When I was a child, one thing I loved to do was play dress ups.
Unfortunately I never had anyone to play with.
Which, looking back, is quiet understandable. I don’t think the idea of wearing dresses and strutting around my bedroom, whilst Kylie Minogue blasts from my karaoke machine, was my three older brothers idea of having fun.
So I would recruit Charlie. My 4 year old Maltese Terrier.
From a young age, the relationships between my pets and myself have been loving, playful and therapeutic. Though I have to admit, this bond has definitely been defined by my anthropomorphic views of them.
Anthropomorphism is defined as the ‘Attribution of human motivation, characteristics, or behaviour to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena’ (The American Heritage®, 2004).
Dressed in a sparkly dress, I would sashay around my bedroom like a fabulous princess as Charlie would struggle to put one paw in front of the other. Constantly stepping on my oversized sparkly singlet, that I put on her purposefully to match my dress; she would decide to either sit or just to take it off completely.
Us, as humans, have always had a deep fascination with other animals and have long attempted to make animals a reflection, though distorted, of ourselves (Barash, 2014).
With her paws in my hands, I would hold Charlie up as she stood on her back legs and we would ‘dance’ together.
We often make dogs do unnatural things to satisfy our fascination of ‘animals resembling humans’ like for example dressing them in clothing, making them stand on their hind legs and or making them ride bikes ( in Normans’ case).
“It’s almost like the internet was built for anthropomorphizing animals,” said Holly Dunsworth, an anthropologist at the University of Rhode Island said in an interview with Oliver Milman.(2016) As almost every second video on my Facebook feed is a home made video of a dog/s, I couldn’t agree more. Showing off what our pets can do, in terms of anthropomorphism, seems to a genre of entertainment for a large audience on social media, often referred to as ‘funny’ and or ‘cute’.
James A Serpell describes anthropomorphism as the “attribution of human mental states (thoughts, feelings, motivations and beliefs) to nonhuman animals” (2002),
This sort of anthropomorphic thinking allows us incorporate our pets into our social lives (Boni, 2008). As if Charlie was another person, I would often speak to my dog in a way that entailed a ‘yes or no’ response. Never receiving an actual verbal one, sometimes I would just stare and assume by the way she was looking at me, that she was giving a particular answer (often the one I wanted to hear).
Through the years, the role of the household dog has become something less of a working animal to one more of an emotional and social companion. Elizabeth Boni in her journal explores the bond between humans and dogs, stating “Without the beliefs that our dogs “enjoy” our company, “miss” us when we are gone or feel affectionate towards us, our relationship with dogs would lose much of its value, becoming superficial and essentially meaningless.” (Boni, 2008)
So this made me question whether there is a way for humans to recognise dogs, without turning them into human creatures?
I want to say yes, there is a way. Though it is a process.
For you see, I am guilty of anthropomorphic thinking and get ready for this truth bomb.
I kind of think we all are.
DUN DUN DUUUUUUUN.
I want to hear from you all, because I have not yet come to a definite conclusion as to whether all forms of anthropomorphism are negative. I want your opinions.
I now understand the forms in which anthropomorphism can take, so I will try to apply Michael Landa’s advice and “remind [myself] yourself that it’s not only okay to treat [my] your dog like a dog,” as they justify “it’s the best way to live in complete harmony with [them] him.”
“anthropomorphism” The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004. 26/3/17. http://www.dictionary.com/browse/anthropomorphism
Barash, D. (2014) “Why did humans evolve to be fascinated with other animals? https://aeon.co/essays/why-did-humans-evolve-to-be-so-fascinated-with-other-animals 23/3/17.
Boni, S. E. (2008). Anthropomorphism: How it affects the human–canine bond. Journal of Applied Companion Animal Behavior, 2(1), 16–21. http://www.associationofanimalbehaviorprofessionals.com/vol2no1boni.pdf
Landa, M. (2016). Opinion: Anthropomorphism and Our Pets: We’re all guilty, but most of us don’t even know what it is. The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/anthropomorphism-1118402
Milman, O. (2016). Anthropomorphism: how much humans and animals share is still contested. Animal Behaviour. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/science/2016/jan/15/anthropomorphism-danger-humans-animals-science
Serpell, J. A. (2002). Anthropomorphism and anthropomorphic selection beyond the “cute response.” Society and Animals: Journal of Human–Animal Studies, 10(4), 83–100.