Is this how you see your dog?

Dog owners are more likely to anthropomorphise their pets than cat owners according to a study as long ago as 1968. This is hardly surprising since dogs are pack animals and they look up to the alpha dog i.e. the human owner. The dog is less independent than a cat and therefore there is likely to be a closer connection in general which can lead to anthropomorphising the dog. I’m talking about the humanisation of dogs.

Is this how you see your dog?
Is this how you see your dog? Image in the public domain.

One study found that dogs can play one of three roles or all three: as a projection of the human-self, where the dog facilitates interactions with other people and where the dog is anthropomorphised and serves as a “human companion”. In the latter function, the dog is seen more as a person and less as an animal. They can be perceived as a child surrogate or part of the family with whom they can communicate as if communicating with a human family member. Several studies have equated the human-to-dog relationship with that of a child with family-member status.

People who think of the dog as a human are more likely to communicate in ‘doggerel’ and make better attempts to understand dog communications. One study (‘Understanding dog–human companionship’) found that women are more likely to anthropomorphise their dogs. Participants in the study who were in the over-65 group scored lowest in humanising their dog.

Dog owners without children surprisingly “have a higher dog-orientated self-concept”. They are more likely to see their dogs as animal companions than as children.

People with some sort of college education or more likely to humanise their dogs and have a higher level of symbiotic relationship (mutually beneficial) compared to people with no college experience. Symbiosis and humanising dogs go together, I guess.

And when a person lives with a dog for longer than 10 years, they have they “highest scores on the dimensions of symbiotic relationship and anthropomorphism”. In other words, the longer you live with your dog the more likely it is to be genuinely symbiotic which leads to seeing your dog as a human family member. That is unsurprising. In fact, it is entirely to be expected.

Another study (‘An Examination of the Relations between Social Support, Anthropomorphism and Stress Among Dog Owners’) assessed whether humanising a dog companion helped to relieve stress in the owner. They found that dog owners who thought they received low levels of social support were more likely to “engage in high levels of anthropomorphic behaviour”.

I take this to mean that when a dog owner feels isolated, perhaps doesn’t have that many friends and doesn’t receive the support of a family they are more likely to turn to their dog companion as a family member and for support.

Set against that these findings they also found that some cases, albeit a small percentage, when an owner humanised their dog companion it can cause stress. I’m going to try and interpret this as well. This may occur for a number reasons but one of them might be that when a person anthropomorphises their dog, they expect them to behave like a human. Their expectations about their dog’s behaviour become misplaced. They might be disappointed. This can lead to stress in the human and perhaps in the dog as well.

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Post Category: Dogs > dog ownership