I often watch her as she sleeps. Watching how her chest rises and falls with every breath. This tiny being is so precious to me and has filled my life with such joy. My baby, Summer. Yet Summer is not a human baby, she is my 2-year-old Miniature Schnauzer.
I’m not the only one who thinks this way about their dog. We are a nation of dog lovers and enthusiasts, with 1 in 3 households owning a pet dog. We welcome these four-legged creatures into our homes, buying them toys and beds and pretty clothes. But are we guilty of humanising our pets to suit our own needs?
A 1995 survey of pet owners, carried out by the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) showed that 21% of us dressed our dogs, and 33% of us talked to our pets on the telephone. Over the years we have approached new extremes as our dogs can now indulge in spa days and are regulars at the dog grooming parlour. We carry their pictures in our purses or wallets, and are forever taking snaps of them on our mobile phones. Even our weekly magazines have pages dedicated to the love of our pets. In many case, we treat our dogs better than we do our partners. Shockingly a 2011 UK survey carried out by M&S Pet Insurance revealed that almost half of us would choose our pets over our partners. With two thirds of us cancelling our plans if our dogs fell ill.
The saying that a dog is mans – and woman’s – best friend has never been further from the truth. It is this level of friendship, and the bonds we build with out pets that makes us choose dogs as our long term companions. Eighty percent of those surveyed by the AAHA said their main reason for pet ownership was due to companionship, with 72 percent saying affection was their pets’ most endearing feature. Research supported further when a 2011 UK survey carried out by the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) discovered that 39% of Londoners choose a dog for companionship even though London has a population of approximately 7.5 million.
It appears that dogs are no longer just a family pet, with more and more single people choosing a dog to share their lives. Two thirds of who had replaced their estranged partner with a canine. Well, I guess they won’t leave the toilet seat up! So what do dogs offer us that humans can’t? Consider when you come home from work, does your dog run to the door to greet you with their tail wagging and their eyes shining with excitement? Such actions can make an empty house much more appealing. Our dogs display undeniable signs of affection and loyalty. Summer often wants picking up for a kiss and cuddle when I get home. She also spends most of her time cuddled up beside me, or curled up on my partner’s chest with her head buried into his neck.
To us, these are displays of her affection towards us, one of the many visible forms of emotion identified during a canine behaviour study carried out by Professor Marc Bekoff, of the University of Colorado. He also discovered that along with affection, other emotions displayed by our four legged friends are a love of company and friends, anxiety and fear, embarrassment and remorse, grief and loss, and jealousy and resentment.
All of these are traits we can identify and relate to with our pets. Jealousy can often be seen when cuddling with your partner and the dog will often step in between to separate them. Tales can be heard of boyfriends having to sit on different sofas to their dates due to the dog giving warning growls of jealousy! Fear can often be displayed through aggression by barking at passers by, or by seeking out reassurance on Bonfire Night when the fireworks are going off. They show signs of remorse when they have done something wrong, and we usually identify this by their sheepish look and tail between their legs.
There is also another emotion I would like to add and that is moodiness, a trait often displayed by my own dog. When she has what I call “the hump” she will sit on the opposite sofa to me, sighing loudly and looking up at my from beneath her long eyebrows when she thinks I’m not looking. When our gaze meets she quickly looks away and resumes the loud sighs. These quirks are just another side to their lovable personalities and are what make our dogs so unique and special to us.
As dog owners we form great bonds with our beloved pets, with many modern day couples opting to own dogs instead of have children. The AAHA found that 55 percent of pet owners consider themselves as mum or dad to their pets, and 58 percent of American dog owners are comfortable calling themselves nicknames such as “Mommy” and “Daddy” when referencing their dogs according to a Pet Parent Survey released in May 2011 by Milo’s Kitchen™. Seventy-seven percent also owned up to talking about their pups as if they are a human family member. I am guilty of all of the above!
So perhaps the humanising of our pets is down to our nurturing instinct. We want to care for and protect our dogs, as though they were our children. This would explain our urge to dress them in seasonal costumes, and sparkly collars. We are spoiling our pets like we would our own offspring. So whether or not we choose our dogs as companions or children, it is apparent our treatment of them is more that of equals than master/owner. We rely on our dogs to be there when we need them, to give us cuddles at the end of a hard day and to always love us no matter what mistakes we may make in life. Our dogs offer us unconditional love. Is it any surprise we offer the same back?