The Problem with Treating Dogs Like Children

[Baby voice] “You’re the cutest thing ever. I could just eat you up you little fuzzy rascal. And those widdle feet. They smell like Cheetos!”

I’ve done it. I bet you’ve done it too. Talked to your dog like she’s a baby.

But if we always treat our dogs like babies, are we missing out?

A golden retriever puppy is not a child.

You don’t have to speak “baby” to me. Of course, if you have a cookie, I don’t mind that much if you do.


If Dogs are Children, Are We the Parents?

I don’t mind the term “pet parent.” In some ways, it makes perfect sense.

We provide for our dogs, raise them to be polite, and keep them safe.

But unlike human children, we don’t send them off to the wide world to create lives for themselves. In that sense, dogs are like permanent children.

And yet an adult dog can do things that no child, or even most adults, ever could.

How Dogs Aren’t Children

If Honey and I were lost in the woods, I’d rely on her the way she often relies on me.

For one thing, she has better tools than I do: claws, sharp teeth, good balance, and a super hero nose. She has strong problem solving skills. And she’s extremely motivated to find food.

I think the reason we find it easy to slip into treating our dogs like children is because we don’t expose them (or ourselves) to physical challenges often enough. (Animal Planet, when are you coming out with Naked and Afraid and a Schnauzer?)

Honey the Golden Retriever is a puppy, not a child.

I’m not a baby. I’m a fierce hunter who just killed this vicious stuffie.


And that’s the big problem with treating dogs like children. We miss out on how amazing they are as adult animals.

The idea that we could need our dogs to help us survive takes our relationship with them to a whole new level, far beyond that of parent and child.

But then again, I don’t have a teenager in my house to help me improve my Facebook settings and troubleshoot my wireless model troubles. So maybe dogs are more like kids than I thought.

If you find this topic as interesting as I do, check out the comments in my post, What Does Your Dog Call You? They’re fabulous! And you’ll probably also enjoy Alexandra Horowitz’s Is Your Dog Smarter Than a 2 Year Old. Horowitz is a professor of psychology and expert in dog cognition.

Your Turn: When are you most likely to think of your dog as a child? And when are you least likely to see him as a child?




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  1. Yes, we are Mom’s “girls”, she says we will always be her babies, especially since she doesn’t have human ones. Sometimes she treats us like dogs, but most of the time we are her kids and it seems that we are all pretty happy that way most of the time. We don’t help with computer issues either but have been known to cause them by hitting some key stroke combo on the keyboard or unplugging something.

  2. Agreed! Even though Sage is ‘my little girl’, she also is a dog. And letting her be a dog keeps everyone grounded…sometimes right next to me on the couch! :)

    Sage’s ‘Mom’

  3. I’m guilty of treating Mr. Gatsby and Hattie Mae like children a lot. But I also make sure they get to be dogs. I think I have a healthy mix going on…at least I’d like to think that.

  4. Interesting post – and I went back to the previous one too. Not truly happy with any of the labels for me, but slip into momz & dadz on the blog just for simplicity. We spoiled our Sally terribly,and did treat her like a kid – but we got her at 8 weeks, so it was hard not to. As we’ve had more dogs that have come to us as seniors, that’s become less of an issue. I don’t refer to the asm ‘the kids’ but as ‘the dogs’. And since so much of our lives revolves around “SlimDoggy” our business…and our dog…he is much more of a partner to us now.

  5. I refer to both the dog and the cats as my “babies.” Got a problem with that? :)

    In all seriousness, there *are* parallels. I teach my kids manners. I try to teach my dog manners. I hope my kids will be kind; I hope my dog will be gentle. You’re never finished raising your kids, you never finish training your dog. Though there’s a better chance of the kids not sleeping in your bed at some point. The dog will never leave.

    I’ve given up on the cats.

  6. I am one that doesn’t go for calling my dogs my furkids or furbabies, etc. They are just Jimmy and Wilson, the boys, or our dogs. They are definitely spoiled but that doesn’t mean I treat them like kids.

    However, John does refer to my obsession with agility and agility trials as taking Jimmy to “dog soccer”. Our next door neighbor drives her 14 yo daughter all over creation to soccer tournaments, and I do the same thing w/ Jimmy as our agility trials are usually in indoor soccer arenas. LOL!

  7. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom says:

    Okay, here’s the way I see it: I am responsible for my dogs’ health, safety, behavior, etc., just as I would be if they were human kids, so if I want to call them my “fur-kids” or “fur-babies” that is up to me and NO ONE else.

    Yes, I’m guilty of talking to them in a baby voice at times. BUT I try to treat them like dogs. I let them be dogs so long as they’re being well-behaved dogs. When Ducky torments Shadow, she gets put in her place quickly. And if Shadow tells her off first, I don’t get upset with Shadow but Ducky gets some discipline from me too. No hitting or anything like that…just put away from Shadow and told firmly to Stay. She usually has a look on her face like she’s pouting, but I know she has no idea what the big deal is all about. It’s just me humanizing her facial expressions.

