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5 ways treating your dog like a human can backfire

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We humans love to anthropomorphize other species. It’s one of the first ways we try to relate to them, to connect by seeing a glimmer of ourselves in them.

This is particularly true of our dogs, and the connection can run profoundly deep. Dogs are considered “man’s best friend” for good reason. Studies have shown that how we feel toward our dogs can mirror the feelings we have toward our children, as the brain chemistry is extremely similar. So, we have conversations with them, seek them out for comfort, buy them toys and dress them up in clothes. But is viewing dogs as four-legged humans something we should keep in check? Many dog trainers would answer with a resounding, “Yes!”

Anthropomorphizing our dogs is not all bad. To some extent it can make us better companions to our dogs, as it allows us to emotionally connect. However, it’s one thing to lavish treats on your dogs or let them sleep in bed with you. It’s quite another to treat them as if they’re a different species than what they really are, expecting them to think and act the way humans do.

Here are five of the many ways we do our dogs a physical and psychological disservice by treating them like humans:

Creating weight and nutrition problems

Sharing sugary treats or ordering your dog fast food when you hit the drive through may seem cute, but it isn't healthy. Sharing sugary treats or ordering your dog fast food when you hit the drive through may seem cute, but it isn’t healthy. (Photo: S. Curtis/Shutterstock)

It may seem cute to get your dog a treat at the drive-thru or coffee shop, but you might be killing your dog with anthropomorphized kindness. Letting your dog eat scraps from the dinner table, polish off your ice cream cone or join a restaurant outing adds calories, preservatives, fat, starch and other things to the dog’s diet that can lead to obesity (an increasingly common problem among American pets) and nutrition problems. Milk-based products (like Puppuccino cups from Starbucks) can cause upset stomach, diarrhea or food allergies. Fat from meat can cause pancreatitis, and sugar can lead to dental issues and possibly diabetes.

Dogs have different nutrition requirements than humans, and they are sensitive to some foods that we humans enjoy. Instead of treating your dog like a fellow human diner, it’s more responsible and loving to stick to foods designed for dogs — no matter how much they drool at the drive-thru window.

Explaining away bad behavior

Naughty dogA dog might make a mess in the house while you’re gone, but it probably isn’t for ‘revenge.’ (Photo: Jaromir Chalabala/Shutterstock)

It’s easy for dog owners to ignore, or even fail to recognize, problematic behavior from the dog because they’re looking at the behavior as if the dog is a person. A common example is allowing a lap dog to growl at an approaching person. Because the dog is viewed as a one’s little furry baby, it’s laughed off as cute or “just being protective” rather than regarding the behavior as a serious issue. The dog is giving clear signals that it is uncomfortable. Lap dogs treated like babies may bite because few people understand or respect what they’re saying in dog language.

Another common example is a dog that defecates in the house or chews the furniture when left alone. The behavior is often explained as the dog being mad or trying to exact revenge. In reality, the dog could be stressed, have separation anxiety or is not properly house-trained. Attaching a human reason for this dog’s behavior may lead to ineffective training or misplaced punishment, and it means the real problem not only goes unaddressed, but could get worse.

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About Barry G. Morris

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