January 05, 2008

Doggie's BFF

author_sally By Sally Raskoff

Do you think that dogs are a human’s best friend? Are they really our best friend forever? Many feel that their pets are a member of the family, but how important are they compared  to your other family members?Iansusie1

Today, I saw a family walking into the local mall and something about them caught my eye. The family consisted of four adults and one child. The child was pushing a stroller and she appeared to be about 8-10 years old. They caught my attention since the young girl (and not one of the four adults) was pushing the stroller.

She leaned down to tend to clip_image002something in the stroller, and I realized that she was pushing a dog stroller! Her small puppy (or full size toy dog) was attempting to climb out of the carrier so she tucked it back in. As they approached the door of the mall, she had to push the dog back in the stroller two or three more times. 

My first thought was that this was a great example of the reinforcement of gender norms, as the girl was practicing mothering skills--not just with a doll but with a living creature. However, I realized that this was much more than a gender socialization process when I noticed that the stroller was designed specifically for dogs.

Recently, we have seen small dogs traveling in women’s purses or in bags that appear to be purses yet are small dog carriers. The first time we notice these purse-dogs, it is somewhat surprising, but the more we see this, the more “normal” it becomes. 

The stroller-dogs are similar to the purse-dogs in that they are being carried about, not walking under their own power. They are not walking, sniffing, and socializing as typical dogs do.


I’ve always thought it odd seeing a purse-dog. I wonder how it “does its business” or relieves itself. But dogs in strollers? This seems to be a very different situation. It seemed so odd to me since dogs need walking not riding!

clip_image008Why is it more startling to see a stroller-dogs than a purse-dog? 

  • While the dog is being carried about much like the purse-dogs, the stroller is more visible and it is obvious that people are pushing around a dog. 
  • When we see a stroller, we assume that it is carrying a human child or a doll; it is apparent that its occupant is equated with either a human or a doll. 
  • Dolls are proxy humans; girls are encouraged to play with them to prepare for their future role as a mother.

Thus these stroller dogs are treated not only as family members, but also as babies or children and equivalent to humans.

When I mentioned this to my friends, one mentioned that she had seen a woman shopping in the mall with her golden retriever. Adult retrievers are far too big to be carried in purses and are probably too big for most strollers, but they can participate in the take-my-dog-anywhere phenomenon too. If small dogs can go to the mall, why not larger dogs? 

Cities have the power of regulation over where animals may go. Guide dogs are allowed into public places and elsewhere to assist their humans navigate spaces and situations. But most cities have regulations requiring owners of other dogs to ensure that (1) their dogs are licensed, (2) their dogs be leashed when off one’s private property, and (3) when walking their dogs in public spaces, they remove any feces. Many clip_image011businesses have policies that prohibit the presence of all dogs except guide dogs. Health codes restrict most businesses that serve food from allowing animals into their establishment. 

Because so many dog owners have opted to bring their “best friend” with them everywhere they go, there is a robust market for books and websites that offer suggestions about pet-friendly businesses, hotels, and cities. 

clip_image013One website lists malls across the country that are pet friendly. Some shopping center websites have a “pet friendly” icon on their page. The Prime Outlets at Pismo Beach, California, is so pet friendly they have doggie treats for their four-legged visitors.

So, how do we explain this relatively recent phenomenon of dogs becoming not just our best friend, but our constant companion (when they are allowed to be)?

Norms, or societal guidelines for expected behavior are often reflected in organizational policies and governmental laws. Norms, like policies and laws, do change over time yet they do not often change quickly. What is source of such change? Typically, when behaviors of people deviate from those norms in enough over time, those behaviors become more accepted than the policies , laws, or norms that had restricted that behavior.

clip_image016Animals have always been important to our culture. However, in recent years the depth of integration of animals with our families and daily life has increased tremendously. Animals have always been valued for their labor (farm animals), amusement or education (circuses, zoos), and companionship or helping humans learn caring behaviors or parenting roles (domestic pets). These days, though, many pets are considered equal members of the family.

Why are we treating dogs as if they are children?

Symbolic interactionist theory and ethnographic research suggest that domesticated pets offer humans tremendously rewarding social and emotional contacts. Studies show that the elderly and those with disabilities are happier and healthier if they have regular interactions with a pet. Dogs also connect people to other people (much as children do) because they get their owners out into the social world. 

clip_image019Canine companionship can also serve as a substitute for human contact. As societal and technological changes make us more isolated from each other, it seems logical that we increasingly incorporate pets, especially dogs, into our families and social lives.

