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Anthropomorphism - A Blessing or Curse?
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Anthropomorphism - A Blessing or Curse?

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 degrees. 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.   

8 Comments to Anthropomorphism - A Blessing or Curse?:

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SuzieDsouza on Monday, May 09, 2011 9:27 PM
Anthropomorphism means assigning human traits or characteristics to a non-human object, phenomenon, concept or living beings. The term Anthropomorphism is derived from Greek, anthropos meaning human being and morphe means form. Anthropomorphism can be commonly found in fables and mythologies wherein animals or non-living things like wind or sun is attributed with human traits.
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Steve on Friday, August 05, 2011 10:36 PM
In my view, there are too many people that don't take the time to learn how to take care of a dog or any animal before getting one. Naturally, problems will come up and they won't know what to do. The thought of owning that "cute little dog" overrides common sense. The poor dog is the one that suffers because of an ignorant owner.
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Barbara Adler on Sunday, August 07, 2011 9:20 AM
Excellent comments! Thanks for posting. One of the finest gifts you can give your dog is respect for the species. Dogs know we are not dogs. Dogs know cats are not dogs! Yet, humans like to treat their dogs like humans and expect their dogs to behave like humans. This is unfair to the dog. The beauty of dog is that s/he has all the virtues of man but none of his vises. You would be hard pressed to find a human as loyal and as capable of unconditional love. Knowing what a dog needs and giving that to him/her will make for a well balanced, well behaved, happy, healthy animal. Nothing works better than respect, knowledge, time, patience and love.

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Excellent stuff.I learned some interesting things. I'll be back on your blog.
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Barbara Adler on Sunday, January 15, 2012 3:22 PM
GOOD! Very happy to have you!

Lawrence on Friday, October 12, 2012 2:01 AM
In my point of view, successful dog training is not only about getting your dog to understand you—it’s about how much you understanding your dog. Dog training will improve the relationship and interaction between you and the dog, once your dog was well trained, you will have fun with the dog.
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Fried Poul on Saturday, October 20, 2012 1:47 AM
Yes, I appreciate you very much for your representing a canine as having human form or traits, is a balancing act for those who are professionally involved in any canine field. I like this content included professional thoughts as well. Looking forward more!!!
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