On Treating Your Dog Like a Human

When I first adopted Juniper, I kind of made a vow that I would treat her like a dog, not a person, and definitely not my child.  I was terrified of ending up like one of those women you see in the park, patiently trying to negotiate with their dogs. (“What did I say before we left? That you wouldn’t get any treats if you did this? Coco, you’re going to have to go in a time out if you’re going to act like that.”)

And then my dog trainer, Melissa, told me things I didn’t know — like dogs really don’t like hugs. Apparently, it feels more like an act of dominance than affection. And this made total sense to me, and helped me keep my head on straight while I did things that broke my heart, like lock her in her kennel while I stepped out to run errands.  She’s an animal, she’s an animal, I’d have to repeat to myself, she’s going to be fine. 

Still, I do have moments. The other night I glanced at the clock and realized it was 9pm and I had completely forgotten to feed her. I was momentarily filled with panic — how hungry she must be, god, how could I forget? And practically ran downstairs to fill her dog bowl, apologizing to her twice. And then I realized, oh wait. She’s definitely still living, breathing, was sleeping peacefully before I fed her. She’s an animal. Realistically, she could go quite awhile without food.


I doubt Melissa would agree with this op ed piece in the New York Times, but I still find it interesting. The writer argues that dogs may be just as much like humans as we’ve been treating them because of a region in their brain he claims functions very similar to ours:

“Rich in dopamine receptors, the caudate sits between the brainstem and the cortex.  In humans, the caudate plays a key role in the anticipation of things we enjoy, like food, love, and money….In dogs, we found that activity in the caudate increased in response to hand signals indicating food. The caudate also activated to the smells of familiar humans. And in preliminary tests, it activated to the return of an owner who had momentarily stepped out of view. Do these findings prove that dogs love us? Not quite. But many of the same things that activate the human caudate, which are associated with positive emotions, also activate the dog caudate. Neuroscientists call this a functional homology, and it may be an indication of canine emotions.”

In response to the article, this guy wrote:

“To say…’dogs are people, too.’ that dogs have the reasoning capacity of a young child is to continue to ignore what it is that dogs possess that we do not. Dogs are not people. Dogs are not humans. But we are desperate to appropriate whatever it means to be dog and to make that over in our image.”

Touché. What do you think? Do you have a dog? Do you treat it like a family member or just a pet? I would love to hear your thoughts.

Top photo by the talented Dee Sullivan

3 thoughts on “On Treating Your Dog Like a Human

  1. It continually amazes me how much dogs act like humans — their love of toys and soft cozy furniture and snacks! Or maybe we act like dogs…?

  2. I think it’s this interesting fine line between handling them similarly to how you’d handle children, and actually handling them like a dog. And sometimes, it’s just difficult to know what’s best! But I do agree with you – it’s important to remember that they’re dogs, and that they need fair but firm limits (the negotiating with your dog thing is the worst, haha! I definitely see that and I’m just like – put your dog in time out! Don’t negotiate!). I think it’s also good to let ourselves be human, and remember that we’re going to form these sort of irrational attachments to our animals, and that we might be goofy about it, too. 🙂

    (Juniper is lovely, by the way – love her forehead wrinkles!)

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