(LIFE WITH PETS) Dogs are certainly part of the family, but should they be treated as children? Do we tend to their actual needs, which are fairly basic, or to our needs when caring for them? When we see dogs dressed in clothing and accessories or being pushed in strollers, we may want to ask ourselves if we’re letting dogs be dogs. Read on to get Paula Baker Prince’s take on the current state of our canine companions. — Global Animal
The Daily Barker, Paula Baker Prince
We are seeing it more and more everyday — puppies in strollers, carried in purses and wearing dresses. As more people opt for dogs over children or as “trial” children, our society is beginning to project that maternal instinct onto our dogs. We love them like they are our children, so we humanize them and treat them like children. But what happens when we extend this thinking beyond humans to other living creatures — to our pets, for example? I want to make the very clear distinction between treating living creatures humanely — which we should all do — and humanizing or anthropomorphizing non-humans, which in reality is doing them a disservice.
Don Montuouri, of the market research firm Packaged Facts, said: “We’re seeing a phenomenal trend of ‘humanization’ in the pet industry, both in how owners treat pets as members of the family and how pet products are mirroring human products.” Are nail polish, strollers, perfume and clothing for dogs really a positive trend? Are we embarking on a dangerous journey that is causing us to put very unrealistic expectations on our dogs that in turn result in increased stress and tension, odd behavior and other issues? In other words are we not allowing our dogs to be…well…dogs?
Case in point: When I was growing up and the family dog nipped at me the first response from my parents was: “What did you do to the dog?” The inherent assumption was that the dog didn’t misbehave, but I somehow did something to provoke the dog into nipping at me. Usually that is the likely scenario that the child is the instigator.
Fast forward 30 years and the same scene typically results in a different response from the parents: “Fido must be ill tempered or not well adjusted. We should take him to the shelter.” The expectation is that the dog, as a member of the family, is expected to behave according to proper human rules and etiquette and not to react when provoked, ears and tail are pulled, etc. We’ve integrated dogs into the fabric of our family dynamic — humanized dogs (perhaps even turned them into surrogate children), as it were — that we oftentimes forget they are dogs.
Dogs don’t have the ability to distinguish between friends and strangers when someone knocks on the door. We get upset when they bark, but we want them to be great guard dogs. What mixed signals we send our dogs.
Dogs have good days and bad days. They are not machines that can always be on when we want them to be on. Just because you want to do a certain dog sport doesn’t mean your dog will enjoy it. Sometimes by trying different classes and exercises you will see a side of your dog you’ve never seen before.
To have a well-behaved dog — and one that you can thoroughly enjoy and that will work with you — takes effort on your part. It requires multiple classes and training sessions, taking your dog out in public to give him a wealth of experiences, properly socializing puppies and, most importantly, having very realistic expectations about what dogs can and can’t do — as dogs. We need to set our dogs up for success, not be disappointed in them for being something they are not.
Allowing dogs to just be dogs and letting them sniff and explore is a great thing. Paying attention to what your dog is telling you — under stimulated, over stimulated, stressed, excited, happy — learning about dog communication and body language. The experience with our dogs can be extremely rewarding when we go into the relationship with realistic expectations, treat our dogs humanely and remember to allow ourselves to be humanized by the experienced, and not humanize our dogs.