Okay… you call your dog a fur baby which is 100% your prerogative. I love an abbreviated or descriptive word for my dogs, typically it’s butt-head, legend or whatever my mood dictates on the day.

You lean more towards cutesy and I lean more towards sporty nicknames. You judge me and sometimes I judge you, but ultimately we both love and care for our dogs a great deal.

I can’t help but think that there’s a more worrying side to the fur baby movement.  My worry is based on the conversations I’ve recently been having with some first time dog guardians. There’s no argument that the fur baby movement is coming from a caring place and a genuine love of dogs.

But should we be concerned?

There is a rapidly growing population of pet dogs in our community. Dog trainers have never been busier. It’s not only the growing population of dogs that’s increasing demand for training services, it’s the percentage of dog guardians that need assistance that has also increased.

There are three reasons for this:

  1. Dog guardians are becoming more responsible and understand that a big part of their dogs development is training. Training significantly increases their dogs welfare and their ability to enjoy our urban world.
  2. Many dogs are being bred for purely a look (cuteness). In doing so there is little or no regard for pups nerves, temperament and the dogs physiology.
  3. There is an increasing population of dog guardians that are finding their dogs difficult and their expectation of dog life is VERY different to the actual reality.

Expectations versus Reality

What is it that creates this divide in peoples expectations of actual dog life compared to what they thought it would be?

THE MEDIA. The growing trend of the fur baby phenomenon in advertising, on socials and in day to day life.

What is a fur baby?

Cambridge dictionary: A pet, especially one that someone treats with a lot of love and kindness, as if it were a baby.

A fur baby is a dog that:

  • Looks cute (eye of the beholder)
  • You can take everywhere.
  • Loves pats and cuddles from everyone.
  • Loves all dogs.
  • Has considerable anthropomorphic traits.

Anthropomorphic definition: Described or thought of as having a human form or human attributes.

Having a wild animal background, I love nothing more than seeing animals display their species specific behavioural repertoire.  A truly happy, fulfilled and content animal is one that has biological fulfilment. An animal that is both physiologically and mentally challenged and enriched.  Something that no doubt we all want for our dogs.  A dog being a dog.

Your terrier may dig, your kelpie may herd, your GSD may guard, your beagle may have their nose to the ground (all the time) and your dachshund may want to hunt badgers (true story). All of these are behavioural considerations that you can leverage off to create fun activities that your dog will love with some behavioural modification and training.

So what affect does anthropomorphism have on our domestic dogs?

There are no doubt some positive sides to anthropomorphism in dogs. One being the desire that owners have to include the dog in lots of potentially fun activities.  The desire in itself is beneficial, it’s just at times misplaced.

Example: Overly social dogs that have a tendency for being hyper-aroused in social settings, can very quickly be excluded from all things social if not managed appropriately. Our desire may be to include our dogs in all things social, because we think it will make them feel good regardless of their behaviour. Our main consideration should be how the dog feels in these scenarios and making choices that are ultimately beneficial for the dogs development and their long term behaviour.

In terms of developing our dogs, the goal needs to be developing the dog in front of us.  The development of our dogs requires the consideration of species/breed specific behaviour, our dogs genetics, their temperament, their age, their size and training to date.

Maybe all of this is irrelevant and our community already has a strong understanding of all of the above.  Ultimately the urge to write this comes from an increase in inquiries from new dog guardians whom are struggling with the realities of pet dog life, and from my perspective I have a genuine desire to help people and their dogs build mutually healthy and beneficial relationships.

A big part of the initial conversation with new dog guardians is creating the level of understanding around what we can reasonably expect from our dogs, with a level training and development. Maybe there’s another stronger contributing factor than just this term – fur baby.

If we professionals can assist with creating a clearer understanding of what to expect of a pet dog before puppies/dogs find their new home, then dogs will ultimately find more suitable homes and the BIG WIN is = there’s far less chance of dogs ending up in shelters.

Cancel Fur Baby…. or don’t…

Dave