So many of us refer to our dogs as members of our family. We love them dearly and would do anything for them within our power. I share this same feeling and have even written my recent book "Being A Super Pet Parent" about our love for our dogs. In fact it was in writing my book that I became so aware of our language and how it impacts our relationship with our dogs.
First of all, when I was writing my book every time I referred to dogs as he, she, them, who, etc. Microsoft Word corrected me and told me to change my reference to it, that, what, etc. Dogs are viewed as objects in grammar etiquette. In fact my editor told me I needed to make a disclaimer in the beginning of my book to address this very issue, which I did. If you think about it our dogs are sentient beings who feel all the feelings we feel. How can objects be feeling beings? That in itself is a conflict. For everyone who has loved a dog, I know they do not think of their dog as an object but rather as a feeling being and one they love very much. But when language etiquette requires articles written and people speaking publicly about dogs...the need to be grammatically correct is always there. As a result on some level that influences our thinking about dogs.
Our law also defines dogs as "property". When there is a divorce the dog gets the same legal acknowledgement the furniture and other material objects do. The bright side is that more and more judges are inquiring about who cares for the dog and who spends time with the dog. Custody of the dog is sometimes more fairly decided even though the law as it stands today does not encourage that. And this too, at some level, affects our thinking about our relationship with our dogs.
Before Pet Parent became a preferred reference to some one with a pet in their life, it was common to say "pet owner". This is still used widely today. I see "pet owner" in print and I hear it said often, This implies that a pet owner "owns" their pet who is a sentient (feeling) being. Owning a feeling being is a conflict from my perspective. Owning implies owning something that is a material object. Owning an object makes it easier to dispose of the object. We have what has been referred to as the "disposable dog syndrome" in our country. It seems to me it is easier to surrender a dog that is socially thought of and referred to as an "it" that is "owned". This language impacts how we think about dogs and as a result impacts our relationship with dogs. We don't own our human children. If we consider dogs a member of our family we shouldn't think of owning them either.
The more we intentionally refer to our dogs and members of our family in a "being" sense the more our thinking will change. Language does change behavior. When dogs achieve the recognition and acceptance of being feeling beings who are members of our family just as the human members are members of our family we will have made good progress. Having said this I also think it is very important to remember our dogs are a different specie who are members of our family. This respect of specie differences along with respect for also being a sentient being and a member of a human family is the ultimate result of language changing behavior.
Woofs & Smiles!