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Doggie Devotion: Why We Treat Dogs Like Children


Peter Gray, Anthropology Professor, UNLV

BY MARIE ANDRUSEWICZ -- What are the advantages of owning a dog vs. parenting a child, besides the obvious savings on college tuition?

University of Las Vegas Nevada Anthropologist Peter Gray conducted a study that shows there are actually some strong correlations between the two commitments.

For starters, with both parenthood and dog ownership, if you’re doing it right, you’re in charge.

“It’s an asymmetrical relationship,” says Gray. “Parents obviously have control, as it were, over the kids in that the decision-making is not necessarily an egalitarian one.”

Anthropologist Peter Gray and his dog Puppers. (R. Marsh Starks / UNLV Photo Services)

Dog owners also have to set boundaries and enforce acceptable behavior as in, "Get those dirty paws off the couch, Cody." (See also: "No! Bad dog!")

But that doesn’t explain the dewy-eyed devotion of some dog owners toward their pets.

“There’s something about caring for something or someone else that’s kind of helpless but really needs you,” says Gray. “That’s true of an infant, but it’s also true of a puppy whose very existence is dependent upon us providing food, shelter, and other things.”

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Gray’s interest in studying the parental level of involvement that some dog owners engage in with their pets – the official title of his study is “Raising canine: Cross-species parallels in parental investment” – stemmed in part from his own interest in fatherhood, both as an anthropologist and as a parent. But it also came as a result of noticing the recent explosion of dog boutiques and parks.

“There seem to be more and more storefronts dedicated to dog services,” says Gray.

Some of his favorite items include seat belts designed to keep dogs safe in cars and booster chairs so your canine can join you at the table for doggie dining.  

Gray says it’s only been recently that we’ve become so indulgent with our furry friends.

“Anyone remember where Snoopy slept, a couple of generations or just a generation ago? Snoopy slept outside in that doghouse,” says Gray. “Where’s Snoopy now? It would either be next to the bed or on the bed. That’s just one example of how quickly things have changed.”

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