Despite my other misgivings, I am guilty of anthropomorphizing my 11-year-old Shih Tzu. At any given point during the day, you can find me cradling her in my arms like a newborn baby. I also microwave her food and hand feed it. While I draw the line when it comes to dressing her in pint-sized doggie frocks, I would if they didn't make her squirm. While I am well-aware that I consider her my dog-child and find nothing wrong with her snuggling next to me in bed each night, my husband is convinced I've forgotten that she's a four-legged creature.
Apparently, I am not alone in my need to anthropomorphize my pet. A recent Purina Pet survey's statistics further confirm our nations' collective anthropomorphization of our pets.
*61 percent of women tell their dog about their problems.
*31 percent of women feel their dog is a better listener than their partner.
*24 percent of men use their dog to talk to a good-looking stranger in the park.
*14 percent of men say their dog showed them more affection than their loved ones.
And if engaging in deep conversations with our pets, as these statistics outline were not enough, we are also guilty of heaping wads of cash on them as well. In fact, The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that American pet owners spent more than $41 billion dollars in 2008. While a big chunk of our pet investments include feeding and medical care, we also sock plenty of cash into pet massages, manicures, seats on specially chartered jets, school/daycare, designer jewelry and the list goes on.
Dubbed the Martha Stewart of the Milk and Bone dish by The New Yorker, animal advocate and founder of Animal Fair Magazine www.animalfair.com, Wendy Diamond, who is rarely even seen out in public without her Maltese, Lucky, believes it's often hard not to spoil her canine kid.
"Lucky has rolled over in her own oceanside vacation pet cabana in Cabo San Lucas with daily relaxing massages," says Ms. Diamond. "But really what is normal? It's all pet relative and within reason, pets should be pampered, as long as it doesn't put the generous parents in the economical or emotional doghouse."
The downside of the anthropomorphization of our pets
Celebrity dog trainer Stacy Alldredge, a leading dog behavior specialist, nutritionist, and owner of Who's Walking Who dog training school in NYC www.whoswalkingwhodogtraining.com admits that some of her clients have taken their affection for their pooches a bit over the top.
"I had one client who dressed up her male yellow lab in a sundress to match hers. I have clients who only have their dogs eat at the dining room table with them and clients who have their dogs shower with them," says Ms. Alldredge, who sports tattoos of two of her own dogs.
Certain aspects of anthropomorphizing our pets can be a positive thing.
"Realizing and understanding our pets have feelings, needs and emotions improves the care of our pets," says Ms. Alldredge.
Still there is a down side to anthropomorphization; it is "spoiling" in the true sense of the word, and ultimately "ruining" notes Ms. Alldredge. For instance, when dogs or cats are treated as dolls to be dressed up and carried around, owners run the risk of turning their pets into an anxious mess.
"Small dogs are more often anthropomorphized than larger dogs, however a dog is a dog, the cute little Chihuahua in the pink sweater needs exercise and training just like the big Doberman with the spike collar," says Ms. Alldredge. "On the other hand, large, menacing looking dogs are often demonized and treated cruelly because people think they are evil or mean."
Ultimately, for pet parents it boils down to this: appreciate your dog for its dogness, notes Ms. Alldredge. All dogs need the same things: daily exercise, play time with dog friends, healthy food, toys and chew to play with, obedience training, and attention from their owner. Being a great dog/pet owner is about meeting your dog's needs first and then your own. If what you are doing to your pet doesn't benefit them, or if it's embarrassing or mean then stop it!