More Than Mortal

The science of the human quest for meaning, significance, and self-transcendence.

My Dog is Not an Animal

Do people dress their dogs in clothes to make them more than mortal?

I have always wondered why people dress their dogs in clothing as if they were human. A lot of people would probably say they do it just for fun. Maybe this is true. Dogs in sweaters and Halloween costumes are cute. But is it also possible that there is a deeper motive for such behavior?

In fact, it is not just clothing. People regularly treat their dogs like people. I once saw a television program about people who cook gourmet meals for their dogs. And we all have those friends or family members who insist on referring to their dogs as their children. I have both kids and a dog and I can tell you with confidence they are not the same. The question remains though. Why do people want to view their dogs (and maybe other pets as well) as humanlike?

Research on the human effort to deny mortality may provide some clues. As I discussed in a previous post, humans are uniquely aware of their biological nature and are not particularly excited about their physical vulnerabilities. We do not want to see ourselves as in the same boat as other forms of life – organisms that will one day die and disappear forever. We want to see ourselves as meaningful beings. We want to feel more significant than other forms of life. Thus, we go to great lengths to distinguish ourselves from other animals. We strive to be civilized, to camouflage our creaturely nature.

So what about dogs? One possibility is that because we feel a special bond with our pets, we want to extend our feelings of species superiority to them. Therefore, we utilize some of the cultural practices that elevate us above other animals to similarly elevate them.

Maybe we do dress up our dogs just for fun. But perhaps part of what drives the way we treat and interact with our four-legged friends is an unconscious desire to perceive their existence as meaningful. We want to be more than mortal and maybe we want the same for our animal companions.

 

Clay Routledge is an associate professor of Psychology at North Dakota State University.

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