    Okay so I treat my dogs like kids sometimes — they are my pride and joy, my best friends, my constant companions, and my confidants. When was the last time you trusted a talkative child with a family secret?! I can trust my girls with any and all of my secrets.

  8. I call my dogs “my boys” or “my babies” most of the time, but John and I have never called ourselves “mom” or “dad.” We’ve always been “lady” and “man.” I think the idea of being pet parents is spot on. We’re responsible for teaching them to be good citizens and have nice manners. We’re responsible for their health, wellbeing, and safety. All parental responsibilities. I think the difference, though, is when people want their dogs to be furry little people instead of dogs. When that happens, I think people miss the beauty of dogs being dogs!

  9. Love the pup killing the stuffie photo. 😀 My dogs are my children. It doesn’t matter how old or adult they get, I will probably always consider them my children. When do I consider them most like children? When they do naughty stuff like steal vegetables from my garden or bark at every little thing.

  10. Realistically, I have to be *more* careful of Silas than I would of a child. I think a situation would have to escalate pretty wildly for him to bite someone, but it’s a possibility (as it is with all dogs). We live in an urban area. In that extremely worst case scenario, I suspect he would be put to sleep. Being irresponsible or inattentive is literally gambling with his life, exactly because he *isn’t* a baby. Dogs are capable of doing genuine harm.

    That’s the bad side of “your dog isn’t a baby,” I guess.

  11. I am the Owner of my dogs in that I’m responsible for their well-being: food, water, shelter, exercise, training. I am also the Mom; not because I see them as children, I truly don’t though I will say “Come along, babes (or) pups!” As the Mom (not Mom), I shower them with love like my mom did for us. I’m not a Guardian (they can’t make any legal or food decisions for themselves) nor am I their Parent (yet, I do use the words Pet Parent to distinguish between children and pets of adults).

    Dogs are dogs. To me, the kicker is, God created us ALL – and he created Dog before Man and Woman…We humans are Stewards of this Earth, and that includes the ocean, the lands, and all within them especially those who cannot speak for themselves.

  12. Guilty of the baby talk. But, I do regard Torrey more of a big dog than Roxy, simply because she is. She is lots younger, but smarter, and way more in tune with what is happening around us.

  13. thought provoking post. I do see my dogs as my canine kids in a way; although I do bristle when people say “It’s only because you don’t have children yet. Once you’ve got kids, you’ll forget the dogs”. I think you can do both – see them as your babies and still appreciate their awesomeness as adults. There are many times that my dogs have saved my sanity and provided me with peace; ie. looked after me like they were my parents, rather than the other way round.

  14. When I want my dachshunds to pay close attention to me, I call out “Dogs!”. Which I suppose shows that while I often take care of them and spoil them like little furry relations of mine, deep down I respect and love and WANT their dogness. They are dogs. A special relationship exists. They are so much more than pseudo children.

  15. I think I talk baby talk sometimes, but not all of the time. Most of the time I call the dogs “sweetie” or “pumpkin” the same way as I would human children, if I had any. I do think that when I talk to other people about them, I might call them the “kids” but I also refer to them as “the dogs”. Perhaps those of us who don’t have human children, or whose children are grown and gone, are more likely to treat our dogs as our children? But I don’t dress my dogs in cute little outfits either, so I don’t try to humanize them that way either. OK, I want to put cute little pj’s on Cricket, but my hubby won’t let me! :)

  16. It’s interesting because I’ve thought about this a lot. I think part of the reason dogs appeal to us is because they are sort of like children in the way that they bond with their parents/owners. I do talk baby-talk sometimes, but I try to keep in mind that Zora is a dog – not a little person. And I definitely don’t get into dressing up pets like people, but that’s just me.

  17. Baby talk drives me bananas… whether it’s directed to dogs or babies. If someone excessively baby talks to my dog, I explain “he doesn’t speak English” in a super passive aggressive way to shut it down. It rarely works. I even once had a vet that baby talked to Moses and then looked at me and used the same voice and demeanour! (I say “once” because we’ve never been back to her – hard to take someone as a serious professional when they baby talk to your face!)

    I think the dogs-as-kids thing can get out of hand to the point that it’s detrimental and confusing to the dog (e.g., carrying them everywhere and not letting them walk) but the term fur-kids will slip from me every now and again, too.

    I think a lot of it is semantics – “owner” implies property, so a lot of people don’t like that term. “Parent” implies kids, which a lot of other people don’t like. There’s a campaign here by Pet Plant stores for the term “guardian”, but I honestly think that’s simply got too many syllables to catch on.

    Mostly, I don’t care about the terminology if it communicates effectively and if, in practice, people are still recognizing that their dogs are… well… DOGS.

  18. Great post!

    I do think of my dogs as children, but I work hard (on myself) to make sure I treat them like dogs too. I let them enjoy getting muddy, splashing in puddles, running off to explore new things.

    I want them to enjoy every single moment as dogs so I back off a little, put my dog mom hat down, and let them go nuts.