Are dogs persons? Personhood through the human lens…

Here is one of the papers I submitted for my Masters in Anthrozoology which I wanted to share with you all:

Humans often accept dogs (canis lupus familiaris) as being somewhat human-like and part of the family (Shir-Vertesh, 2012; Blouin, 2013; Irvine, 2004b; Albert and Bulcroft, 1988; Irvine, 2004a; Irvine, 2004b; Beck and Katcher, 1996; Cain, 1985; Hickrod and Schmitt, 1982), especially throughout the “Western” world, yet it is fairly common to deny dogs as being persons (Blouin, 2013; Shir-Vertesh, 2012; Lawrence, 1995; Herzog, 2013b; DeMello, 2012; Irvine, 2004b). Although personhood does not equate humanness, this contradiction makes the human-dog relationship a compelling topic to explore further. Defining personhood can be a matter of some debate. In brief, a person is a conscious, moral entity or corporation (“artificial person”), who could be given legal rights (Knight, 2005; Herzog, 2013b). Accepting personhood in domesticated dogs could benefit our interactions and understandings of them, as well as the welfare and treatment of dogs. This essay examines how a dog’s personhood is perceived through the human lens; How and why we deny their personhood, why dogs can be viewed as persons and the future of humans accepting dogs as persons – focusing on dogs in Europe and North America. Although my career as an assistance dog trainer has led me to view dogs as persons, this essay aims to address a spectrum of opinions.

It can be natural to draw the conclusion that being a person is a matter of being “human”. This is not the case, especially legally (Herzog, 2013b; Knight, 2005). Humans are a species, while the meaning of personhood varies greatly depending on who you ask. Possessing personhood does not necessarily or only mean having a sense of self. Corporations, ships and even Hindu idols (Herzog, 2013b) can all be considered persons and, as we will explore in this essay, so can dogs. In Europe and the United States, personhood is often viewed as being exclusively human and entailing language, intentionality, reasoning, and moral awareness (Willerslev, 2007). On the other hand, to the Yukaghirs, for example, “ … persons can take a variety of forms, of which a human being is only one” (Willerslev, 2007, p. 2). The Runa also believe that “… all sentient beings, be they spirit, animal, or human, see themselves as persons” (Kohn, 2007, p. 7). Perhaps everything views itself as a person, whether humans believe it or not, but we can not conceive this while looking at these beings through our human lens.

Not only do humans view the world through a human lens, every entity has an individual lens through which they understand their environment. Because of this, personhood is not identical across cultures (Rasmussen, 2008) and even within cultures there are varying opinions of what personhood entails. This is tightly linked to personal experiences and social, political, economic and historical contexts (Rasmussen, 2008). Addressing these many, perhaps countless, definitions of personhood does not serve the purpose of this paper and may be best saved for another time. That being said, it is important to remember that cultures and the individuals within them have different understandings of personhood (Willerslev, 2007) which may not align with how I speak of personhood in this paper.

Even individuals who accept personhood in certain nonhuman beings or objects, may not see dogs as persons. In their culture dogs may be viewed as “dirty” or have been used against them in gang, military or other violent interactions (Wiggett-Barnard and Steel, 2008), causing a negative perception of dogs in certain communities (Ramirez, 2006). “Dog people like to forget that dogs were also lethal guided weapons and instruments of terror in the European conquest … and tracking hounds terrorized slaves and prisoners …” (Haraway, 2003, p. 13). While for “dog people” personhood in dogs may be a given, it is understandable that someone who has had a dog used as a weapon against them or been otherwise attacked, could have a difficult time acknowledging dogs as persons. Persons are present everywhere, taking a myriad of forms and meanings, making it a title which is in the “eyes” of the beholder (Rasmussen, 2008). Kohn also mentions this when speaking of the Runa; “… although all beings see themselves as persons, the ways in which they are seen by other beings depend on the ontological makeup of both observer and observed” (Kohn, 2007, p. 7).

