Treating Dogs As Furry Humans – What’s The Harm?

I recently had a question sent in from a subscriber who had been told by another trainer that she humanised her dogs too much and it was causing issues with jealousy and fighting. She asked, could this really be the case?

Apart from her specific situation, I thought the topic of humanising our dogs deserved a post of its own.

The, “furkids,” phenomenon. People aren’t content to just call a dog a dog and a cat a cat. It has to be more of a statement that the pet is a member of the family. And of course pets are and should be considered family members. But something about the furkids term makes me cringe – perhaps because I’m not a kid person, but dogs are not children.

Personally, my husband and I choose to have dogs instead of kids. Our dogs mean a lot to us and are definitely much loved members of the family.  They’re even what you might consider spoiled – they’re treated very well. They sleep inside, we spend a lot on their food to make sure they have the best diet and health possible. They get nice toys and treats. We cuddle them on the couch. We spend lots of time with them. But we appreciate that they are dogs and that’s what makes them awesome. Even though we have dogs and not children, we don’t pretend that the dogs are children. To me they’re even better because I prefer dogs to kids.

But what’s the harm? Does it really matter if you call your dog a furkid? Not really. What matters is how you treat them. And I tend to see a correlation between people that call their dogs furry children, and people who administer inappropriate care-giving which leads to a lack of control and structure which disrupts balance in the relationship. This is where the the real problem lies. It’s not that the owner is parenting their dog like a child, but that their parenting techniques are inappropriate, and probably would be the same if they parented a human child in the same way, causing similar types of issues.

If you raise your kids with rules and structure, raise your dogs with those similarities and they’ll thrive.

Although dogs have different needs to human children, there are also key similarities to what they need from you as the pet-parent.  Your dog needs species appropriate stimulation, and exercise, but similarly to kids they need education and rules . Respecting their instinctual needs keeps them balanced and happy. While you might think that spoiling a dog makes them happier, often the case is the opposite, with overly spoiled dogs developing anxiety issues because they are being treated like something they are not.

Affection is not a solution to behaviour problems and in fact can make matters worse. Significant problems occur when humans substitute love and affection for everything else the dog needs. This creates the imbalance. Usually stemming from laziness, humans force the dogs to live like them, spending all their time together on the couch watching Netflix after the dog has waited all day for them to return home from work, instead of providing any mental stimulation, training and exercise.

Some dogs are expected to deal with heavy human emotions, used as coping mechanisms for our problems – they didn’t sign up for that. And this happens because we love them, but we are using human ways of showing it. Sometimes love means putting the needs of others before ourselves, and dogs need love, and to be treated like dogs. Well treated dogs for sure, but still respected as canines with canine psychology.

What Does It Mean To Humanise A Dog?

I don’t intend to say that you can’t treat your dogs well, give them lots of love and affection and have them sleep inside. So what’s the difference between a well-treated dog and a dog that is being overly humanised?

Here’s some common ways that people humanise their dogs:

Assuming The Dog Experiences Human Emotions

This is the most common way that people humanise their dogs that also has the worst effects to the dog. Assuming a dog is guilty over their actions or that they hold a grudge and act out of spite are two common misconceptions that people believe about their dogs whereas the evidence shows that dogs don’t display these emotions the way that people do.

 

Using The Dog As An Emotional Punching Bag

Dogs can provide such amazing comfort to people – it’s one of the reasons we’ve bred them to live with us. But if a person is going through emotional problems and is up and down like a roller coaster or uses their dog to cope with serious issues, this can make the dog feel insecure and confused, as this time for a human can be unpredictable and lacking structure.

 

Treating The Dog As A Replacement Child

Whether someone can’t have children or chooses not to, having a dog instead is often very rewarding. But it’s a different species and treating a dog like a human child will make them anxious and confused. Dressing them up, carrying them in hand bags, putting perfume on them and basically not allowing them to behave like dogs is withholding from them some of life’s greatest pleasures as well as the behaviours that their instincts tell them they should be able to express. For example, dogs get confused when you speak to them too much, and most of them hate being handled the way you typically see when being dressed up. 

