Of Canine Bondage

It seems to be the way of the Western world to anthropomorphize our dogs. Human nature often prompts us to anthropomorphize many things we interact with, be they living creatures of a species other than our own, or even inanimate objects, like an automobile. But not content to simply foist human tendencies and reasoning abilities on creatures that in reality think and function in a completely different way than we’d like to fancy, we go a step further and infantilize them. Now, in our minds, this animal that possesses it’s own God-given instincts and intelligence has become our little “baby.” We begin to believe it capable of certain childish human emotions and motivations that it cannot and never will possess, such as vindictiveness.

Granted, it is very easy to deceive ourselves into believing this pleasant fiction. Most domestic animals, and particularly dogs, are very attuned to our human feelings and emotions. Dogs themselves are emotional beings, albeit in a fashion quite different from their human companions. Their high level of intelligence, their ability to comprehend a human vocabulary equivalent to the linguistic capacity of a 3 year old human child, along with their responsiveness to human emotion all make a strong subconscious argument for anthropomorphizing our canines. Add to that endearing forgiveness, honesty, and an affectionate nature and you have a perfect companion. For those that are lonely or long to have children, it is not a stretch to call one’s dog one’s child. But does that do justice to the dog?

Dogs are not children. While they can fill a void, provide friendly companionship, and even sense minute biological and emotional changes, dogs are incapable of possessing a human level of comprehension of matters in a human’s life. Dogs do not take revenge. Dogs do not reason as humans do. If your dog had an accident while you were away from home for an extended period of time, it did not do it out of revenge. Their minds do not work that way. They do not plan far into the future. They do not think in the abstract.

Dogs, while enjoying human company, do not need humans to survive. Our current relationships with our dogs are often more one-sided than symbiotic. We parasitically take what we want and need from our noble canine companions and reason that because we provide a warm home, food, toys, and affection, that they must be happy and fulfilled. But would a human be? Some might. Others might long for a life of deeper meaning, to find a purpose, self-fulfillment. A paradox emerges. We want to humanize our dogs, perhaps even to make them children in our subconscious fantasy. Yet we often fail to fulfill needs that, if they were human, it would be considered gross neglect. These needs are part of their genetic makeup – part of what makes them the dog we love. While dogs do not wonder what the meaning of life is or question their purpose, they do have needs beyond the physical. They do need an occupation, a productive and fulfilling avenue through which to channel their energy. Without that vital provision, many dogs become “problem” dogs – presenting behaviors unwanted by humans, especially in a human home. Might a human behave this way, out of sheer frustration? Perhaps. But at least a human could articulate in words why they feel that way. Dogs may learn to comprehend much of human language, but they cannot speak. They cannot tell us why they chewed the furniture, had an accident inside, or barked all day. We must then try to decode the complex nonverbal canine language to understand what our companion is trying to tell us.

At the end of the day, we love our dogs and our dogs love us. Why not allow that love to move us to be as noble as our canine companions, and find ways to fulfill our dogs on every level? They deserve it, for all they do for us.

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