Bekoff states; “… Some  animals can justifiably be called ‘persons,’ whereas humans do not always fulfill the criteria for the granting of ‘personhood’” (2001, p. 616). Knight mirrors this sentiment; “Just as people are not always persons, so persons are not always people” (2005, p. 2). So personhood can be linked to the actions of a being and how they are perceived by others, meaning that dogs can also be seen as possessing personhood in certain situations and not in others. Some humans may buy a dog when it is convenient and then see them as an object or a nuisance later (Shir-Vertesh, 2012; Knight, 2005; Blouin, 2013; Saemann-Ischenko, 2010). Additionally, persons can change in a number of contexts. De Waal words it nicely; “I re-enter my Dutch persona when I am with my family, feel sort-of-French when visiting my in-laws in the Loire Valley, and … familiar with the values, lifestyles, and cultural mix of the United States” (de Waal, 2001, p. 13). In my experience, dogs act differently depending on whether they are at home, playing or meeting a dog for the first time.

As someone who lives with dogs, I have personal relationships with and have “personalized” them (Knight, 2005), allowing me to accept them as persons. Getting to know someone, their name, their face and personality, causes us to see them as “somebody”, or a person, versus a being who has no meaning to us (Knight, 2005). “That an animal too can become a somebody in this way might seem counter-intuitive, at first glance, given that animals have long been understood as substitutable items in a common category” (Knight, 2005, p. 2).

This brings up the question of whether personhood in humans and dogs is comparable. While surely up for interpretation, considering each individual human understands personhood differently, dogs may also have varied  definitions of personhood (Herzog, 2013a). To bring us closer to understanding dog cognition and personhood, Berns (2013) undertook a large project. He trained a team of twelve dogs to go into an M.R.I. scanner, unrestrained, wear earmuffs and hold perfectly still (Berns, 2013). He found that the caudate nucleus (between the brainstem and the cortex) lit up on the M.R.I. when dogs smelled a familiar human or saw hand signals indicating food (Berns, 2013). Berns concludes that this proves dogs have a “… level of sentience comparable to that of a human child” (2013, p. 2) and that they are persons (2013, p. 1).

Herzog disagrees on how Berns came to the conclusion that dogs are persons (Herzog, 2013a), stating: “… I am baffled by the claim that neural activity in the caudate nucleus bestows ‘personhood’ on a creature” (Herzog, 2013a). Even scientific data will not convince everyone of personhood in dogs nor will everyone agree with the research process or definition of personhood used. Science may not completely prove that animals have complex emotional lives (or personhood), but it also cannot prove otherwise (Bekoff, 2001). Yet, research on cognitive and emotional capacities of nonhuman animals is making it difficult for humans to distance themselves from nonhuman animals (Irvine, 2004b).

What makes the topic of personhood in dogs so interesting, is that we continue to make discoveries about their cognition (Berns, 2013), talk to them as if they understand us (DeMello, 2012) and generally live closely with them as we have for thousands of years – yet we tend to deny dogs as being persons. “Even though researchers do not see animals as ‘miniature people,’ they are used as a form of stand-in – substituting for human physiology, anatomy, and even psychological and emotional capacities” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 9). In recent years, dogs have even been recognized as developing PTSD, similar to humans (DeMello, 2012). Does this not hint, at the very least, towards a similarity between human personhood and cognition and that of dogs?

The answer to this question will vary greatly. People who live with dogs are extremely diverse and differ in how they view, care for and understand their companions (Blouin, 2013). In a survey of around 2,000 people living with nonhuman animals in the United States, 95% considered their companion animals as friends (Stallones et al., 1988) and the number of households with dogs has increased by 37.2% from the years 1996 to 2006 (Blouin, 2013). “According to a 2002 American Animal Hospital Association pet owners’ survey, 73 percent of Americans have signed a greeting card from their dog, 86 percent include pets in holiday celebrations, 46 percent plan all or most of their free time around their animals, 58 percent include pets in family portraits, and almost half have more photos of their pets than their partners” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 20). Humans clearly view their dogs as part of the family and viewing them as infants or “babies” is also very common (Shir-Vertesh, 2012; Blouin, 2013; Irvine, 2004b; Saemann-Ischenko, 2010). Treating dogs as infants is one of the more extreme ways in which humans are beginning to see their dogs as “human”, yet the personhood and individual needs of the dog continue to be ignored.

