(DOGS/PETS) Have you ever noticed that dogs rarely get to be dogs? Think about it.
In movies, they’re often cast as furry human replacements who can talk (Cats & Dogs, Homeward Bound, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua) and excel at human activities like professional sports (Karate Dog, Soccer Dog, and Air Bud). Whereas in GIFs and memes shared across the Internet, they’re dressed in clothes, ascribed human emotions and desires, and posed as if they’re taking a phone call or eating at the dinner table.
In the article below, Alexandra Horowitz, a dog behavior and cognition researcher, examines how dogs are largely misrepresented and overly anthropomorphized.
Continue reading to learn more on how we often diminish these complex creatures into objects of our imagination by transplanting our human story onto them. — Global Animal
New York Times, Alexandra Horowitz
What is it like to be a dog?
I’ve been in search of the answer to that puzzling question by way of science. I’m a researcher of dog behavior and cognition: I study how dogs perceive the world and interact with one another and with people. Even in those moments when I wrest myself away from my subjects, the question stirs in my head. For everywhere I look, I find myself faced with dogs.
Dogs in movies, GIFs and memes — peppering Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. The Super Bowl has a puppy alternative; dogs in advertisements sell everything from toilet paper to tacos. Weirdly, the omnipresence of my favorite subject has begun making me grumpy, not elated. As dogs themselves produce a profound anti-grumpiness in me, I began to wonder why. Why can’t I stand to look at one more photo of a “funny dog”?
This Made My Day
🎥IG: eurosaurus pic.twitter.com/JVy9bZmcED
— Nature is Amazing 🌱 (@AMAZlNGNATURE) March 20, 2018
The reason is that these dogs are but furry emoji: stand-ins for emotions and sentiment. Each representation diminishes this complex, impressive creature to an object of our most banal imagination. As the philosopher Lori Gruen has observed, to be seen as something other than what one is, or to be the object of laughter, robs one of dignity. Such treatment may not be mortifying to the dog, perhaps (in fact, that’s a legitimate question, whether dogs can feel mortified; I remain agnostic); but it is degrading to the species.
Despite the ubiquity of dogs in our culture, there is much we don’t know about them. My field is in its infancy. We know that among animals they are uniquely attentive to the human gaze, but their preternatural sensitivity to our emotions and behavior defies easy explanation. Even as we are discovering the history of their domestication, we still have little idea how dogs experience the world through smell, their primary sense.
I sit down to each of the many movies featuring dogs optimistic that a well-considered fictionalized account could give us a glimpse of them as they are — and maybe their creators will see something about the canine world that we scientists don’t. The new animated film “Isle of Dogs,” emerging from the fanciful sensibility of Wes Anderson, seemed promising. I went in hopeful; I came out waspish.
“Isle of Dogs” is a delightful movie, and the stop-action is mind-bogglingly good, but the dogs are the pits. Though beautifully rendered in fur-ruffling style, their characters are thoroughly human, with human voices and human concerns. They are quadrupeds with dog tags — they are not dogs.
This is the crux of the matter: Rarely do dogs get to be dogs. In film, they are cast as cute, fuzzy human-replacements. This anthropomorphizing ranges from simply ascribing human emotions and desires to dogs (see “Lassie” or “Benji”) to the inexplicable genre of dogs who excel at professional human sports (“Air Bud” and “Soccer Dog”).
Online, the dog suffers worse misrepresentation. In a typical image the dog is posed in a distinctively person-like way, as if on the phone, seated at a table or wearing headphones, and dressed in human attire — glasses, a dog-size suit and tie, even pantyhose.
you might be having a bad day, but at least you know what a dog wearing pantyhose looks like.. pic.twitter.com/JKNHvlHAYR
— MΦrρhιηε✮Drεα₥zz™ (@MorphineDreamzz) October 4, 2017
Despite the discomfort this must entail, these images are taken to be hilarious.
Life goal: to be as photogenic as my dog. pic.twitter.com/d9U3YVxVQu
— BarkBox (@barkbox) February 2, 2018
Other times a dog’s expression is misrepresented as a human one, such as an image of a dog “smiling” (an expression that actually indicates that the creature is scared or worried) used to indicate delight.
The meme- and moviemakers of the world are not, it’s fair to say, intending to make cinéma vérité about dogs. I get that the images are lighthearted — escapism, not science. But I think it should be possible to make movies and images that respect the dog as a dog.
It wouldn’t have dogs talking, in human speech, to be sure, or motivated by human desires. It would follow their heartbeats, their noses, and take a measure of the world viewed from two feet (or so) off the ground.
Requesting boop on nose pls. pic.twitter.com/ymYTfaKmFQ
— Cute Emergency (@CuteEmergency) March 22, 2018
Here I find reason for optimism in a certain branch of dog GIF or short video which, instead of presenting the dog as the furry human we want them to be, shows dog behavior as it naturally occurs.
excuse me this is important pic.twitter.com/jVRbt5MUde
— kelly (@ohheyohhihello) March 22, 2018
Dogs wriggling in the snow; jumping up and down in anticipation of a walk; sniffing or licking or wagging excitedly.
— Pebble PR Terrier (@PebbleTerrier) March 18, 2018
The pleasure of these GIFs is in the exuberant expression of the dog — maybe reminiscent of the washes of emotion that we used to feel, as children, but no longer do. Rarely do we spiral in a frenzy of wiggling glee when we see a loved one. But we can find vicarious enjoyment in the dog’s uninhibited dogness.
When I see these dogs I also feel the foreignness of the world viewed through the dogs’ eyes (or, more aptly, nose). They aren’t talking quadrupeds who want to find a partner, get a good job and settle down. Their motivations are unclear; what they smell is uncertain. It seems, for that moment, incredibly surprising that we share a home (and in my home, a sofa).
Wouldn’t the most transporting stories or snapshots we shared be those that really try to consider the dog Other — imagining the point of view of someone or something fundamentally foreign to us — instead of simply transplanting our story onto them? If we are really so unwilling or unable to imagine the perspective of another being, we will only ever see ourselves. For that, we needn’t even turn away from the mirror.
More New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/opinion/dogs-happy-hollywood.html