The Difference Between A Well Treated Dog And An Over Spoiled Dog

Treating dogs well as dogs can sometimes be referred to as spoiling, especially by those who are more used to dogs being outside only and a bit more distant from the family. Inside vs outside is a personal choice, but dogs do want and need to feel included in the family.

However, taking good treatment too far can ruin a dog by causing them major behaviour issues. A dog treated well might be allowed inside, allowed to visit on the bed and furniture, fed a high quality diet, taken out and about often with the owner. This is all good stuff.

So where does it cross the line from a well loved dog to a dog that is being ruined?

Apart from the humanising habits listed earlier, the major cause of anxiety and behaviour issues results from too much freedom.

The dog can get on any piece of furniture or go to any part of the house any time she wants with no structure. She can eat whenever she wants and if she turns her nose up at it, she’s offered something better until she accepts. She might be sitting in a high chair at the table being fed a roast meal from a fork. Or maybe she is having a diet forced onto her because it’s what the owner prefers to eat rather than what a dog is designed to eat.

Many issues I see can be treated with the introduction of more structure and rules into everyday life. Just like with human children, rules, structure and routine helps keep life safe and stable and doesn’t mean any less love is involved.

 

 

How To Love Your Dog As A Dog

People are touchy these days and easily get offended over being told to do anything they feel might threaten the special bond they have with their pets. Fortunately, the best way to treat your dog does not involve loving them any less, but respects them more and helps them to be happier.

The human-dog bond began thousands of years ago and has always been special without trying to change the dog into something it’s not.

So here’s my tips on how to love your dog to the moon and back while treating them like the amazing creatures they are… dogs:

Run, Fetch, Swim, Walk

Dogs love to run. Get outside, get fresh air, see the pure joy on their faces as they run. Teach them to come when called and then run around with them too, exercise is good for both of you.

Different breeds may have different needs. What was your dog bred for? Can they experience this or something close to it?

A Healthy Dog’s Diet

Canines eat raw meat and bones. Are you feeding your dog as close to nature as possible?

Dogs Love Leaders

You don’t need to behave like a dog to be a reassuring and caring leader to your dog. But having a boss and knowing that they have a leader that will keep them safe makes dogs feel happy and secure. What does this look like? Make sure your dog listens to you at all times and knows the rules of the house.

Practice Obedience and Structure

The “Nothing In Life Is Free,” principle is where you give your dog a simple command before giving them a life reward, like access through a doorway, or eating their meal. It has nothing to do with who goes through the door first. It has to do with practicing obedience and looking to you as the leader of the house, which gives them that security.

Make Sure They Know Where To Be

Some spaces at home might be free run, like the backyard, other spaces may need more structure. This keeps dogs settled and out of mischief. For example, TV time may mean all the dogs are on their place beds, relaxed and sleeping while everyone else relaxes too. Want to cuddle on the couch? Just make sure you made the decision and invited them up, rather than giving the dog/s the choice ALL the time in where to go and what to do. Dogs feel more secure with a bit of structure.

Fairness And Competition In Multi Dog Households

Just like with children, competition over resources can cause conflicts in multi dog homes. Most often, the previous resource worth fighting over is YOU: access to you, attention from you, affection from you.

Many people try to make things more fair by making the dogs take turn at access to a privilege such as sleeping with the owner on the bed. The problem with this is dogs don’t have the same thought process with seeing that as fair. You might know that you are giving each dog the same allocated time on the bed. But each dog that is missing out at the time could be thinking in their mind that they are just waiting for their moment to fight to win the resource back every single time, causing a continual cycle of competition.

In a case like this, it would be much more fair the treat the dogs the same at the same time – for example, all dogs have to stay on their individual beds until released, and that’s just the way it is.

 

At the end of the day, all the kids, er, I mean dogs,  have to do what they’re told, when they’re told and that makes loving them all the more rewarding for both of you.

Thank you to Daniel from Victorian Dog Training Academy for helping with input for this article.