Shameless anthropomorphism – and why not?

Well, the only reason I can see for avoiding anthropomorphism is it’s impossible to spell.

Wikipedia says: Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities.

For me, in my dog behaviour work, I am teaching dog owners who mostly don’t fully understand their dogs’ reasons for doing things. In fact, many don’t consider the reasoning or emotions behind their dog’s behaviour as relevant at all.

How can we get them to see some of their dog’s world from their dog’s perspective?

Our yardstick for judging human behaviour can be so different to the way we respond to our dog’s behaviour, but is the cause so different?

Putting human words into the Alfie’s mouth can suddenly make sense of why Alfie reacts in a certain way. More importantly, it can give us a clue as to our best response if we want to understand and help him.

Selectively used, anthropomorphism gives me a three-way channel of understanding between myself, the owner(s) and the dog. A large percentage of a behaviourist’s job is teaching the humans how best to behave in order to help their dog.

People I go to would say they love their dogs. It can be eye-opening to them to see, giving the dog a voice with words, how misguided and unintentionally unkind their responses have been.

“What would Alfie be saying to me if he could talk?” is such a simple question. It can open up some very obvious and powerful solutions.

Here are a couple of examples:

Alfie hears something. He barks in alarm. His owner ignores him for a while and then tells him to shut up.

What if their child was screaming, “Help! There is a hooded man outside with a gun and we will all die!?”.

What might Alfie be saying? “Danger! It could be the end of the world! Help!”

Solution? We wouldn’t leave our child to deal with it by ignoring him. We wouldn’t get angry with our scared child. We would help him out.

Alfie is on lead. Another dog approaches. Alfie barks. His owner tightens the lead, keeps walking towards the dog or makes him sit as the dog gets nearer. The owner scolds Alfie.

What if they held their child’s hand in a tight grip. A big dog approaches and he’s terrified of dogs. He might be screaming “Let me go! I’m scared!”

What might dog Alfie be shouting?  “I want to run and hide. I’m scared! If it comes much nearer I shall have to defend myself.”

Solution? Increase distance and gradually teach Alfie to trust them.

Ahropomorphism helps me to put my point over. Hearing their dog ‘speak’ can really open people’s minds.

About Theo Stewart

I am a dog Behaviourist (INTODogs - ICAN Companion Animal Behaviourist) and trainer covering Beds, Herts, Cambs and Bucks, a 'Victoria Stilwell' Positively Dog Trainer (VSPDT) and a full member of the IMDT. Graduate ISCP, International School for Canine Practitioners. My main site: www.dogidog.co.uk
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2 Responses to Shameless anthropomorphism – and why not?

  1. My wish for this coming decade would be for more people to try and understand why their dogs do the things they do.
    I don’t hold out a lot of hope with social media promoting dominance and what I think of as outdated and often aversive methods…..but I can certainly hope.
    Education is king.

    Like

  2. Irina Beatty says:

    Great article. WHATEVER it takes for the owners to understand their dogs. Especially reactive ones and help then instead of yelling “to knock it off”

    Like

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