Dogs are mankind’s best friend and as time has passed on, the relationship between dogs and people have been utilized in so many ways. Dogs protect us and our property, hunt for us, retrieve game, assist in search and rescue, detect drugs, and guide us. However, because most of these jobs have been mechanized, most dogs are now pampered pets. Americans spend over $69 billion dollars a year on their pets, buying them food, costumes, treats, and other items. In the recent years, birth rates have also declined, and the younger generation are getting dogs instead of having babies. People have started using the term “furbaby” to refer to their pets, anthropomorphizing them (giving them human qualities), viewing them as their children.
Celebrating Temo’s 11th birthday in style
Admittedly, even though I despise the term “furbaby,” I have succumbed to using it occasionally, and have sometimes slipped and referred to myself as my dogs’ “mom.” I don’t think there’s anything necessarily inherently wrong with using the term, as long as you remember that your dog is a dog. Your dog is an animal and needs boundaries set in place. I used to work in a holistic pet store, and we also sold training tools and had third party trainers who offered obedience classes and behavior modification. Sometimes we would have trainers walk in with their dogs, heeling nicely, sitting nicely, and acting neutrally towards other dogs. Other customers would walk by and comment, that the dogs were “too well behaved” and it “wasn’t fair that they weren’t allowed to act like dogs.” I’ve seen people walk in, carrying their dogs because they “don’t like to walk.” These same customers would come into the store and ask me for solutions to all of these problems: dog wouldn’t walk on a leash, dog hated wearing a collar, wouldn’t eat unless handfed, lunges at other dogs, constantly barks. They did not want to damage their relationship with their dogs by setting down too many rules and boundaries. Trish Harris, dog trainer at FourPaws, says “we want to mollycoddle and love it and protect it [the dog]...it can turn the dog into a really nasty, uncontrollable, undisciplined aggressive dog.” Although people think that by coddling a dog like they are children is how dogs want to be shown love, Harris says, that dogs want our love in a different way; they need “guidance...structure...consistent rules and routines.”
In an article about anthropomorphization, Michael Landa writes that “evaluat[ing] canine behavior using human values we run the risk of misinterpreting our dog’s emotions and motives...making minor behavioral problems chronic.” People tend to project their feelings onto their dogs. Projecting is a “psychological defense mechanism people subconsciously employ in order to cope with difficult feelings or emotions.” Pet owners don’t want to think that they are doing their animals a disservice by not enforcing good behaviors and structure. Dogs who don’t have structure and who haven’t been shown how to act around other dogs (or people!) can act out aggressively. Dogs who aren’t shown boundaries can become possessive of items, places, and their people. This behavior can be dangerous and cause injuries to their people, and particularly younger children. Eventually you create a dog that you can’t take out in public, you can’t board, and you can’t take to the dog park. You will find that going about your day to day life becomes difficult, because your dog has problems existing in public (and sometimes even private!) spaces.
I will be the first to admit that I will buy my dogs cakes on their birthdays, and put little party hats on them, and even dress them up on Halloween--heck, my dogs even get red envelopes during Chinese New Year! However, this doesn’t mean that they can get away with certain behaviors. My puppy doesn’t like getting her nails clipped, but that does not stop me from clipping her nails, because it’s good for her overall health. She loves other dogs and loves people, but she is not allowed to jump on them, or to drag me over to every dog she sees--that kind of behavior will result in a correction. So, spoil your dogs, it is fun and they deserve it! But remember, dogs are dogs, and were made to be our companions, and giving them direction, consistent rules, and letting them know what behavior is expected from them creates a peaceful, respectful dog, and builds the relationship and bond between you and your best friend.