Our New Series on Pet Behavior Myths…
anthropomorphism | ˌanTHrəpəˈmôrfizəm | (noun): the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to an animal.
In the well-meaning attempt to provide our dogs loving care, we commonly treat them as “little people.” While we should recognize our pets as living beings worthy of respect and love, we mustn’t forget they are very different creatures than us humans. Dogs evolved according to challenges different than their human friends, as such, they possess different needs. Their behavior was learned under different circumstances, and for different reasons, than our own.
Think about it. Dogs don’t possess language; therefore they are unable to think with language, as we do. This, of course, limits their thinking processes. For instance, they can’t link a past action with the consequences they may currently be experiencing. That would take a higher level of cognitive understanding. Furthermore, they don’t experience guilt and remorse — at least not on the same level as humans.
The problem with thinking of our pets as having human traits and characteristics is a result of anthropomorphism — to say, the tendency we have to anthropomorphize our pets. When we do, we confuse their learning patterns with our own. For example, we might come home to find our dog looking “guilty” for having destroyed a pillow or for having pooped on the floor. However, research shows the look isn’t guilt, as we would think, but fear. Previously, the owner might have come home to discover a small disaster waiting for them and the dog got reprimanded — as a result, the dog associated the owner’s arrival (and, perhaps, the smell of poo) with getting in trouble. But punishing the dog at this point fails to correct the action. What it does do is increase the dog’s anxiety — for he cannot comprehend how his actions led to getting punished.
For an animal to pair a consequence with an action, research shows it must occur within one second of the behavior. Meaning, an undesired behavior must be witnessed to reward or punish it successfully.
If you want your dog to be his or her best, make your goal to understand your dog as a dog. They will be much happier — and so will you!