Gasp! They treat their dog like a child

Blog post on intelligent anthropomorphism
By Laure-Anne Viselé, February 2015
Full illustration credits at the end of the post

About the author: certified dog trainer in The Hague

IMG_6639

Canis bonus: Laure-Anne Viselé

I run Canis bonus, a behaviour therapy  practice for dogs with behaviour problems. I am also the co-founder and head trainer at OhMyDog! (dog training school in The Hague). I graduated in Zoology, and am a licensed dog trainer and certified applied animal behaviourist. After my day job, I review dog books and write about behaviour for my blog and other specialist websites.

If you are near The Hague and have dog behaviour issues, drop me a line to make an appointment. I work in English, French, or Dutch and only use animal-friendly methods. You can find out more on my training page.

Dog training clichés: How I resource-guarded my Doritos

I feel a tinge of resource guarding but decide to forgive the finger food faux-pas…

 I was at this party. I’d found THE best spot between the Doritos and the olives. Then this guy pushes me over to get to the prized spot himself. I feel a tinge of resource guarding but decide to forgive the finger food faux-pas so we get chatting – as I sneakily inch myself closer to the Doritos again you understand.

The conversation turns to work and I brace myself for the painful moment. That moment someone asks what I do for a living. It can open a floodgate of misguided clichés, cringe-worthy anecdotes and hasty opinions.

Oh, you’re like that Dog Whisperer right? Oscar or Cesar something’.

I take another sip of my beer before I go for my trusty formula. The formula that keeps people from thinking all I do is teach rich old ladies how to keep their spoilt Yorkies from biting the mailman: “I am a behaviourist. I studied zoology then specialized in dog behaviour. I consult on cases of dogs with disturbed behaviour. I am also a dog trainer and help with straight manners cases.”

Cliche

Dog trainers, when they say what they do for a living, expect a litany of clichés back

My interlocutor, the dog, sneaks a handful of Doritos into his mouth then shares his insights.

  1. “Oh, you’re like that Dog Whisperer right? Oscar or Cesar something’.” (sigh)
  2. “My mother’s dog is so dominant. He jumps up, steals food and barks all the time.” (sigh)
  3. (in a conspiratory tone) “She treats that dog like a child, you know. No wonder.” (another couple of Doritos and a gulp of beer to keep my mouth shut)
  4. “By the way, my neighbour’s dog barks all day. Can I make him stop?” (sigh, and heartbreak)

Raising dogs: Beyond being a ‘benevolent leader’

I see nothing inherently wrong with treating a dog like a child. On the contrary, I encourage it. It beats treating the dog like a prisoner of war

Faced with such a deluge, I decided to pick my battles and go for point three – and another Dorito. I took a deep breath and explained: “I see nothing inherently wrong with treating a dog like a child. On the contrary, I encourage it. It beats treating the dog like a prisoner of war” (thanks to a colleague from the Human Side of Dog Training for coming up with that).

He looked confused, then raised the usual objection: “But you have to be your dog’s leader right?” So I asked him: “Do you see yourself as your kids’ leader?”

Kim Jong Il

‘Be a leader’ they said

You can call that being a leader. I call it being a parent.

The role of dog guardian is similar to that of a parent. You:

  • Keep them warm, fed, healthy, happy and safe.
  • (Try to) keep them from causing trouble, teaching them the manners and boundaries they need to be well-adjusted members of society.
  • Teach them your rules, even the arbitrary ones. You are entitled to read your newspaper in peace and sometimes, just sometimes, you just don’t want to play and yes that means they have to quit it and settle down just because. As long as they live under your roof, they need to follow your rules.

You can call that being a leader. I call it being a parent.

Raising dogs: Be a parent, not a sergeant

“But if you don’t come down on dogs hard they’ll walk all over you,” he says.

You raise dogs and kids, you don’t subjugate them.

Compare this to some fundamentalist religious communities. Communities that value obedience more than compassion and individualism. Communities that expect cookie-cutter kids no matter what. Without a hair out of place these kids seem well-behaved, sure, but are they well-balanced? Are they thriving? What is their quality of life? And how rich is their relationship with their parents?

Toy soldier

If all you want is blind obedience, the authoritarian approach might be for you

I am not suggesting we let our kids and dogs walk all over us, but I am saying that rules and boundaries need to be taught patiently, compassionately and intelligently.

You raise dogs and kids, you don’t subjugate them.

Treating your dog like a SPOILT child

What people mean with ‘treating a dog like a child’ is ‘treating a dog like a spoilt child’. Treating your dog like a child in itself is not the root of all evils. And treating them like soldiers won’t cure all their behaviour problems. To be effective, you need to look at the dog’s history, temperament and psychological/emotional issues. As Monique Bladder, a fellow behaviourist, puts it: if diagnosing and prescribing was as simple as that, we’d be out of a job.

Beer

Raising dogs: don’t worry so much and grab another beer

So the world is not going to end because you treat your dog with a modicum of compassion and respect. Just give them the boundaries to go with it. Do me a favour and stop worrying about treating dogs like kids. And whilst you’re at it, can you please grab me another beer?

Comments

What do you reckon? Are you still worried? Do you think we need to beware of seeing dogs like kids? Or do you often come across this type of blanket anti-anthropomorphism reaction? Don’t be shy and leave a comment.

Illustration credits

No changes were made to any of the illustrations.

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