I have a bad habit. A sometimes cute, most of the time annoying, but BAD habit for a dog trainer.
Not only do I do it for my dog, but I do it for my parent’s dog, my friends’ dogs, even my clients’ dogs from time to time. I get a huge kick out of making up what I think my dog is saying when she looks at me. Most of the time it’s about treats, petting, or going for walks, but sometimes it’s also about reminding my husband to empty the dishwasher, or asking Sarah what she wants to do for lunch. Luckily for me, Sarah thinks it’s funny, and my husband has wisely learned to ignore me.
Considering I come from a long line of “dog interpreters”, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one out there who likes to think of their dogs as a TINY bit more human than they actually are. Evidenced by all of the dog clothes, shoes, accessories, beds, high chairs (not joking), etc. that I have seen out there, in fact, I KNOW I’m not the only one, and I’m not even the worst offender!
Basically, it amounts to treating something that is NOT human as if it were human, or assigning it human traits, such as a personality. For a lot of people who own or work with dogs, it creates an issue because it blurs the line between actual canine communication and behavior, and what we perceive our dogs to be able to know or do. My favorite example of this is the “guilty” look. Dogs cannot feel guilty – they just don’t have the ability to mentally process something so complex. But when we get home, see the garbage can knocked over, and then see our dog hiding under the dining room table, with that pathetic look on his face, it’s hard not to say “he feels guilty!” In reality, the dog makes an association between the dumped garbage, and you coming in the door, as something bad happening for them. (For more on this, see my colleague Nicole’s blog post, “Innocent Until Proven Guilty”).
When it comes to our dog’s behavior and their training, it’s really important that we don’t anthropomorphize them, and stay focused on what we know about how dogs process information. Once you can remove those “human” traits you have assigned to your dog, you get a much clearer picture of how to work with them, and what they’re actually communicating with you. Anthropomorphization has no place in the world of training and behavior.
Are you guilty of anthropomorphizing your dog? Comment your best stories here or post pictures on our Facebook page. We won’t judge you, we promise. 🙂