Sunday, May 17, 2009

Dogs have souls, but you already knew that

Seattle Times Newspaper: "DENVER — For centuries, humans have imagined they are the only animals with morals. But humans are not alone in the moral arena, a new breed of behavior experts says.
Natural historian Jake Page said some scientists are acknowledging what pet owners have told their canines all along: "Good dog."
Dogs are full of natural goodness and have rich emotional lives, said animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus at the University of Colorado, Boulder.
A dog's code of ethics is on display daily in parks, backyards and family rooms.
"We're not trying to elevate animals," Bekoff said. "We're not trying to reduce humans. We're not saying we're better or worse or the same. We're saying we're not alone in having a nuanced moral system."
Page, author of "Do Dogs Smile?," said biology no longer dismisses dogs and other animals as "furry automatons" driven by instinct and food.
"People like Bekoff have figured out how to measure these things," Page said. "It's a whole new ballgame for studying dog personalities and emotions."
Bekoff, co-author of "Wild Justice: The Moral Lives of Animals," spent thousands of hours observing coyotes, wolves and dogs. He analyzed videotapes frame by frame. The work convinced him these animals possess empathy and compassion, the emotions upon which moral sense is built.
While much the same can be said of monkeys, wolves, elephants, dolphins, whales and other social animals, dogs are special cases; they share in human lives, he said.
"Dogs know they are dependent. They learn to read us," Bekoff said. "Dogs develop this great sense of trust. We're tightly linked, and there is something spiritual about that unity."
This intimacy and mutual influence prompted Harvard University to open a Canine Cognition Lab, where researchers attempt to gain insight into the psychology of humans and dogs.
"I'm convinced many animals can distinguish right from wrong," Bekoff said."

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