The Anthropological Dog: Observing Humans From a Canine Point of View

Probably the biggest challenge for any cultural anthropologist is in the practice of objectivity:  removing what you know or believe about the world so you can look at social and cultural facts without judgement and try to understand them from a neutral, scientific point of view.  In that vein, I often explain to my friends, clients and anyone who asks that I try to approach to observing human culture from the perspective of an alien from another planet.

But recently, some pop culture stimulus like this new ad for Beneful dog food has made me think about what my observations would be if I was looking at the world from the point of view of a dog.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNUdeXKd6QU 

Truth be told the idea sprang to life upon suggestion from my friend and Pilates instructor who’s adorable little Chihuahua / Jack Russel mutt (Stevie) has taken to sitting on my chest whilst I do core exercises.  🙂  I started thinking about how the garden variety house-pet dog must see human behavior and what they might think of it.

Here are some best guesses:

  • They are probably curious as to why they have to “eliminate” outside but we have a special room indoors for that.
  • and to that end probably wonder why we pick up and throw away their bowel movements
  • lastly on this subject they probably wonder why we don’t pee on things to let other people know we were there / claim our territory
  • They wonder where we go when we are not with them and why we spend so much time away from where we live
  • They wonder why, when we are eating either alone or as a family they are not allowed to eat with us even though they are obviously part of the family
  • They are curious as to why we sit and stare for hours at a time at this thing that glows and makes noise and wonder how they can get us to pay that much attention to them
  • They question why we take them to fenced in spaces with other dogs and automatically expect them to go play with a bunch of “strangers”
  • They wonder why they have to walk attached to a strap that keeps them from getting anywhere
  • They don’t understand why we yell at them when they hump things
  • They don’t understand why we care so much about our toys (basically all of our stuff) and why they get in trouble when they play with them (chew them up)
  • They probably think that when you are kissing you are eating things from each others mouths…which is why they are always trying to get in on the action (at least that’s my estimation of why my dog always tries to get in the middle when my wife and are are being affectionate).

I imagine there are more anthropological questions on the dog’s brain.  But alas, they can’t read or write or express themselves beyond a “woof” or a tail wag.  But maybe if we took a more empathetic approach to understanding our canine friends (like Caesar Milan or Temple Grandin) we might just arrive at a more objective understanding of ourselves.

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