I have heard many people adamantly
state that animals do not have feelings or that animals do not show empathy. I disagree immediately. I have been around dogs
since I was born, and I have trained dogs for 25 years in several different disciplines. Canines have always been members
of my family. The key is family; our dogs are treated as family members and reciprocate as members of our family. They know
to the London Hanover University CANI 213 Week 5 Application Handout, 2014, many animal species recognize if a conspecific
needs help or is in some sort of emotional stress. Canines have the ability to exhibit self-awareness. With canines, their
self-awareness may not be cognitive, but it is emotional. For example, a canine will recognize another canine versus a cat,
not self, but a feline. This is self-awareness. The canine recognizes that it is a canine and the female over on the other
side of the fence in heat is also a canine. He will want to reproduce with her. Conversely, if the canine sees a female cat
in heat on the other side of the fence, he will chase it as prey, not as a member of the same species with which to mate.
This is the canine self-awareness.
Altruism is associated with this self-awareness. Abrantes (2011) states that altruism is a selfish behavior
in a “sophisticated form.” Altruism is learned, but the canine has a genetic, innate penchant for it (Abrantes,
2011). He further says that in a higher form, altruism in the canine is more of an attitude: I help you now and you
will help me later. This makes sense when applied to canine self-awareness. Innately, the canine will want to reproduce and
propagate its species. This is a motor program born in the animal. So it is in the canine’s best interest to preserve
its species through mating and defending its territory. This is self-awareness, but altruism as well. Maybe the behavior is
selfish, however to make sure the canine’s offspring is born and survive is a form of altruism.
Canines have self-awareness
and altruism within their own species, or intraspecies self-awareness. They also exhibit interspecies self-awareness and altruism;
canines have an ability to respond to another animal’s feelings or needs (London Hanover University CANI 213 Week 5
Application Handout, 2014). It is also believed that the canine’s brain will decide to recognize emotion depending on
the relationship, setting and particular circumstances in which the canine and human or other animal find themselves.
The canine’s long term memory (motor memory) kicks in and signals to the brain, “Hey, this is my owner; she is
in trouble. Body, react now to save her.”
Without cognitive behavior, but with emotional self-awareness and altruism, the canine
reacts to help another species. Below, I have detailed four examples of self-awareness and altruism I have witnessed and one
that recently occurred while living and interacting with our canine companions. I am documenting the fifth example as
it was relayed to me by another person because it truly relates to interspecies and intraspecies self-awareness and altruism.
Roxy and the Pond Rescue
My daughter has a brown and white one-year old Border Collie named Roxy. She has been
trained in some basic obedience. Roxy is full of energy and very attentive towards my daughter.
One afternoon, my daughter and Roxy went walking along the dirt road leading from
our house to the water pump. The water had overflowed, leaving a large, muddy pond. When my daughter and Roxy reached the
pond, they began playing with Roxy’s toy near the pond’s edge. As my daughter was inspecting the water’s
depth, she got too close to the edge and fell into the water. She tried climbing out; however the dirt and clay sucked her
down hard. As my daughter tried harder to climb out, the pond muck was too thick and her body was drawn down further. Roxy
had been playing during the 30 second time frame before my daughter fell into the pond. The next 10 second interval before
the event, Roxy had turned around retrieving the toy. My daughter was struggling within the mud, and upon seeing her distress,
within the next 10 seconds, Roxy immediately jumped into the water. Roxy swam to my daughter and during the next 30 second
interval; she paddled around my daughter and whined steadily. Roxy jumped out of the pond to the edge. My daughter was wearing
a hoodie sweatshirt that day. Roxy grabbed the hood with her mouth and began tugging. My daughter realized Roxy was rescuing
her, and she helped her dog by bending down and allowing the dog to get a better grip.
During the next 10 second interval, Roxy pulled harder on the hood. Again, my daughter tried to get out as her dog
was pulling. Roxy gripped and pulled more fiercely during the next interval of 10 seconds. Finally with much tugging and gripping,
my daughter was free from the muck. Roxy was still worried about my daughter however after the struggle to get her released
from the pond. During the next 30 second interval, after the struggle to release her from the mud, Roxy circled my daughter
who lay exhausted on the ground. When my daughter finally stood up, Roxy stopped circling her and became calm, returning to
her normal demeanor.
Roxy’s self-awareness and altruism towards my
daughter proves how emotionally connected canines can be towards their handlers and human companions. Selfish, maybe; devotion,
Vero was my mom’s Schutzhund dog. She was always
disappointed that he only earned a BH and Schutzhund 1 titles, while her other dogs earned Schutzhund 3 and FH1 titles. I
always told her that Vero had other talents, maybe not in the Schutzhund world. I would prove to be correct!
One very sunny day at my mom’s house where I grew up on the beach in
California, my children were playing in the backyard. The backyard is like a forest with hills to climb, vegetation to negotiate
and multiple critters, including the Black Pacific Rattlesnake. We knew this formidable snake would always appear during the
warm summer days, because we would encounter them while running the dogs on the trails in the park below her house. We would
see them occasionally on the opposite side of her fence line, which bordered the park below, but never on her side.
One particularly sunny day, the children were playing out back. My mom and I were talking
inside the kitchen. During the 30 second period, approximately, Vero was inside the house watching the children, before he
decided to join them in their climb up the hill. Mom and I realized that it got a bit too quiet outside, and so we got up
to go assess the situation. Vero was climbing the hill pathway. He suddenly ran past my younger son very quickly. This would
have been about 10 seconds prior to the main event. When my son reached the tip, he was blocked by Vero. I heard a steady
barking, an alert barking, loud and clear. I remember telling my mom that Vero’s bark sounded different, not fearful
or defensive but alerting, like calling for back up.