Blouin describes this as a “humanistic orientation” (Blouin, 2013). “This category involves an understanding of animals as unique and extremely valuable” (Blouin, 2013, p. 282). Acting as though our dogs are infants does not necessarily give them the freedom they deserve as potential persons (Saemann-Ischenko, 2010). They are not directly abused and are often in good health, but being treated as a human most likely does not benefit them (Blouin, 2013; Irvine, 2004b; Saemann-Ischenko, 2010). It is a fairly anthropocentric view (viewing humans as the most important element) as well as anthropomorphic (attributing human characteristics or behaviour to a nonhuman animal). It focuses on what humans want, need and receive out of the relationship with a dog (Blouin, 2013), but not what the dog needs. “… Such distancing devices are only necessary when there is already a recognition that the ‘other’ in question is a ‘person’ but one whose needs and desires must be disregarded because they contradict those of the ‘anthropomorphiser’” (Hurn, 2011, p.114).

Instead of acknowledging what dogs need and our responsibilities toward them, someone with a humanistic orientation portrays how helpless (in their opinion) the dog is and how much they, as the human, are needed. Having a dog “baby”, also gives humans love and affection they may desire and the thought of not having a dog’s affection could keep humans from acknowledging dogs as persons. This act of treating dogs as infants versus persons, could be considered “othering” (DeMello, 2012) – perceiving a being as something else or “other”, in order to justify treating them differently.

Acknowledging that our dogs are persons, just as our children are, and treating them similarly as persons, but not as humans, could be titled egomorphism (Milton, 2005). Egomorphism means we see other animals as beings similar to us, in the sense that they are individuals or persons, but not humans (which they are not) as anthropomorphism does. As Milton says; “… I understand my cat, or a humpback whale, or my human friends on the perception that they are ‘like me’ rather than ‘human-like’” (Milton, 2005, p. 261). Living in cultures which anthropomorphise dogs, it may be unusual to some to have an egomorphic view of them, but it is a crucial step in accepting dogs as persons.

When we look at domesticated dogs, especially those being treated as children substitutes, we may not clearly see them as persons, because their behaviour with humans varies greatly from how they act in the wild (Bekoff, 2001). Our assessment of a dog’s true personhood, in other words, may be biased by our history with and influence over them (Bekoff, 2001; Blouin, 2013). If we compare a domesticated dog living in a home with humans to a wolf living in a free-roaming group, we will likely see a difference in personhood, morality, fairness and play (Beck and Pierce, 2009).

Despite the fact that we don’t experience our dogs playing the way a wild wolf or dog might, their charisma with humans influences why so many view their dogs as friends (Stallones et al., 1988). This is not to say that everyone feels the same way; “… Six to eight million dogs and cats are surrendered to US shelters every year, and three to four million are euthanized” (Blouin, 2013, p. 280). One might think that if we truly saw our dogs as persons, we would go to great lengths to avoid surrendering them to a shelter. As Sanders has said; “… a decision to employ therapy or training versus a decision to surrender the animal to a shelter could well depend on whether an owner views the actor as a ‘good dog’” (Sanders et al., 1999, p. 33). Not seeing your companion as a “good dog”, could at times be interlinked with not seeing him as a person.

While this may be true for some, it is important to remember that humans live with dogs for varied reasons and were raised viewing dogs and personhood differently (DeMello, 2012). Many humans keep dogs primarily as guard dogs, for hunting, or as a way to teach their children responsibility – making dogs not only occasional subjects in a partnership, but also objects which can be used (Blouin, 2013). Keeping working dogs may not correlate directly with viewing them as not being persons. That being said, having a dog for a specific purpose or “job”, can blur the line between person and object. Distancing themselves from their working dogs and viewing them as non-persons is perhaps necessary for some, either to consciously avoid becoming too attached to a dog or due to moral schizophrenia (Francione, 2000). Moral schizophrenia is a cognitive confusion which occurs when we benefit from a dog’s work, for example, while also caring for and having a relationship with them (DeMello, 2012).

