Jane Goodall has famously been slated for anthropomorphising chimps. She argues, however that perceiving things simply from a scientific viewpoint gives us grounds to do abhorrent things. Indeed, Dr Susan Friedman explains that science tells us what we can and can’t do but it is ethics that fills in the blanks for us.. just because we can doesn’t mean it’s right to do so, or that we should.
Problems with punishment
There’s a lot of scientific principles regarding punishment that teach us not to do things again, for example if we put our hand above a stove it will be hot and hurt you – you are unlikely to do it again. However this is painful and unethical. The problem with punishment is that it doesn’t get to the root of the problem behaviour or it’s cause. It may look like it works because it stops the behaviour in that instance but it often simply suppresses behaviour which in turn can result in more deep-rooted problems that can be harder to treat. Beware of quick fixes and anyone who claims they can ‘fix’ your pet.
Poof and it’s gone!! Not quite
An example in human life is that polish you can place on your fingers to stop you biting your nails! While this is fine, it doesn’t get rid of whatever reason you’re biting your nails in the first place – if it’s because of underlying anxiety that will still be there.
I’m not misbehaving – promise
With animals they aren’t exhibiting a behaviour because you don’t like it, they’re doing it because it meets a need of theirs. They don’t know that behaviours upset you and they don’t do things to annoy you – they don’t have the brain capacity for that. Anthropomorphising our pets can lead us to think that they are doing things to upset us such as “peeing on the bed” because they know we’re going away or “toileting in our absence” as a protest. When actually, these behaviours may be because of a medical reason or because of underlying stress or anxiety. A cat may have trouble reaching a litter tray because they have arthritis or because they have a weak bladder or urine infection. Always go to your vet in the first instance to rule out anything medical.