The dangers of treating our dogs like people | SierraSun.com

The dangers of treating our dogs like people

Carla Brown
Special to the Sun

Anthropomorphism is the act of giving the characteristics of humans to an animal, a god or an inanimate thing.

An entire generation of dog lovers grew up watching the classic TV show Lassie. In every episode, Lassie rescued someone from great peril.

With just a few barks, people magically knew they must follow Lassie. This amazing dog seemed to have decision-making skills that rivaled the humans she lived with, so why not treat her like one?

Trainers and animal behaviorists constantly see the consequences of people treating dogs like little humans in fur coats.

Our lack of understanding about how dogs learn and communicate can result in bites and other "unacceptable" dog behaviors.

Many predictable dog behaviors are considered inappropriate in the human world, and things we do must seem crazy to our dogs.

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We have to breed and raise dogs that tolerate typical human behavior, but it's also important to try and meet them part way.

Dogs are capable of learning many amazing things, but they are not able to process complex, abstract thoughts like guilt and spite.

A classic example is the dog that poops and pees in the house because it is mad at being left behind. The biggest problem with this explanation is that dogs love poop; they love to eat it and roll in it.

If they left some for you, it would probably be as a gift, not a punishment. Dogs that poop in the house are either (a) not potty trained properly or (b) are stressed because their pack mate (you) is out of sight and their natural tendency is to keep track of pack members.

When a dog greets its owner at the door with head and tail down, it is not guilt, but appeasement, because it is afraid what will happen based on prior experience.

Basic displays of affection are an area where humans and dogs are dramatically different. Humans greet by hugging, while a dog's version of hugging (head over another dog's shoulders) is a display of social status.

If you take a photo of a person hugging their dog, the human will look happy while the dog is miserable.

Most people have trouble accepting this reality because hugging is such an important way we express affection.

Teaching a dog to tolerate a hug is critical if the dog will be around children, but many adults (including me) love to hug their dog.

As humans, we are taught to make eye contact with others to show we are interested and paying attention.

If you see two dogs staring at each other, a fight will very likely follow. You should make a noise or somehow interrupt the encounter.

Many basic dog-training classes include eye contact exercises to teach dogs that making extended eye contact with their human is a good thing and not a threat.

Lastly, there are good and bad ways to play with your dog. When dogs play with each other they constantly use their paws and mouth.

When humans wrestle with dogs, we grab with our hands (or paws from a dog's perspective) and they grab with their mouth.

Although this is completely natural for the dog, we humans tend to get very upset when a dog puts its mouth on us.

Instead of imposing human norms on our dogs, we should focus on what they need to be happy and healthy.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow developed a model for self-actualization in humans called Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The premise is that unless basic needs for survival, love and belonging are met, we cannot more toward self-esteem and self-actualization.

The same can be said for dogs. Treating our dogs like humans not only does them an enormous disservice, it creates conflict and uncertainty, which often results in behaviors we humans feel are inappropriate.

Understanding and meeting their needs is the best way to show how much you love them.

Carla Brown, CPDT is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of The Savvy Dog in Truckee. She can be reached at savvydogtruckee@mac.com. This article originally appeared in Moonshine Ink.

Savvy Dog training classes

New classes are starting soon: Puppy Socialization for young pups starts on Monday, Feb. 23. Puppy II – Adolescent Good Manners will begin Thursday, Feb. 19, and Basic Obedience/Good Manners for adult dogs starts on Wednesday, Feb. 18.

Find more information about all classes online at http://www.thesavvydog.net or call Carla Brown at 530-448-9808. Classes are held at the town of Truckee/Humane Society Animal Shelter located at 10961 Stevens Lane.