Are You a ‘Dog Owner’ or, a ‘Pet Parent’?
Do you regard yourself as a ‘dog owner’ or ‘pet parent’. Is referring to yourself as a pet parent a term of endearment, or just a bit eccentric? Is it part of a marketing strategy to get us to spend more money on our pets? Are we denying companion animals species appropriate lives? Holidays4Dogs delves into this complicated phenomenon of ‘dog owners’ and ‘pet parents’.
At Holidays4Dogs we have known for, well over a decade, how much pets mean to people. More and more dog owners have realised the benefits of home boarding v. kennels. They want their dogs to be looked after by loving families and to experience all the home comforts they have been used to – not just dumped in a kennel.
The number of people who regard themselves as pet parents, rather than ‘owners’ is definitely increasing. According to data, one in three people in the Britain regard themselves as ‘pet parents’. In the United States, they have even revised their city codes. This now means, any legislation relating to companion animals, replaces the term ‘owner’, with ‘guardian’.
The role of companion dogs, in particular, has evolved quite rapidly over the past fifty years, or more – elevating them from hunting and herding dogs, to equal family members.
The modern dog is far less likely to be considered as an item of property – even though this still remains so in British law. In addition, in 2021 animals were recognised as sentient beings by the UK Government.
As we discover more about how dogs behave, we have come to understand more about the social responsiveness of dogs in human society. They have many roles; some incredibly important ones. Among them, guiding the blind and detecting cancer in human patients.
‘Fur babies’ and pet humanisation.
If you think of your dog as your “fur baby” you wouldn’t be alone. Neither is it just a trendy term. It’s backed up by science. Humans have the same hormonal response when they stare into the eyes of cute pooches – just as they do when the coo over babies.
So, when we talk about pet humanisation this refers to the concept of a pet being regarded your dog as a bona fide member of your human family – a baby in fur clothing, perhaps. For many people, this can mean attributing human-like qualities to their pets. Some people, for instance, think of themselves as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’ to their dogs. Others refer to human children in the family as, ‘brothers’, or ‘sisters’, of the family dog.
However, the boundary between dogs and people – particularly the comparisons between small children and dogs – seems to be becoming ever more blurred.
It is now commonplace for many people to refer to their dogs as, ‘fur kids’, or ‘fur babies’.
Research has found that people talk to their dogs much more. In particular, people talk to their pets in the same tones and rhythms as they would do when talking to young children.
The cultural definition of family has changed dramatically when it comes to including companion animals. The needs of family pets are frequently taken into account when it comes to jobs, homes, finances and everyday living.
People engage in custody battles over pets, just as strongly as they do with human children. There is even evidence to suggest that people are opting out of having children altogether and remaining pet parents only.
Multi-species families are not always given recognition.
However, these new multi-species families are often discriminated against. For example, during the recent war in Ukraine when people wanted to evacuate with their pets, they faced disappointing barriers. Many Ukrainians refused to leave unless they could take their pets with them.
Similarly, research carried out in a women’s refuge centre in Canada found that women fleeing with domestic pets were often denied help. Sadly, the support a companion pet provides, especially in traumatic situations, is not always recognised. The situation in Canada meant that many women chose to stay in abusive relationships, rather than leave the family pet behind.
However, on the other hand, the rise in numbers of ‘pet parents’ encourages people to feel more emotionally and financially invested in their pets. In theory, this suggests people are more likely to take better care of their companion animals.
It certainly seems to encourage people to spend more money on expensive toys, manicures, spa treatments and other pet related products. In the UK alone, people spend almost 10 billion pounds per year on their dogs. Pet humanisation, unquestionably, is a key factor in the sales and marketing of pet products.
The rise of the ‘fur baby’ and the impact on the pet care industry.
The study of the canine-human bond has gathered speed in recent years and this has not gone un-noticed by the pet industry. As people have increasingly started to think of their four-legged companions, not just as friends, but family members there has been simultaneous growth in consumer spending relating to the pet trade industry.
From dog food, to grooming products, to puppy birthday parties and canine spa days – people are willing to spend a lot of money on their pets – despite difficult economic times, post pandemic.
People want their dogs to eat human-like quality food, enjoy human health and well-being products and services and celebrate occasions with families.
A growing number of pet owners are determined to improve the welfare of their animals. While people are becoming more conscious about the environment and what they put into their bodies, this is likewise transferred to family pets too.
The desire for pets to be included as members of the family is driving forward the pet products and services market at surprising speed.
Pets as anchors.
Indeed, experts attribute the rise of pet humanisation, in part, to the impact of covid-19. During global periods of lock-down, the number of people buying family pets rose dramatically. Since the start of the pandemic 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a new pet. People were looking for comfort, companionship and joy, during dark periods of un-certainty. Pet dogs became important anchors for a lot of isolated people.
The definition of a parent in general has altered over time. Birth-parent, surrogate parent, foster parent, step-parent – the role of the modern family is constantly being redefined. Why then shouldn’t animal lovers be allowed to use the term?
After all, parenting involves providing protection, care and nurturing – all things dedicated animal lovers provide for their beloved pets.
Critics of pet humanisation.
There is always another side to the story, however. While pet humanisation has many benefits for pets themselves, it can also be detrimental. Some experts argue that too many owners are, “killing pets with kindness”. Obesity rates in pet dogs are growing, while canine social skills seem to be declining.
Treating dogs like human-beings can have it’s downsides and it does tend to divide opinion. Some experts, for example, feel this change in status for dogs has the danger of placing too much of a burden on them.
Many dogs worldwide live unhappy lives, largely in isolation, and without having the opportunity to behave as dogs should.
That said, the majority of pet parents are probably quite aware of the difference between, raising a human child and having a dog. They are perhaps not quite as delusional as many might accuse of them being.
Dogs are totally unlike humans, but we have enjoyed a long and unique history with them. It matters less how people refer to themselves when it comes to sharing their life with companion animals – what it boils down to is the welfare of the companion animal in question.
Having compassion and empathy towards animals is the most important thing. Many families regard their pets as much-loved members of their family. However, it is equally important that we credit the canine species with the unique qualities we love them for.
What do you call yourself? Are you pet owner, or a pet parent? Head over to our Instagram page and let us know what your thoughts are…