Of course, it can cost money to bring your dog everywhere you go. Dog strollers sell for approximately $50 to over $200. Dog carriers or “purses” also are not inexpensive either. While middle and upper class families can afford such luxury canine carrying items, those with lower earnings probably can’t. 

Homeless people with dog companions are often denied shelter unless they give up their dogs—thus most refuse such shelter. Since these dogs are often the only positive emotional connection for their human companions, they will not give them up to get a roof over their head. Their ties to their dogs are equal to or even more powerful than that of other people. Yet homeless people and their dogs are welcomed inside shopping centers they way a well-off dog-purse-carrying owner might be.

clip_image022Speaking of economics, the recent growing acceptance of dogs as family members has been a boon to the economy. The market for products created for dogs and other pets has steadily increased for many years. The American Pet Products Manufacturers Association estimates that in 2007 $40.8 billion dollars were spent on pet products in the U.S. Their trend report cites not only and increasing focus on dog products but companies known for human products are including dog products (e.g., Paul Mitchell, Origins, Old Navy). 

Historically, we have elevated humans above other species, and the differences between humans and animals have helped to define what humanity is. These days, those distinctions seem to be blurring—not just in the social world but in the scientific community as well.

clip_image025Scientific studies, such as the gene mapping projects, have found fewer differences between humans and other species than we had previously thought. The paradigms of scientific thought are also changing, thus the enlightenment perspective, that humans have the ability to understand and control the natural world, has been challenged by alternative theories. Some of these theories acknowledge that humans neither understand the laws of nature nor are they in control; rather, they are part of a delicate ecosystem.

clip_image028Thinking about this phenomenon through a sociological lens raises many questions: Should we expect increasing acceptance of dogs and other pets into our social spheres whether public or private? Will we admit other species into our realm? Will we continue to adopt technologies and make them part of our lives without thought to how those technologies change our lives? Or, will we reassert human primacy over other beings? Will we create and enforce laws and policies to keep non-human species on leashes and out of public spaces? Will we counter our blind adoption of technologies by encouraging human social interaction in a variety of situations?

No Dogs Photo: courtesy PDPhoto.org; Dog Stroller photo: PawsAboard.com


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In order to have a successful relationship with someone, you need to interact with each other. Five basic types of interaction are cooperation, conflict, social exchange, coercion, and conformity. Though a dog can cooperate after being trained, and maybe even be coerced into something, it is nearly impossible to interact with a dog as you would with a person. A dog does not understand values, and definitely can't make a social exchange, understand conflict, or conform to anything. Although having a pet dog is fun, a dog cannot act like a human. It won't understand the difference between being treated like a human and treated like a pet.

Being a huge animal lover myself, I completely understand the obsession with treating a pet like a child/human. Animals give us unconditional love and affection. They should never be treated any less than a part of one's family. I don't think it's necessary to cary a dog in a bag or to push them in a stroller but I can understand the desire to want to do so. I beleive that animals can tell the difference between being treated as a pet as apposed to being treated as a member of the family.

I used to have a pet dog that I would take everywhere with me! To the grocery store, the mall, park, beach, every single place I went to. She was best friend when I was younger. I completely believe that dogs are being treated like humans. My dog would always be there when I came home from school ready to play. I believe that dogs are very loyal to their owners. They are always there for you, when you are sad I think that they can tell. They know when you are angry at them and can tell when they have done something wrong.
I do't have a dog anymore, but I do hvae cats. I also treat my cats as part of the family. They seem to be very happy with us and are always friendly. I have also seen people with their cats on a leash walking them as if they were dog and very well trained cats. I think that all pets should be treated as part of the family and not just be used for entertainment and amusement. It will everyone a lot happier.

Animals should be treated as you want to be treated. They are like humans in many ways. They have families. Animals work hard. We make it easy for them in many ways like providing food cloth and shelter for them. they are there during hard times. they protect us if we need it. Animals are friends,and family just with different apperance.

I think animals are a man's best friend. Animals protect people just like humans. Animals are good companions and they need food and shelter just like us. Animals are similar to humans in many ways they just got a different appearence.

I like animals and I do believe in the phrase that dogs are man's best friend but I think now days people are taking it to the extreme. Don't get me wrong, I like dogs. But a dog is what it is..a dog. A dog is a dog. It's not our child or relative, not even actually a "best friend". Because if a dog is actually your best friend, you got bigger problems than this blog. I just think its sad that people spending so much time money and energy on their animals and sometimes neglecting actual family, actual friends, and actual parts of their everyday life.

