were told their dog behaved. These statements, however, did not truthfully correspond to reality. Dogs admonished by their owners but that in reality behaved, appeared to have a much more ”guilty look” compared to those who were really guilty but not scolded.
This proves that often humans go a bit too far in erroneously attributing human traits to their canine companions. Dogs, despite having spent thousands of years with humans, retain characteristics which conform with their species, and guilt is not going to be one of them.
Anthropomorphism – What Does It Mean?
Science Daily,”What Really Prompts the Dog’s Guilty Look” June 14, 2009