Friday, November 5

The Label Behavior (Part 2)

The Anthropomorphic Standpoint.
Get ready to - Why is that bunny holding a  ... what is that?!

Ever heard of a guy named Gordon Burghardt
Me neither.
But I have heard of the concept of anthropomorphism, as illustrated by the oh-so-adorable bunny above.

All of my experience, readings, and conversations with professionals have led me to one conclusion: Under no circumstances is anthropomorphism appropriate when dealing with dog behavior.

In fact, too many of the animal professionals I know distance themselves from the possible emotional standpoint of the dog to such a degree that they are sometimes accused of thinking of dogs as robots.

Uhm. Anyone notice that the adorable robot puppy is uh... missing a limb...?

Anyway, I recently revisited a study on Critical and Non Critical Anthropomorphism, and I'm reconsidering my standpoint on anthropomorphism never being helpful and never being appropriate.

Ever heard of these two terms?

Non Critical Anthropomorphism is the sort that you always hear. "My dog ate my shoes because he was mad that I left him in his crate for five minutes longer than I should have last Tuesday." (Yes, a client honestly said this to me once. I just blinked, unsure that I'd heard her correctly.)

Non Critical is also another way of saying "it's not scientific enough for us smart people, so it doesn't really matter."

...which bring us to our next term

Critical Anthropomorphism. 
Now, since non critical is not sceincey enough for us nerdy people, does that make critical just the opposite?
To a certain extent, why yes it does!
....Even though it still seems to me that putting "anthropomorphism" with critical - meaning it is scientific and carefully evaluated - just seems oxymoronic.

In this type of anthropomorphism, you put yourself in the dog's shoes - er, paws - and try to deduce, induce, reduce (whatever kind of logic you use) the why of what he's doing. 

If you yell at a dog and he slinks away, non critical anthropomorphism might suggest that he feels guilty.
This is applying what YOU might feel if someone yelled at you, and doesn't take into account that dogs are a separate species that see the world differently than we do.
Critical Anthropomorphism would turn the equation upside down and rethink the whole situation. What would YOU do if you were a social animal who had just been threatened or confronted by a member of your social group? Remember, your programming dictates that you are much less interested in a fight than you are in maintaining the peace, because fights lead to injury lead to death, and you're all about survival.
(Sorry. Had to add this one.)

So, what do you do when another member of your group threatens you?
You try to placate that member. In doggie speak, you lower yourself and show that you are not returning the threat.

So, what do you think?

Is all anthropomorphism absolutely useless? 

And what do you think about Gordon Burghardt's Critical and Non Critical Anthropomorphism?


  1. My own belief is that is a mistake to apply human emotions & morals to dogs. I also think it is a big mistake to think that dogs don't have their own sets of emotions & 'morals'. :)

  2. Yeah! These guys are definitely not robots! Anything but, in fact.

    I actually don't like the idea of trying to figure out the "why" behind behavior - and try to avoid it unless it seems absolutely necessary. It does us little good to spend all of our time psychoanalyzing and applying emotions to creatures we can hardly claim to understand. the same time, I like the idea of critical anthropomorphism because it's a place to start. If you think about it that way, it gets you into "this is not a human in a furry suit" mode and into thinking of a dog as a dog that will do dog stuff. Hehe

    TY for the comment!

  3. And, if nothing else, I really like the picture of the werecat.