The norms changed over time. Dogs have always been companions, entertainment, and laborers. It is only recently that dogs became more so like family members than just pets. Dogs offer humans rewarding social and emotional contacts. They also connect humans with each other.
I think that we will definitely see increased acceptance of dogs into our social spheres because of how much they give to people. There are drug dogs, dogs that have rescued people, and so many other good things dogs have done.
Not too long ago, I saw in Maryland that a man married his dog. (Now I don't agree with that, but it was accepted there)

Now day many people dont have a SOS or cant have children so they have pets that they spent time with and spoil. Many times the pet is the only thing they have the only living thing that will not turn their backs on them and that is there no matter what. A pet can bring so much meaning to person life who is single or cant have pets. Also pets are easy to take care of then a child, thats why I think some couples have a pet that they spoil instead of a child. I think this is just the being and we will be seeing more pets with families everywhere..

i love dogs!!! when i was in Germany last may dogs are treated like humans they are allowed everywhere people are!! its a great life and the are calmer then American dogs because of it!!!

I am an animal lover and I can understand how a pet can become like a family member, but I think we should draw the line somewhere. A pet is by no means on a human level and so I feel that they should be treated as the animal they are. Dogs certainly can become spoiled, but can a dog really appreciate the finer things in life? Personally, I just don't think so.

i am an animale love, and i believe a dog can be a mans best friend and can become part of a family. they provide unconditional love and can become very spoiled. they are protective of their owners!

Dogs, in my opinion, should be left at the house when going to places like the mall, or other such establishments. Unless they are going to PetSmart, or other dog stores, I think people should leave their animals at home. I mean, who wants dog hair in their food, or who wants to step into dog pee at the mall? Most people would rather have dogs than children. We can train dogs to go to the bathroom, we can train dogs to do what we want, and they never talk back to us. Dogs are our silent companions who never have anything to say. Sometimes, however, when people can't have children, they replace them with animals. That's understandable. However, to take an animal into a store where clearly it's not allowed to go, shouldn't go. We might see an increase in the allowance of having animals in stores such as Wal-Mart, or other places. Hopefully, there will be a huge resistance to this. Think about all of the people who are allergic to animals. What do you think will happen to those that can't go into a store because they allow dogs in them?

I think that this recent phenomenon of dogs becoming our constant companion through the fact that everyone needs somebody. To some people, it does not matter whether it is a human or not, just as long as it is some kind of interaction. Symbolic interationism stands in for the reason that some people treat animals like they would a baby. This may because they are wanting something to take care of or nurture. This can become evident in young girls due to their motherly nature coming out. I do not think that we will be seeing a increased acceptance of dogs and other pets in social spheres. I do not beleive that it can go much further.

I'm a big dog lover too. I don't have one now for the same reason I feel others should take their time in getting one, they are a long term commitment. There are so many people out there that just jump into getting a dog because they are cute or even because they see them as fashion statements.

Many dogs are considered part of the family, and named and treated as good as the children. Our love for dogs comes from the loyalty, understanding, protection, cuddling, and even headaches that they show us. When dogs are treated like a member of the family and not just some yard dog, they are so much fun to play with. It offers many rewarding social and emotional contacts; and they serve as a substitute for human contact. I think that the love for dogs will always be there but we will always have bad apples who mistreat them, when all you have to do is love them, and until people start caring more about the yard dogs we will have more overrun shelters.

People who are lonely need something or someone to comfort them. We are treating dogs like children because people are now raising when they are born. Maybe, it depends if we use more things that involve dogs.

Pets love us, not for how we look, but for who we are. They don't judge us. I don't think that we should take our pets everywhere.Some people are scared of animals or allergic to them. It is nice that there are pet friendly hotels because some people don't want to leave their animals. They truly are a part of their family. You become attached to your pet.They live with you for years and you see them pretty much as much as you see your family you live with, why wouldn't you become attached to them?

and i believe a dog can be a mans best friend and can become part of a family, some of them protect the house

Animals are living things just like us. They deserve a good life and to be taken care of and loved. At the same time family is first.

