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Are You Raising a Furkid?

Confusing parenthood and pet ownership: The words of the dog world. Kids chase fewer squirrels and postal workers than dogs, but the way we...

Confusing parenthood and pet ownership: The words of the dog world.

Kids chase fewer squirrels and postal workers than dogs, but the way we pamper our poodles and great danes and mutts has a lot in common with how we treat our toddlers and teens.

Though I try not to over-kid-ify my canine, the bounds of sane dog owner behavior are blurry. I frequently arrange playdates for my rat terrier Monkey, and, I hate to admit, once shoved him into a Dracula costume and took him to a dog party, which included dog cake, dog champagne, and a doggie masseuse (who terrified my pooch-I think Monkey considered her a type of vet). So far, I've resisted the call of doga-dog yoga-but who knows what the future will bring?

The pet-as-child mindset is hard to avoid: confusing pet ownership and parenthood is a pervasive aspect of the pet world that's reflected in money spent, canine behavioral therapists hired, and terms coined, such as "bark mitzvah," "puppy leave," and "furkid." These are just a few lexical symptoms of the weird and intense relationship we have with our dogs.

(FYI: Some of these terms apply to cats too, but since felines have a Darth Vader-like influence on my allergy-prone respiratory system, I keep my distance. I suspect cat people have been traveling a parallel road).

One way the child-ification of dogs can be seen is the importation of parenting lingo like "playdate" and "potty training," which are often and casually used. In other cases, new words are coined. Paul McFedries' The Word Spy records several parent-y pet terms, such as "latchkey dog" (a dog left unmonitored in the streets or at home alone), "pupperware" (dog toys, clothes, and other paraphernalia sold at tupperware-like parties), and "puppy leave" (much like baby leave, but with a barkier infant).

Plenty of others turn up on Grant Barrett's Double Tongued Dictionary, such as "pawsenger" (a dog on a plane), "pawspice" (canine hospice), and "puppy pawty," which is similar to a "bark mitzvah"-a dog celebration observed with varying degrees of seriousness, sometimes at the dog's thirteenth year.

A lot of dog lingo is euphemistic yet not especially goofy. Playful puppy biting is "nipping," the cage used to train puppies is a "crate," and peeing from excitement is "sprinkling." Other euphemisms are much sillier. While I sympathize with pitbull owners who want to change the image of their dogs, I don't know if "petbull" is going to fool anyone. Similarly, if "mutt" is hurting your dog's self-esteem, the terms "canine cocktail," "party pup," and "unbreed" are available, though not recommended, at least by me. You'd think "mutt" would have been elevated forever after President Obama said, in regards to needing a hypoallergenic dog breed, "...our preference would be to get a shelter dog, but obviously a lot of shelter dogs are mutts, like me."

The king of canine euphemisms-as well as the most clear example of pet/kid confusion-has to be the word "furkid," which appeals to folks who don't like the word "pet," and think "companion animal" doesn't go far enough. Before starting this article, I hoped that "furkid" was a linguistic urban myth, but many use this word unselfconsciously and frequently. Recent tweets include mentions of "My baby furkid Toto" and "the joys of furkid parenthood," as well as the admonition that there "...should be no fighting in front of the furkid." There are also related terms such as "furbaby" and "furparent," not to mention "humom" (a human mom with pets).

Why such forced, artificial, barf-worthy language? Well, for many pet owners, no amount of cutesiness is too much. The cuteness-craving impulse animating "purp" (a word that alters "pup" much as "lurve" modifies "love") probably has something to do with the existence of "furkid" too.

But no matter how goofy or pretentious some of these terms seem, they're inspired by a love for canines. Maybe that love gets a little out of hand-no dog really wants to be an Ewok for Halloween, no matter how perfect he looks-but "Must Love Dogs" is a way of life as well as a movie for many of us.

Odd words are just a harmless byproduct.

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