Dogs Exhibit Ethical and Emotional Behaviors–Take That, Jon Katz

by Mary Haight on May 18, 2009

I must confess, ever since Eric Zorn, Chicago Tribune writer, published his column proclaiming that dogs don’t love us, I’ve been itching to refute it.  He directed his column at Ms Craigie, the woman who jumped into cold Lake Michigan to save her dog, Moxie, and was within minutes of dying herself because of it (both of them are fine by the way).  Zorn’s article relies on work by author Jon Katz who cites university studies finding dogs evidence “opportunistic manipulative behavior” that is claimed to be their second nature.  My reaction was “…and now who’s anthropomorphizing?”

What do you think...

What do you think...

I had in my story log recent scientific research showing dogs have a sense of fairness, and then another expert’s research popped into the radar Saturday from the Seattle Post.

Jake Page, author of “Do Dogs Smile”, reminds people  like Katz that science no longer regards pets as instinct driven chow hounds. A new chapter in the way we look at dog behavior has begun.

Animal behaviorists say dogs feel empathy and compassion, which are the foundation for a moral sense. Yet books and articles are still denying it, perhaps spurring on what is fast becoming a general scientific inquiry into dog psychology to resolve diverging findings.

According to the Seattle Post article, Marc Bekoff, animal behaviorist, Professor Emeritus at University of Colorado Boulder, and co-author of “Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals, “spent thousands of hours observing coyotes, wolves and dogs. He analyzed video tapes frame by frame.” It turns out there’s a long list of observable patterns of ethical and emotional behaviors in dogs:

“• Dogs have a sense of fair play. They dislike cheaters. They experience joy in play. They delight in friends. Big dogs handicap themselves in games with little dogs.

• Dogs get jealous when a rival gets more or better treats or treatment. They are resentful, unnerved or saddened by unfair behavior. They are made anxious by suspense. They get afraid.

• They are embarrassed when they mess up or do something clumsy. They feel remorse or regret when they do something wrong. They seek justice. They remember the bad things done to them, but sometimes choose to forgive.

• Dogs have affection and compassion for their animal and human friends and family. They defend loved ones. They grieve their losses. They have hope.”

While Zorn’s experience caring for his friends’ dog while they are on vacation, and observing that the dog has lost no sleep or opportunity for a meal over his missing people, that is probably because the dog trusts that his people will come back for him.  Ask any shelter person if the dogs dropped there feel the same.  They don’t.  And the older the dog, the worse the reaction; they know something’s wrong and they don’t just get over it because someone is feeding and walking them.

Katz’s larger point is not arguable–dogs don’t think and reason as we do. If they did, they probably wouldn’t be the imparting loyalty and unconditional love so freely given when we show up late for dinner, late for walks, or have to get up before we are supposed to for an early meeting.

Well, I’m glad that itch was scratched.  And if you’re interested in a deeper look at the basis for Katz’s views, here’s a first chapter look at his Soul of A Dog.

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