When viewing dogs as objects, discarding them is fairly common once expectations aren’t met or time is lacking (Shir-Vertesh, 2012; Blouin, 2013; DeMello, 2012; Hurn, 2011). Blouin interviewed a woman named Mary, who observed;

“… I’ve met guys …  who say they’ve gotten puppies from the animal shelter to meet girls. … I’ve actually talked to people who say they got dogs for college to keep them company while they’re away but who plan on giving it to the shelter as soon as they’re done with college” (2013, p. 283).

While some humans acquire dogs, planning to surrender them soon after, this is not always the case. Often the dog’s age plays a role and a human could buy a puppy, viewing him as a person to some extent, until the puppy enters puberty. During this time, the adolescent dog will most likely act destructively or simply have more energy and may be seen as a nuisance or even as a non-person. This is why, in my experience, many dogs are sold between 10 months and 2 years of age. While the age of a dog does not change their personhood, it could affect whether a human views them as possessing personhood or not. In these situations where dogs are sold, it is made clear that they are legal property and usually not given more rights than a table or sofa (Herzog, 2013b). There are laws in place stating what we can or can’t do to or with “things” (in this case dogs), but this does not mean that the dogs themselves have rights as persons (Herzog, 2013b).

Perceiving dogs as objects and not persons has a historical origin; “During Classical times in the Western world, the boundary between humans and animals was relatively fluid; however, as Christianity emerged and gained authority, religious leaders and philosophers such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas argued for greater differences between humans and animals as a way to differentiate between Christians and pagans” (Lorenz, 1995, p. 76). Genesis 1:26, also states that “man” should have dominion over everything that swims, flies and walks the land (Gospel Gateway, 2011). The Catholic Church had similar views, believing that keeping animals was a form of heresy, because it was considered to blur the human-nonhuman animal boundary (DeMello, 2012; Irvine, 2004b), along with Ancient Greeks who denied emotion, intellect and thought to nonhuman animals (Wise, 2001). When speaking of the Yanomamö, a Priest said, “… they act like animals and lack the essential faculties of being human” (Chagnon, 1983, p. 205), essentially stating that being a nonhuman animal makes you subhuman and not a person.

St. Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century theologian, believed that

“… the world is divided into persons who have reason and thus immortal souls, and nonpersons. Nonpersons are essentially things that can be used in any way to serve the interests of people” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 18).

Even much later, in the seventeenth century, philosophers such as French philosopher René Descartes, wrote that nonhuman animals lacked a soul or consciousness and were not able to feel pain (Descartes, 1991). Descartes (and Aristotle), believed that the ability to speak was one of the main factors separating humans and animals (Descartes, 1991; DeMello, 2012) – meaning that animals were truly seen as objects and not persons. Descartes did not change his opinion when it came to dogs; he dissected them while they were alive and conscious and explained that the screams of pain coming from the dogs were nothing more than mechanical, instinctual sounds, similar to a machine (DeMello, 2012). These nightmarish pains were not only inflicted upon dogs by Descartes. Surely, one might assume that before his time humans also did not acknowledge dogs as persons and treated them poorly. Even to this day, although perhaps not to the extent of Descartes, many view dogs as objects to be used. An example comes from Blouin’s interview with John; “If you’re religious you believe God didn’t put us here to abuse the animals, but he put them here for our benefit, for our welfare, but on a different level, than a human level—a totally different level” (2013, p. 287).

Nevertheless, religious practices can differ, as do the individuals practicing them;

“… Many Christians take a different view, arguing that Jesus preached compassion and mercy. These Christians recognize that animals do have intrinsic (rather than utilitarian) value and have a place in God’s kingdom” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 15).

In Native American traditions, for example, dogs are a symbol for friendship, loyalty and guardians of the dead (DeMello, 2012). Mummified dogs have also been found in tombs along with “their” deceased humans (DeMello, 2012), as well as deliberately buried together with other dogs, dating back to around 8,500 years ago (Morey and Wiant, 1992). Perhaps some favoured dogs were seen as persons and this changed amongst the general population over time.

