Anthropomorphism, or representing a
canine as having human form or traits, is a balancing act for those who are
professionally involved in any canine field, especially researchers and
behaviorists. What is problematic with anthropomorphic attributes becomes a
credibility issue between peers. However, when dealing with the “general
public”, the average dog owner, the lines of distinction become blurred.
To the well informed dog owner, many
self train their dog, and are usually involved in some sort of venue or
activity regularly, anthropomorphic reasoning is absurd. However, to the
majority of “average” dog owners, there is good cause to represent anthropomorphic
views. The spectrum of knowledge of canine behaviors and of canines themselves
is extreme. On one end is the view it is just a dog, that IT can be treated
without any forethought. Note the term “IT”, because to these owners, a dog is
just that, an object void of feelings, any type of emotions, and sentience.
These owners think hitting or beating a dog for non-conformity is acceptable.
That the dog is an “empty shell” without sensations of pain and incapable of
having fear. These owners are the types who will leave a dog in a vehicle for
extended hours without forethought of consequences. On the other end is the
view the dog is a small child and has to be “pampered” and taken care of as if
the dog was unable to function on his own. These owners usually dress the dogs
in human clothing and treat the dog like their surrogate children. Here,
representing anthropomorphic views is dangerous to these type of owners because
they already attribute human qualities in excess. Also there is another danger,
which is respect - will address this later on). Then the vast majority of
general public owners fall somewhere between these extremes and at varying
Teaching anthropomorphism has
advantages to the vast majority of general public owners who generally have
misconceptions of what a canine is, and how to adequately care for, treat,
train, and interact with a dog
Assigning human qualities and traits
allow an understanding to these owners that the dog has emotions, feelings, and
can be adversely affected and effected by how treated and cared for. Simply,
anthropomorphic reasoning allows a standardized understanding to build a
foundation of knowledge. However when teaching this controversial view, there
are inherent problems. In individual class settings or in private classes, the
trainer has total control. But in open classes where there are owners across
the knowledge spectrum and understanding spectrum, this is where a balancing
act starts. Promoting anthropomorphic views can become misleading, especially
where the owner already attributes too much human characteristics to a dog.
Aforementioned was a danger of respect.
Not in the sense towards the dog itself but to the dog as a species.
This danger can occur with any owner
with any understanding or knowledge base. What owners do not know how to do or
understand is to respect the species. Thoughts of “being mean” towards the dog
or “being cruel” towards the dog develop unrealistic expectations. And this
misunderstanding on canines as a species is often where problems start to
fester. Consider the owner who leaves open feeding as reality, where food is
left continually for a dog to gain access or the owner who is afraid to crate
or kennel or separate a dog because they “think” it is cruel or being mean
towards the dog. Instead of understanding the true nature of a breed and
species, these owners become obsessed with how they think they should treat a
dog instead of how to actually treat a dog.
So although there are advantages of
teaching anthropomorphic views, especially to the heavy handed type of owner,
or the neglectful type owner, there are inherent risks of developing a
disassociation of the true nature and understanding of what a canine really is
as a species. So is anthropomorphism a blessing or a curse…It Depends.