Puppy Goes Zoom

Dogs, cats, randomness–my adventures in pet ownership and fostering

My dog is my baby like a cheeseburger is a banana

Recently, I was rereading a bunch of Joanna’s posts at Ruffly Speaking, because there’s so much good stuff there (and the malware attacks have been resolved a while ago, so it will go back on my blogroll as soon as I update that). I ran across this one, which I had previously liked but also kind of disagreed with, but hadn’t been able to really articulate why.

The basic point is not only true, but hugely important. Dogs are dogs; they aren’t human children. When we think of them like human children, we set them up for failure, misinterpret the hell out of their behavior, or do things that are wildly inappropriate.

And yet, at the same time, I feel like it’s possible to make useful comparisons between dogs and children, and I don’t think that by referring to my dogs as “the fur-babies,” I’m necessarily setting up any kind of harmful dynamic. I feel like the way I relate to my dogs is, vaguely and broadly, *like* how I would (hypothetically) relate to a kid. I’m responsible for keeping them fed, giving them opportunities to learn and have fun, keeping them safe, establishing rules for living in my house that help us all happily coexist. I’m my dog’s advocate at the vet like I would be my kid’s advocate at the doctor’s office. I try to listen to what they’re telling me when they don’t speak English. (Having two dogs and no kids, I think I speak dog *way* better than I speak baby.) I cheer for their victories and comfort them when they’re sad, and try to give them tools to live in a world that doesn’t, initially, make a whole lot of sense to them (dogs because people are weird, kids because they’re still learning how things work).

Basically, it’s a metaphor. And even the best metaphors fall apart if you try to stretch them too far.

My dog is like my child in that I’m responsible for making sure their physical, emotional, and social needs are met, that I feel loving and protective toward them, and that they live with me. A dog is unlike a baby in a lot more ways than it’s like one, but the metaphor illustrates aspects of the relationship. If I treat it like a truth instead of like a metaphor, then, sure, I run the risk of interacting with the dog in a way that the dog doesn’t get. Or if I get a dog to fill the needs that a child would fill, I’m setting that dog up for horrible failure and myself up for disappointment. Just like if you treat all the metaphors we have for arguing that are drawn from war (attacking an opponent’s position, dismantling weak arguments) like truths, you will end up with a whole bunch of enemies and no one who wants to discuss anything serious with you. (And you’ll probably be reduced to trolling the comments section on YouTube.)

I feel like it might be better to think of the owner-dog relationship and the parent-child relationship as two very different things, but things that are still in the same really broad category. To use another metaphor, if someone pointed to a cheeseburger and said, “That’s a banana,” you’d say they were crazy. And if you try to make a banana cream pie with a cheeseburger, it will be a disaster. But they’re both foods. They both provide you with fiber, sugar, protein, Vitamin C, and iron, although in very different amounts. In kind of the same way that , the basic need for food is met by a cheeseburger or a banana, the basic need for affection and companionship is met by both dogs and kids. In both, it’s in very different ways, and can be really unhealthy if you treat one like it *is* the other. Don’t pile ice cream on a cheeseburger and call it a banana split, don’t eat a banana by itself and think it’s going to provide you with enough protein and fat to get through the afternoon. Don’t put your dog in a little sweater and carry him everywhere, or expect that he understands what you’re saying as much as a five-year-old would. But if thinking about how children melt down when they’re cooped up on a rainy afternoon gives you a mental picture for why your dog is getting on your last nerve after missing his morning walk, then go with it. Don’t stretch it past where it’s useful or appropriate, but use it for what it’s worth.