Even the great thinkers did not all share Descartes or Aquinas’ views. Locke, Voltaire (1796) and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1984), to name a few, disagreed with Descartes for varied reasons. Locke believed that we should treat animals, in this case dogs, “equally”, because that is the best choice for human society (DeMello, 2012). Rousseau, on the other hand, stated that animals should be protected because they, too, are sentient creatures (1984). Rousseau wrote this long after Descartes’ time, proving how our perception towards dogs, for example, has slowly changed over the years – from extreme views such as that of Descartes and Aristotle, to modern times where many people treat their dogs fairly well, but have yet to acknowledge them as persons.

Some religions and thinkers in the past based their views on the fact that nonhuman animals cannot speak, are not rational or any of a multitude of reasons given over the years. If we were to believe that our dogs are not persons due to their lack of spoken language – what of small children, the emotionally and intellectually disabled or someone in a coma? Are they no longer persons? What of dogs who know over one hundred words, “… Koko the signing gorilla or Kanzi, the lexigram-using bonobo” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 18)? If we do not believe that dogs are persons, it is important to consider whether our “rules for personhood” apply to all humans or only the general population.

While religion as well as philosophers and thinkers of the present and past play a large role in how we view dogs, it is not the only factor. Most humans who care for dogs will know how costly it can become (Saemann-Ischenko, 2010; King et al., 2011). In 2009 alone, “… Americans spent more than $45 billion on pet food, toys, clothing, travel paraphernalia, and other pet-related” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 8). The cost has only risen since then, as has the number of dogs kept as companions. Often marketed in a way that portrays them as “cute”, rather than persons (Bekoff, 2001), this not only makes dogs more marketable, but viewing dogs as persons could lose businesses large amounts of money if it led to dogs no longer being kept as companions for ethical reasons. This could be motivation enough for many corporations to steer humans away from viewing their dogs as persons with rights.

In many “Western” cultures, we see something human-like in dogs and not in other animals we decide to eat (DeMello, 2012). The main reason for this is our choice to keep dogs as companions and call cows, for example, livestock (living stock). Some cultures may eat either dogs or cows, for example, such as Hindus (DeMello, 2012) and the animal on the menu is less likely to be viewed as a person, although some hunters think otherwise (Kohn, 2007). Calling animals, in this case dogs, “… pets, or meat, or lab animals—has to do with where they live, and what they are used for” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 3), as well as how we perceive their personhood.

This brings us to language and its effect. Some families use titles such as, “the dog”, “the pet” or “it” (nonperson titles) versus “he/she” or by name (person titles). As a result, family members may view dogs as not being persons because dogs were never addressed as such (Shir-Vertesh, 2012). Once we “… redefine the animals as pets … their person status changes not only in the family but also in the wider network of kin, friends, community, or country” (Shir-Vertesh, 2012, p. 427).

Many people also grow up in communities where words such as “bitch” or “dog” are used as insults. This has a huge effect on how we view and treat dogs, as well as women (Adams, 1995). “Women are called names such as … dog…; by symbolically associating them with animals, they are trivialized” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 13). While this is true for women, it is also true for dogs; Using a word that simply means “female dog” as an aggressive insult, exposes how we view dogs, whether consciously or subconsciously (DeMello, 2012). The fact that it is a great insult to be called a “bitch” or a “dog”, speaks volumes about how we view dogs as subhuman, non-persons. Even how we use language to address pain and suffering in our companions distances us from them and their potential personhood. For instance, using the word “discomfort” rather than “pain” (DeMello, 2012), could avoid alluding to true emotions in a nonhuman animal.

Language leads us to the topic of imagery; In many fairy tales, such as Little Red Riding Hood (Grimm and et al., 1993), wolves are notoriously displayed as hair-raising “killers”. While we might assume that most humans don’t view dogs as actual wolves, I wonder if the dog, being such a close relative of the wolf (Bloch, 2004; Piturru, 2014; Feddersen-Petersen, 2014; Handelman, 2010), is perhaps put in the same category. It is common for dog trainers to say that dogs behave as wolves (Piturru, 2014). While this is partially true, in some cases it is simply the trainer placing the dog in a position below humans and personhood. Nature, and the wolves and dogs amongst it, is often thought of as a dangerous, vicious place, but “… nature is not always ‘red in tooth and claw’” (Bekoff, 2001, p. 624).

