What is anthropomorphism?

by Bronwyn Hall

Today in the Western world anthropomorphism (the treating of animals, objects or deities as if they are human in appearance, character or behaviour) relating to our canine companions is more present than ever before.

However, this is not new; some believe that anthropomorphism is what led our ancestors to start bringing in animals as their ‘pets’ centuries ago – by attributing human thoughts, feelings, and beliefs to them.

Fast forward a few thousand years and anthropomorphism manifests itself quite differently today. Many of us claim to know what our dogs are thinking or why they’re acting a certain way and it usually measures up with what you might expect a human response to be. You may believe that when you come home from work and your dog has torn up the mail/left a surprise in your slipper/eaten your socks it is because they want to punish you for leaving them alone all day. However, we must question if revenge really a trait in our four legged friends as it can be in us? Similarly, many of us find ourselves talking to our dogs beyond the action-associated commands such as sit, stay and lay down and I am not ashamed (okay, maybe a little) to admit that on occasion I have imagined what Dexter’s response might be. We must consider, though, that our dogs do not communicate in the ways that we do.

Credit: Charlotte Cory

Credit: Charlotte Cory

However, studies have shown that it is anthropomorphism that has allowed people to reap the biggest emotional and social benefits from their relationships with their pet dogs. In a study that examined the differences in relationships between humans and the human-to-dog relationship the results showed that it was in fact the human-to-dog relationships that came up top marks in categories such as ‘nurturance’ and ‘companionship.’

Those against anthropomorphism argue that this is because dog owners delude themselves with thinking that their pets feel love and affection for them. That their dogs miss them while they are away and are happy to see them when they return. Be that as it may, one cannot argue with the statistics that show dog owners to be at a lesser risk of heart related diseases and to have lower stress levels than those who do not own a dog.

Credit: WatchfulCrowArts

Credit: WatchfulCrowArts

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