Luvk9s Dog Training


ANTHROPOMORPHISM

 

I have to confess that anthropomorphism is one of my favorite words, even if it took me a while to learn how to pronounce it. (It is pronounced an-thruh-puh-mawr-fiz-uhm.)

What is anthropomorphism and what does it have to do with dogs?

Anthropomorphism is the act of assigning human traits, emotions and motivations to animals. Don’t most of us treat our dogs as if they were little people in furry coats? While this usually is not harmful, we are often doing a disservice to our dogs by assigning emotions to them that they are probably not capable of. As a result, when trying to address a behavioral problem, we often overlook what the real issue is and don’t address it correctly.

Dogs and humans share similar brain structures and chemistry and most experts believe that dogs are capable of basic primitive emotions such as fear, anger and happiness.

But are dogs capable of feeling jealousy, guilt or revenge?

Patricia McConnell discusses these concepts in her book “For the Love of Dog:  Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend”. While she feels dogs may be capable of feeling jealousy, she believes revenge and guilt are more complicated because that “implies an understanding of some moral code.”

To make her point, McConnell explains that while our dogs may appear to be showing guilt when we spot that mess on the carpet after coming home from a long day at work by cowering, rolling over or crawling away, what we are really seeing is a dog offering an appeasement behavior based on our emotions and anger.

Appeasement is not the same as guilt. Have you ever had a loud argument with your spouse and all of a sudden your dog slinks away? Your dog isn’t showing guilt – he is showing appeasement, because he feels and senses the anger in the air.

So, what does this all mean for the average dog owner? If your dog had an accident in the house after you left for work, it’s probably not because the dog plotted to mess on your favorite rug to get back at you for leaving. In all likelihood, the dog may not be truly housebroken, something might have frightened the dog and he had an accident due to stress, perhaps the dogs eating or drinking schedule was “off” that morning, maybe the dog ate something that didn’t agree with him, perhaps you were in a hurry leaving the house and simply did not give your dog enough time to do his business or it could be that the dog has a some sort of medical issue like a urinary tract infection.

Understanding that your dog wasn’t trying to get even with you can help you to figure out what the real issue was and will allow you to properly address the issue.

If your dog tears up the cushions from your couch while you are gone, he probably did not do it as revenge to get back at you for leaving home without him. Perhaps the dog has not learned to stay home alone and was anxious at being left. Did something unexpected such a thunderstorm or fireworks terrify him and he became anxious? Is the dog too young to be given the run of the house and should be safely crated? Is your puppy teething and simply did not have appropriate toys to chew on? Or perhaps the dog did not get his exercise that morning and was simply bored.    

We often accuse our dogs of being stubborn if they don’t respond immediately to an obedience cue. But sometimes we need to look at the situation a bit more carefully to figure out what the real problem might be. If your dog won’t sit when asked, could it be that he is just distracted and needs more work on proofing the sit in distracting situations? If your dog doesn’t respond to an agility command, could it be that your body language is sending conflicting messages to your dog and he simply did not understand what you were asking of him? If your dog won’t down on cue, could it be that the surface is uncomfortable?

Not anthropomorphizing gives you the ability to accurately determine why your dog is behaving in a particular way so you can figure out how to change, redirect or manage the behavior.

It’s our responsibility as a dog owner to understand how the dog mind works and treat our dog fairly. Happy training!