When we contemplate the personhood of wild nonhuman animals, we might focus more on the animal as an individual or as a species (Bekoff and Pierce, 2009). When it comes to domesticated dogs, it can be easy to assess a dog’s potential personhood based on their owner; Their status, what breed they chose, what they named them, as well as how well behaved the dog is. Considering this, it can be easy to see that people often buy dogs to symbolize their status (DeMello, 2012; Derr, 1997) or how they wish to be perceived (Hurn, 2011; Irvine, 2004b). A large Pitbull named “Bandit” being led on a tight chain leash by an owner with a rugged exterior, may be perceived noticeably different than a purebred, well-behaved poodle named “Prince” with a fancy haircut. The former could be seen in a more negative light, not be welcome to come physically close to humans and have difficulty being seen as a person. The latter may receive abundant affection and specific compliments about his personality, making personhood seem more plausible to most. This stems from the common, perhaps subconscious perception that an animal’s appearance indicates their personality (Irvine, 2004a) and personhood.

Not only does a dog’s exterior, name and behaviour affect whether they are acknowledged as persons, so does the human they are with. Dogs can symbolise their human’s identity (Sanders, 1999) and personhood, but perhaps a human does the same to their dog? If the dogs switched places and the poodle was with the human with a rugged exterior and aggressive personality, would we still perceive the poodle the same way? In the past, “… purebred pets were associated with elites, but the poor kept animals that the wealthy saw as dirty and diseased” (DeMello, 2012, Chapter 8) and this often rings true in modern times.

Yet, it could also be that we either attract dogs who have a certain sense of self or personhood and that dogs are attracted to certain humans with similar displays of personhood. Sara Gruen, in her novel Ape House, wrote that the more time she spent with bonobos, the more human they became and the more she became a bonobo (Gruen, 2011). Has something similar developed between dogs and humans over thousands of years to a much larger and complex extent? Perhaps dogs have become more human and we, in turn, have become more dog – being able to understand and communicate with little effort. This “merging” of characteristics may not only have altered the personhood of dogs as a whole and individually, but also the personhood of humans living with dogs.

Nevertheless, accepting dogs as persons does not automatically grant them legal personhood. Michael Mountain, an interviewee, said;

What a judge will have to consider first is whether a particular nonhuman animal is self-aware, has advanced cognitive abilities and is reasonably autonomous. If the answer is yes, then we can argue that this animal needs to be recognized as having certain basic legal rights – specifically the right to bodily liberty and bodily integrity. Not “human rights”, but rights appropriate to who he or she is. … By definition, if the judge – and then, more importantly, a state high court – agrees that she has this most basic legal right, then that means she is a legal person. (Not a human, not “people”, but a person)” (Herzog, 2013b).

Until it becomes common practice to make dogs legal persons, dogs are seen as property (Shir-Vertesh, 2012) and often treated as such. Although the treatment of dogs has greatly improved, it could be many years before dogs are considered legal persons globally (Berns, 2013).

How we treat dogs may differ if dogs become legal persons (Irvine, 2004b). “Granting this basic right to animals will mean abolishing institutionalized forms of animal exploitation, including the use of animals as food, clothing, and research subjects. It will also mean the end of pets and even companion animals” (Irvine, 2004b, p.14). New information is surfacing almost daily and slowly removing the perceived boundaries between humans and nonhuman animals – changing our outdated views on animal cognition and emotional capacities (Beck and Pierce, 2009; DeMello, 2012). This information is leading to a rise in nonhuman animals being acknowledged by law as sentient beings (Buchanan, 2015; UK Politics, 2017). While this does not mean that dogs, in this case, are seen as persons everywhere, it is a step in the right direction.

Technology is also altering our interactions with dogs, as well as potentially teaching us more about their personhood. The field of animal-computer interactions (ACI) “… is beginning to blur the boundaries between human and animal agency” (Mancini et al., 2017, p. 32). When analyzing dogs and technology, it is interesting that we may have an easier time acknowledging robots as persons than we do dogs. We can take the robot in Saudi Arabia who became a legal citizen (Lemon, 2017) as an example. If we made a robot a legal citizen and are publicly contemplating her personhood and wishes for her future, what does this prove about how we view our dogs with whom we’ve evolved together for thousands of years?

