Count me a major dog-lover. Growing up I always had one; now it's my son's luguvalab that gets my full affection. Anyhow, it's no surprise to me or to anyone who loves dogs that a study reveals the depth of their emotions, and their moral life. From a sidebar to the article:
RESEARCHER Marc Bekoff says there's a long list of observable emotional and ethical behavior of dogs. It will seem familiar to most people who have dogs:They also laugh, evidently. Read the article.
• 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.
I suppose some of this accounts for the unique relationship people have with dogs. Cats are admirable, of course, and provide companionship of a sort, and entertainment. But I'm guessing even those who think cats are way cooler than I do would agree their social skills leave something to be desired; not much on the above list applies. I say this as a person who tolerated the presence of a cat for fourteen recent years, and even got to like the little bastard and to enjoy (somewhat) the daily struggle for ownership of my recliner.
But here's the reason I mention it: among the most common arguments of theists is that you can't have morality or ethics absent belief in god or gods of some sort. How do you know right from wrong, they ask. And I've always answered that it's pretty obvious that there are behaviors that promote safety and community, both of which have clear evolutionary advantages. We are good to one another (except when, often under the influence of religious fervor, we're not) because it makes sense to do so, independent of belief in gods or heavenly reward or hellish punishment. That dogs exhibit "moral" behavior is, in my mind, confirmatory.
I grew up in the time before leash laws. Like everyone else in our neighborhood we let our dogs roam free. It could be that when they were absent from view they might have been gathering together to pray.
But I doubt it.