CreditJaromir Chalabala/EyeEm, via Getty Images
By Alexandra Horowitz
March 27, 2018
NEW YORK TIMES
What is it like to be a dog?
I’ve been in search of the answer to that puzzling question by way of science. I’m a researcher of dog behavior and cognition: I study how dogs perceive the world and interact with one another and with people. Even in those moments when I wrest myself away from my subjects, the question stirs in my head. For everywhere I look, I find myself faced with dogs.
Dogs in movies, GIFs and memes — peppering Twitter feeds and Facebook posts. The Super Bowl has a puppy alternative; dogs in advertisements sell everything from toilet paper to tacos. Weirdly, the omnipresence of my favorite subject has begun making me grumpy, not elated. As dogs themselves produce a profound anti-grumpiness in me, I began to wonder why. Why can’t I stand to look at one more photo of a “funny dog”?
The reason is that these dogs are but furry emoji: stand-ins for emotions and sentiment. Each representation diminishes this complex, impressive creature to an object of our most banal imagination. As the philosopher Lori Gruen has observed, to be seen as something other than what one is, or to be the object of laughter, robs one of dignity. Such treatment may not be mortifying to the dog, perhaps (in fact, that’s a legitimate question, whether dogs can feel mortified; I remain agnostic); but it is degrading to the species.
Despite the ubiquity of dogs in our culture, there is much we don’t know about them. My field is in its infancy.