While humans across cultures have varied views on what it means to be a person and what roles dogs play in our lives, it is highly plausible that dogs are persons. This essay acts merely as an introduction to this wide-reaching and complex topic (both personhood, as well as dog cognition, emotions and status). How our assessments of dogs have been, and are, influenced by religion, environment, industries and language, as well as the matter of legal personhood have been addressed. Because personhood is defined differently by most individuals, there may not be one right or wrong answer to whether dogs are persons. Even if we agree that dogs are persons, how we view them as a part of society or our own lives may still vary and alter how we perceive their personhood. This makes a dog’s personhood and our understanding of it not only something personal for the dog, but also speaks volumes about us as humans. It is important to explore why and how people see dogs as persons and why some do not. This will help us better understand not only our dogs and how to interact with them, but ourselves as humans and the cultures we are a part of.



Adams, C. J., 1995. Animals and Women: Feminist Theoretical Explorations. Duke University Press.


Beck, A., and Katcher, A., 1996. Between Pets and People: The Importance of Animal Companionship. Indiana: Purdue University Press.


Bekoff, M., 2001. The evolution of animal play, emotions, and social morality: on science, theology, spirituality, personhood, and love. Zygon, 36 (4), 615-655.


Bekoff, M., and Pierce, J., 2009. Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals. University of Chicago Press.


Berns, G., 2013. Dogs are people, too. The New York Times, Oct, 5.


Bloch, G., 2004. Der Wolf im Hundepelz. The Czech Republic: Kosmos.


Blouin, D.D., 2013. Are Dogs Children, Companions, or Just Animals? Understanding Variations in People’s Orientations toward Animals. Anthrozoös, 26 (2), 279-294.


Buchanan, K., 2015. New Zealand: Animal Welfare Legislation Recognizes Animals as Sentient, Bans Cosmetic Testing. Library of Congress [online]. Available from: [Accessed 03 December 2017].


Bulcroft, B., and Albert, A., 1988. Pets, Families and the Life Course. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 50, 543–552.


Cain, A.O., 1985. Pets as Family Members. In Pets and the Family. New York: Haworth.


Chagnon, N., 1983. Yanomamö. The Fierce People. [Third Edition] New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston

DeMello, M., 2012. Animals and society: an introduction to human-animal studies [Kindle edition]. New York: Columbia University Press.

Derr, M., 1997. Dog’s Best Friend: Annals of the Dog-Human Relationship. New York: Holt.


Descartes, R., 1991. The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Translated by John Cottingham, Robert Stoothoff, and Dugald Murdoch. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


De Waal, F., 2001. The ape and the Sushi master: Cultural reflections by a primatologist. London: Penguin.


Feddersen-Petersen, D., 2014. Hunde-psychologie. The Czech Republic: Kosmos.


Francione, G. L., 2000. Introduction to Animal Rights: Your Child or the Dog? Philadelphia: Temple University Press.


Gospel Gateway, 2011. Bible Gateway [online]. Genesis 1:26 (King James Version). Available from: Genesis%201:26-28;&version=NKJV. [Accessed 28 November 2017].


Grimm, J., Grimm, W., Bell, A., Laimgruber, M., 1993. Little Red Cap: A Fairy Tale. North South Books.


Gruen, S., 2011. Ape House. New York: Spiegel & Grau.


Handelman, B., 2010. Hundeverhalten. The Czech Republic: Kosmos.


Haraway, D., 2003. The Companion Species Manifesto; Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness. Chicago: Prickly Paradigm Press.


Herzog, H., 2013a. Are Dogs People? Really? Why MRI studies of the canine brain do not prove that “dogs are people.” Psychology Today [online]. Available from: [Accessed 22 November 2017].


Herzog, H., 2013b. “Dogs ARE Persons!” (The Other Side of the Debate). Psychology Today [online]. Available from: [Accessed 18 November 2017].


