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  • April Schrader, CPDT-KA

Keeping it Canine: Your Dog is Not a human

As dog lovers, we all want to give our furry friends the best possible life. We want to shower them with love and affection, spoil them with toys and treats, and make them a part of our families. But there's a fine line between treating our dogs like family members and treating them like little humans, and crossing that line can have serious consequences for our pets.

When we anthropomorphize our dogs, we project human emotions, motivations, and desires onto them. We assume that our dogs think and feel the same way we do, and we interpret their behaviors through a human lens. For example, when our dogs wag their tails, we assume they're happy; when they growl, we assume they're angry; and when they refuse to eat, we assume they're being picky or stubborn.

The problem with anthropomorphizing our dogs is that it can lead to misunderstandings and miscommunications. Dogs don't think or feel like humans, and their behaviors are driven by instinct and biology, not by conscious choices or emotions. When we assume that our dogs are acting out of spite or malice, we're more likely to respond with punishment or force, which can damage our relationships with our pets and make behavior problems worse.

For example, imagine that your dog growls at you when you try to take away his toy. If you assume that he's growling because he's angry or aggressive, you might respond by scolding him or taking away the toy forcefully. But in reality, your dog might be growling because he's afraid that you're going to take away his prized possession. By punishing him for growling, you're only reinforcing his fear and making him more likely to become aggressive in the future.

Another risk of anthropomorphizing our dogs is that it can lead to unrealistic expectations and standards. When we treat our dogs like little humans, we expect them to behave like little humans, and we become frustrated and disappointed when they don't. We might expect our dogs to understand complex cues and instructions, to be able to control their impulses and emotions, and to behave perfectly in all situations.

But dogs are not little humans, and they shouldn't be held to human standards. They have their own unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses, and they learn and communicate in their own ways. When we recognize and appreciate our dogs' canine nature, we can work with them and train them in ways that are natural and effective for them.

So how can we avoid the risks of anthropomorphizing our dogs? Here are some tips:

  • Recognize and appreciate your dog's canine nature. Dogs are not humans, and they shouldn't be treated like humans. They have their own instincts, behaviors, and needs, and we should respect and work with those.

  • Learn and understand dog body language and communication. Dogs communicate in subtle ways through their body language, vocalizations, and behaviors. By learning and understanding these signals, we can better communicate with our dogs and avoid misunderstandings.

  • Use positive reinforcement training methods. Positive reinforcement training is based on rewarding good behaviors rather than punishing bad behaviors. By using positive reinforcement, we can teach our dogs what we want them to do and build a strong, positive relationship with them.

  • Be patient and compassionate. Dogs are living beings with their own personalities and quirks. They might not always behave perfectly or predictably, but that's part of what makes them so lovable and special. By being patient and compassionate with our dogs, we can build a strong bond and enjoy a lifetime of love and companionship.

In conclusion, while it's easy to treat our furry companions like humans, doing so can actually harm them in the long run. It's important to remember that dogs are not humans and have their own unique set of needs and behaviors. Anthropomorphizing our dogs can lead to misunderstandings, confusion, and even aggression.

As a force-free dog trainer, I always emphasize the importance of understanding and respecting our dogs as dogs. By using positive reinforcement training methods that are tailored to their specific needs and behaviors, we can build a strong and healthy relationship with our four-legged friends based on trust, understanding, and respect.

So let's keep it canine and embrace our dogs for who they are: loyal, loving, and wonderful companions that deserve our respect and care.

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