Dog Behavior in Human Terms

“My dogs are my children.” This is a phrase I’ve often used to answer the question “Do you have children?” It has become an automatic response I utter without really thinking about what it means to me personally, or how it’s perceived by others.

I think I initially used it to brand myself as a dog lover and as a way to deflect follow up questions by people fascinated by the childless status of married people. But despite the fact that I sometimes refer to them as children, I view, value, treat, and train them as dogs.

The relationship I have with my dogs is very much influenced by the fact that although I view them as fellow living beings, there are more differences than similarities between us. To be sure, I engage in some anthropomorphizing when it comes to my dogs, but I know that treating them as fellow humans establishes a standard which they cannot live up to.  We may share similar basic needs, but their motivations are not mine.

This was not always the case with me. Because I was raised to think of dog behavior in human concepts my training methods dealt in them as well. Willfulness, spite, temper, and other similar human terms were used to describe a dogs’ behavior. Discipline, another human term, seemed be a natural answer for such behavior and so rolled up newspapers and leash pops along with a stern voice seemed proper tools for training.  

It’s actually quite ridiculous if you stop and think about it. I believed that dogs understood and displayed complex human emotions, but I assumed that punishment by force was the only thing they could comprehend.

 Viewing dogs in human terms allowed me to easily (and unfairly) assign a human reason to behavior that in reality was nothing more than a dog being a dog. Once I accepted that I couldn’t assign human reasons for dog behavior, I realized that the training methods I used were nothing more than punishing the dog for reasons it couldn’t understand. In addition, I gave the dog no “doggie alternatives” for something it found necessary to do.

I still think of my dogs in human terms sometimes and marvel at how like me they can be. But now I know that accepting them as dogs it better for us both. It allows me to teach them in ways that are instructive to them in their terms instead of mine and it’s the best way to establish a bond of understanding between us.

*Author Note*

Kevin is the Chief Sarcasm Officer & Blogger of Dog Lover’s Digest. He blogs on topics from training to doggie conspiracies and is generally considered harmless.