In dog behavior, anthropomorphism refers to the assumption that dogs understand the world in the same way as humans, and therefore that the way we would describe a human’s response to a particular situation is also an appropriate and adequate way to explain the way a dog behaves. Anthropomorphism can extend to one area of dog behavior, or as a general term to describe a whole approach to understanding dogs.
Many dog behaviorists agree that there is a role for anthropomorphism in dog behavior, because using this kind of language supports the idea that dogs and humans share many abilities, emotions and desires. This similarity is borne out in research, although researchers themselves tend to agree that anthropomorphism can be a problem in research.
However, anthropomorphism can be a problem when it is not used carefully, because it can overstate the abilities of dogs in such a way that they seem to be more responsible for their actions – and therefore more deserving of punishment – than they really are. For example, claiming that a dog steals food from the counter-top “out of spite” suggests a deliberate choice to act on a malicious motive, which can harm the dog-owner relationship.
Bekoff, M. & A. Horowitz (2007) Naturalizing Anthropomorphism: Behavioral Prompts to our Humanizing of Animals. Anthrozöos 20(1), pp.23-35.
Kennedy, J. S. (1992) The New Anthropomorphism. Cambridge University Press.