Hickrod, L. J., and Schmitt, R. L., 1982. A Naturalistic Study of Interaction and Frame: The Pet. Urban Life, 11 (1), 55–77.


Hornaday, W.T., 1979. The minds and manners of wild animals. Mittal Publications.


Hurn, S., 2011. Dressing Down: Clothing animals, disguising animality? Civilisations, 59 (2), 109-124.


Irvine, L., 2004a. If You Tame Me: Understanding Our Connection With Animals (Animals, Culture, and Society). Philadelphia: Temple University Press.


Irvine, L., 2004b. “Pampered or enslaved? the moral dilemmas of pets”. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, 24 (9), 5-17.


King, T., Marston, L. C., Bennett, P.C., 2011. Breeding dogs for beauty and behaviour: Why scientists need to do more to develop valid and reliable behaviour assessments for dogs kept as companions. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 137, 1–12.


Knight, J., 2005. Animals in Person: Cultural Perspectives on Human-Animal Intimacy. Oxford: Berg.


Kohn, E., 2007. How dogs dream: Amazonian natures and the politics of transspecies engagement. American Ethnologist, 34 (1), 3-24.


Lawrence, E. A., 1995. Cultural perceptions of differences between people and animals: A key to understanding human–animal relationships. Journal of American Culture, 18, 75–82.


Lemon, J., 2017. Saudi Arabia’s robot citizen wants to be famous and have a child. Step Feed, [online]. Available from: [Accessed: 30 November 2017].


Mancini, C., Lawson, S. and Juhlin, O., 2017. Animal-Computer Interaction: The emergence of a discipline. Animal-Computer Interaction, International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 98.

Morey, D. F., and Wiant, M. D., 1992. Early Holocene Domestic Dog Burials From the North American Midwest. Current Anthropology, 33 (2), 224-229.

Nagasawa, M., Kikusui, T., Onaka, T. and Ohta, M., 2009. Dog’s gaze at its owner increases owner’s urinary oxytocin during social interaction. Hormones and Behavior, 55, 434–441.


Piturru, P., 2014. Lassie, Rex & Co. klären auf. Latvia: Kynos.


Ramirez, M., 2006. “My Dog’s Just Like Me”: Dog Ownership as a Gender Display. Symbolic Interaction, 29 (3), 373–391


Rasmussen, S., 2008. PERSONHOOD, SELF, DIFFERENCE, AND DIALOGUE (COMMENTARY ON CHAUDHARY). International Journal for Dialogical Science, 3 (1), 31-54.


Rousseau, J.J.  and Cranston, M., 1984. A Discourse on Inequality. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.


Saemann-Ischenko, R., 2010. Armer Hund. Germany: Books on Demand


Sanders, C. R., Rajecki, D.W., Rasmussen, J. L., Modlin, S. J., and Holder, A.M., 1999. Good Dog: Aspects of Humans’ Causal Attributions for a Companion Animal’s Social Behavior. Society and Animals, 7 (1), 17-34.


Shir-Vertesh, D., 2012. “Flexible Personhood”: Loving Animals as Family Members in Israel. American Anthropologist, 114 (3), 420-432.


Stallones, L., Marx, M. B., Garrity, T.F., and Johnson, T. P., 1988. Attachment to Companion Animals among Older Pet Owners. Anthrozoös, 2 (2), 118-124


Tuan, Y. F., 1984. Dominance and Affection. The Making of Pets. London: Yale University.


UK Politics, 2017. UK law ‘to recognise animal feelings’. BBC [online]. Available from: [Accessed 03 December 2017].


Voltaire, 1796. “Beasts.” The Philosophical Dictionary, for the Pocket. Catskill, NY: J. Fellows and E. Duyckinsk.


Wiggett-Barnard, C., Steel, H., 2008. The experience of owning a guide dog. Disability and Rehabilitation [online], 30 (14), 1014-1026.


Willerslev, R., 2007. Soul hunters: hunting, animism, and personhood among the Siberian Yukaghirs. University of California Press.


Wise, S. M., 2001. Dismantling the Barriers to Legal Rights for Nonhuman Animals. Animal Law 7, 9-18.


Leave a Reply