Regarding the Dignity of Dogs: Failures of Perception in Viral Videos

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Dogs are captive creatures of our domestic sphere and our video recording devices, making them accessible and popular subjects for short videos uploaded, viewed, and shared on social media and other websites. These dog videos provide insight into the human-canine relationship, its underpinning affects (from pleasure and amusement to frustration and humiliation), and the ethical issues of canine confinement in our households and in certain modes of representation online. These typically amateur home videos capture some of the reasons we have relationships with dogs at all, and it is not always a pretty reflection. Dogs teach humans a lot (or have the potential to) and bring their human companions a lot of joy, but it is also clear that many human companions misunderstand canine behaviours and exploit their dogs for their own amusement. This article connects the reasons for and problems with dog ‘ownership’ with the viewing pleasures of these videos—viral video reflects, reinforces, and shares these reasons between dog-loving viewers, in some positive ways but also in many problematic ways. While some videos offer experiential insight into canine sensations, affects, and experiences, many of these videos display a remarkable ignorance or indifference toward canine behaviour, compromising dogs’ dignity and owner/filmmaker/viewer responsibility toward the subjects for a laugh. In this article, I explore the screen and animal ethics of viral dog videos, drawing particularly on Jason Middleton’s discussion of the ethics of spectatorship in reaction and reunion videos and Lori Gruen’s arguments about how captivity can undermine animal dignity through visual and physical control. Dog videos are ethically significant to the extent that they illustrate and solidify the social role of dogs in human lives. The consumption of these videos for amusement and entertainment (despite the suffering or compromised dignity of the subjects) suggests there is a ‘failure of perception’ at work that perpetuates the ignorance and indignities we show toward our closest non-human companions.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages9
JournalCtrl-Z: New Media Philosophy
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Dogs
  • dog videos
  • viral videos
  • human-canine relationship
  • animal exploitation
  • home videos
  • failure of perception


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