Why We Treat Our Pets Like People

More on PawNation: anthropomorphize, cats, dogs, Harvard, human, psychology, traits

cute dog in stroller picture
Decked out and riding in the stroller. tanakawho, Flickr

Sure, some pet owners treat their dogs like dogs. But plenty of us treat our pets like furry little people (or even better than people). In fact, pets have become such important parts of our families that traditional pet names such as Fluffy and Fido have, in recent years, given way to adorable human names such as Max and Lily, "Psychology Today" reports.

What gives?

Psychology researcher Adam Waytz of Harvard University studies why people anthropomorphize, or attribute human traits to animals and objects. In a recent study, Waytz found a variety of explanations for the all-too-common behavior.

Not surprisingly, loneliness can drive anthropomorphism. In Waytz's study, people who were lonesome were more likely to describe their pets as having human qualities like thoughtfulness.

But loneliness is hardly the only reason that people treat their pets like kids, Waytz says. He found humans may have a natural tendency to anthropomorphize objects and animals because it helps them make sense of the world around them.

"People might humanize pets for any number of reasons," Waytz told Paw Nation. "I imagine that non-lonely people may already have a sense of affiliation with their pets and want to anthropomorphize them because they like them so much."

That makes sense to Lisa Hanock-Jasie of New York. "We treat Hugo, our 8-year-old Belgian shepherd/chow mix, as if he were a child because he is our baby," she says. "We celebrate his birthdays as we celebrate our own. His photos are included in our family album. [One] reason we treat him as a furry person is that he actually understands what we say, even full sentences. He's very intelligent." she tells Paw Nation.

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