This is the word that is used when we believe dogs have the same feelings and emotions as humans and that they understand our language. A mistaken belief, of course. Dogs are not small, fur-clad human beings. They are canines. True, they are man’s best friend and companion because their natural instincts and hierarchical society blends into our own ,and because they show loyalty and devotion to the hand that feeds them.
As we have seen in the chapter on wolves, this bonding between man and dog happened thousands of years ago when both man and wolf lived similar nomadic lives as hunters roaming the country to seek food.
The dog´s adaptation to our way of life was assisted and accelerated by man using selective breeding to develop the most desirable features, first to work for us and then to turn them into pets.
Even so, there remain of course fundamental differences between us and our dogs. To take just one example, dogs live totally in the present moment.
They do not worry about the past. They do not dream about the future.
They are not endowed with imagination or feel grief, hate, jealousy or greed or other emotions that bedevil our human society. They do have a high sensory ability which is often mistaken for a kind of sixth sense.
They will understand that certain words like Sit, Stay, Down require the right reaction if they are to be rewarded with a tit-bit or praise. They will understand whether your tone of voice and your facial expressions are good or bad when you are talking to them, in whatever language, but they will not understand longer phrases.
We often attribute human emotions to dogs when, in fact, they are reacting instinctively. We assume our dog is happy to see us when we return home and it looks pleased and wags it tail. All it is doing is reacting in the same way a wolf puppy reacts when the pack returns with food from a hunt.
It behaved in the same way when it was feeding from its mother along with the rest of the litter. It is true the dog is enjoying a pleasurable experience but it is not please in human terms.
Another example of anthropomorphism is when we believe our dog is “sulking” when it returns home from a stay in kennels, or is grieving over the death of a member of the family. In the latter case, what it will be feeling is the loss of a higher member of the “pack” and the anxiety caused by no longer knowing its position in the family hierarchy. It will also be confused by the vibrations of distress it picks up from the family. Once the “pack” has settled down again, the dog will
make a quick recovery, for it lives in the present and doesn´t mourn the past.
So please do not attribute dogs with human emotions. Try, instead, to understand their simple canine minds, which are untroubled by so many of our emotions.
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