We can explain this recent phenomenon because symbolic interactionism studies show that interaction with pets can cause tremendous emotion and social contacts. They can aid those who don't have a lot of human social contact and sometimes take the place of human contact. Pets often bring their owners out into the social world. I do think we will continue to see an increase of the acceptance of dogs and other pets into our social world because more and more people are getting pets as a means to an end. Pets are accepting of us no matter what. This is not true in the social world and people sometimes need that positive aspect of acceptance in their life and often become dependant on it.

I do believe we will have an increase in dog acceptance. We train animals-dogs- to obey us. With this they learn to depend on us for alot of things. I mean a treat my 2 dogs as kids i even talk to them. NO THEY DO NOT TALK BACK! LOL Sometimes you just need someone to listen.

I have family members that treat their pets like children. At first I thought this was pretty odd,but the more your around it, it seems perfectly normal. To many people having a pet can become the closest thing to having a child.

I believe that this recent phenomenon has occurred because everyone human is thirsty for some type of interaction. As a society we have also made the lives of animals more valuable than the lives of humans. From the beginning of time humans were given dominion over all animals and now we are treating them as equals. Some people do just love to interact with animals but some are obsessed to the point where they are willing to tie themselves naked to a tree and go on a hunger strike for them. It is ok to have pets but for all the animal rights activists out there, animals are not a human's equal.

I do believe that pets offer tremendous healing, companionship, and security to a person. They definitely have a purpose here on this earth. However, they do not, nor will they ever, take the place of another human. Pets are easier for us to interact with because they simply do not resist us. Whereas, humans can be very hard to get along with. But a human can genuinely love, but a pet simply takes from his owner what he will give.

Dogs have become bestfriends because of their companionship, entertainment and education purposes also. We are treating them like children because they offer great social and emotional contacts. The older people and ones with disabilities appear happier and healthier also. I think in the future dogs will become the norm. Malls and shopping stores will no longer have to say "Pet Friendly." Pets will be accepted everywhere.

As societal and technological changes make us more isolated from each other, it seems logical that we increasingly incorporate pets, especially dogs, into our families and social lives. Some people I know have accepted having pets as children because they can not have children or can afford to have any.

People are people first we need to love and to be loved to comfort by someone of thing. We treat dogs like as we do children because thats how we as people show our love. the thing with a dog is we are not perfect and they understand that. they understand what we most of the time lack what i call the "now fact" not what you did 10mis ago or will do 20mins later but what we have in the now is perfect.

I am a animal lover myself. I have four dogs and I have adopted another one. I can not stand to see animal homeless. I treat my dogs as one of my own children. Now a days everyone has some kind of animal that they love and treat as one of thier own.

I don't understand the obsession with animals. I have a pet cat but I don't treat her like a human. I don't dress her up in clothes I don't give her ice cream, or candies that they have for animals and I most definantly not buy her jewelry. Pets are not people. They don't need all this extra you will only make them lazy.

I am not a huge animal lover, and I think a dog is a man's best friend, and animals should not be mistreated.

My grandmother has had a dog the past twenty years. Not the same one but always kept one. They are indeed friends of hers. Even when they died she cried for days. She loves them. Its no surprise to me the love of dogs is so great. Although im not one of them there are many dog lovers in my family. Puppies are great and who wouldn't love one. The love for a dog can be the same for another human being. Thats why I think its so common to see dogs treated like other people or babies.

I do not think that this is a new thing at all. Perhaps the ease of it, but not the inclusion of dogs in society. I would say that this is merely a resurgence of the way dogs used to be a part of many people's lives.

Dogs were not always merely animals which stayed on one's property. Dogs (and in fact other animals such as weasels, rabbits, etc.) used to accompany humans whereever they went. Many dogs had jobs where they were out in public places all of the time. Some pulled sausage carts, some carried items, some had other purposes.

Then there was a period where the dog disappeared from public society. It was impolite to have an animal in public, only the poor did so. Now we have come full circle. Where the affluent are the ones with the pets in public.

Public knowledge and sanitation practices and medicine have all improved to the point that dogs in public no longer create problems and annoy the upper classes. The well trained dog can be used as a status symbol, a part of the family, or just a companion.

As long as the dog is well trained, I have no problem with them in public. Smaller dogs are easier logistically, but a well trained, well sociallized larger breed is fine as well. I also think that the more well trained dogs there are in public, the better people's impression of dogs will be. The stigma of hate and fear can be soothed.

I do believe that a pet , especially a dog can be very useful, for entertainment and education, protection too. but, animal stay animal, not human equal. that is the ways things have started... and ever should remain. Some people thing that dog should be treated like children, and even do so... I don`t think a dog could evr replace a human child, however affectionnate or lovely it may be. plus, human carries love, pets don`t, theiy carry received taughts.

Animals have a place in many people's lives and share an important role as our companions. I believe that it is important that we treat them like humans because they do have feelings and they do communicate with us maybe not like humans do but they are there for us when we need them.

i believe dogs will treat you how you treat them or teach them, some people do go overboard with the dog situation, dogs should be treated just as they are. They are will helpful animals

I think the bond between man and dog has always been there. A dog can truly be your best friend. Someone that will never leave you and always love you. People long for that. If you see the loneliest of people you will see most have some kind of animal. Their can bring such comfort.

Dogs can be comforting and you do not have to put up with the "nonsence" of a human. symbolic interaction says Dogs can be nurtured as children and people take advantage of that. Yes, I do believe it will increase because it works for them.

I think everyone needs something to love and nurture, that's why they have pets. My pet of choice is fish. I understand why people treat pets at humans sometimes, but I do think that a pet of any sort should EVER come before a human. I do not think that pets should be allowed in places, and they should not have insurance for pets. That is a little extreme, but a great money-making idea. I guess it is a business that is ingenius because if it is being sold, then someone will buy it, and good possiblity that something as unique as a dog stroller would definatley sell. I had no idea they even made some of the things they make now for pets. If people buy it why not sell it?

This is a strange new occurance with dogs becoming our constant companions. Many people are starting to treat their dogs as their children. MAny celebrities have aslo made this a new trend. This is definetely something I think that will be around for a long time. I do hwever have a problem with having dogs around very small children. Many people think this is ok but I feel like the dog could harm the child unintentionally.

I am a animal lover and a dog owner and have been all my life. I feel that animal's not just dogs fill a lot of needs in our lives. They help many of us with emotional needs. Many people do fill the emptiness of not having or being able to have children with a pet such as a dog. I feel that to some point that it is not fare to the dog. We take there natural instincts away form them,further making them more dependent on human care.Today there are many ways that we as a society are in ways treating our pets better then some actually do there children, there are shops that specialize in clothes for dogs , there are day cares for dogs so they are not at home alone while there owners are at work. I feel it will only get more out of hand.

I truly get about the dog lovers and friendly pets and some people can't have children and a dog is spoil and all of that. Okay I get it, but I'm totally agreeing with Tristen on this one, guys, Who wants to go into stores or restaurants of any kind and stand in dog-poop, or pee pee and eat where there are dog hair flying all around your food. That's gross, I mean whom ever loves dogs more power to you, but it should be a place where you just have to draw the line. No, I don't think dogs should be aloud in certain places their not human. I don't mean to sound cruel, but alot of people are afraid of dogs no matter how small and cute they may be. I like dogs only from a distance not all up on my trying to sniff sniff ole' but no i probably would throw a hissy fit! Dogs should stay at home.

I too am an animal lover, I used to have an american pit bulldog that I raised from a pup. She went to visit my mother when my children would go to visit their grandmother. She went on scenic rides, but never to a mall or into a resturant. I feel like unless the dog is a guide dog, they dont have any business being around food or in public buildings. I feel that it is unsanitary and a possible threat to others, being that if there are other animals present that it could cause a conflict not only between the animals but also the owners or innocent by-standers (such as possiblity of being attacked for some unknown reason.) Also, some people have severe allergies to pet dander, is this really fair that we can subject a life threatening issue on another person that is just trying to enjoy their day at the mall?

in response to kaaheem:

I agree that dogs should be treated like family, yes they do work hard, and are very much so family with another appearance. I even had professional pictures taken of my pit bull, she whimpered when she was left at home alone, and got mad at me for not taking her several times and tore things up as resentment.

We love our dog, and I appreciate wanting to take your dogs with you when you are out of the house... but there are limits. I think the stroller example is going over the line. Dog are dogs. Pretending they are babies is wrong for both the dog and the person treating them that way. Just my opinion.

Dogs really are man's best friend. They offer unconditional love.

As much as i love dogs, some people just go too far. But i also know that some people use dogs as practice before they have kids so i suppose they could become like a child to them?

So, how do we explain this relatively recent phenomenon of dogs becoming not just our best friend, but our constant companion (when they are allowed to be)?

I have four dogs and I have adopted another one. I can not stand to see animals homeless. I treat my dogs as one of my own children.Yorkies

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