Within the next 10
second interval, we ran up the hill to find Vero in front of my son, his body preventing any further movement. As my eyes
traveled the course of Vero’s body from tail towards my son to his head, I saw the largest Pacific Rattlesnake I had
ever seen (it had 14 rattles). About 30 seconds later, after Vero’s sighting and alerting, I pulled my son back, while
my mom arrived, shovel in hand, and called off Vero. I went down the hill with my son while my mom and Vero followed, with
Vero looking back continually (like a protection dog spying the decoy as he is running off the field after the protection
exercise). Vero ushered us all down the hill to safety.
to my mom after, that although Vero may not have been a great Schutzhund dog, he had better talents in real time scenarios,
saving my son from getting harmed by a very large rattlesnake. Vero was definitely self-aware and altruistic towards an animal
of a different species. He gave of himself, a canine to save my son, a human.
Clara Wants to Play
says dogs don’t have feelings? Clara, my son’s Border Collie, does not want to be left out of any activity that
involves finding someone or playing with a toy. Our SAR exercises involve both activities, and she wanted in this past Sunday
during our training session.
Clara had already
run her trail and made her find. We put her in the nylon, portable crate and set her behind the truck, since all other crates
were occupied with our other SAR dogs, which had also finished their exercises.
the 30 second interval before the event, my daughter wanted to see if her dog would like SAR work, so we proceeded to give
Roxy some sight run trails. I instructed my daughter in the proper procedure, and I enticed Roxy with a toy and noise, focusing
her on me. I then hid behind a sage bush, but Roxy could still see me. During the next 10 second period, my daughter said,
“Find her,” and began to move out. The event which followed was not only unbelievable but hilarious and revealed
self-awareness. Suddenly a large blue crate was rolling down the hill. Clara, not to be left out of the find and the high
value reward which followed (playing with the toy) wanted to join in. During the next 10 seconds after the initial movement,
Clara continued to roll in her crate, like a hamster in its ball. She was stopped only by a sage bush.
For the next 30 second interval, Clara had to wait, barking excitedly while Roxy got her find and her reward. Clara
persisted in moving and barking in the crate, stuck in the sage until her buddy, and our group was finished with the session.
Clara was so happy to be let out to join us. She ran around, then downed and waited her turn. Then she got to run after the
toy and bring it back as we walked back to the truck.
Clara definitely revealed
self-awareness for a member of her canine species, Roxy. However, she showed her desire to be with members of a different
species, her human companions as well to join the fun. She did not want to be left out of the training, just like a person
does not want to be excluded from an event. Clara exhibited a self-awareness of where she belonged in her pack.
Captain—Dual Purpose Dog
Captain is our 6 year old German Shepherd Dog. He has been SAR 1 certified by two organizations
and is an excellent trailing dog. However, Captain was actually brought into the family for a different reason. My son has
Aspergers, a high functioning autism spectrum disorder. He is very brilliant, but socially awkward. Captain picked up on my
son’s behavioral differences immediately, before the rest of us did. We brought Captain into the family when my son
was four years old. Dogs do choose a family member as their charge, and my son became Captain’s.
My son would run out of the house if I were in the back of the house. I would not always know in which direction
my son went, but Captain did, and I began to rely on his bark and back and forth running motion. I learned to hear the tone
of Captain’s voice and watch the direction of his head and body as an indication of my son’s direction of travel.
I could tell by a certain high pitch Captain gives (almost a distress call or a worried cry) that my son was not where
he should be, with a member of his family. When I heard his call, I knew Captain was worried, and I would let him out of the
house or yard so he could find my son and herd him home.
One day, I was
putting clothes away upstairs. My son was downstairs playing. During the 30 second interval, the house was calm and then I
heard the specific high-pitched bark (almost a gurgle to it). Next during 10 second period, I heard Captain racing around
the house, moving toward the door. Captain was pacing and barking. I knew and said, “Okay Captain; you go out, find
him. Bring him back.”
That is exactly what Captain did. Within the
next 10 second interval, Captain stopped his barking and shot out of the house and launched into full search mode. He ran
outside, found my son far out in the 5 acre field with no shoes on, just exploring. Once Captain reached my son, during the
next 30 second interval, he proceeded to herd him forward with left and right motions, keeping my son in line and moving toward
After herding my son back home, Captain walked past him, only
breaking stride to continue the left and right herding motion if my son started to deviate from the forward movement home.
Finally Captain calmed down in a relaxed posture, with a normal gait, ears up, and confident, in mission mode.
My son is 9 now and knows to let us all know where he is going. However, Captain is
always vigilant and alert if he feels my son is too far away from home and him. Captain’s self-awareness and altruism
towards a member of the family who is a bit different is truly amazing. I always will be grateful for the way this canine
worries about my son so much that he will make every attempt to keep him safe.
The Chain Reaction
next account is an observation I recently collected this week from my mom’s point of view. I mentioned earlier that
during the spring and summer months, often my family sees the Black Pacific Rattlesnake in the Ventura, California hillside,
right in our own backyard!
I received a call from
my mom last night to hear her describe an event that includes both inter and intraspecies self-awareness and altruism. My
mom is an FNP in Santa Paula, CA 20 miles from her home in Ventura. She normally goes home to check her Schutzhund trained
German Shepherds in their kennels. She eats, gives them a break and returns to work. Yesterday, however, my mom could not
get home until the evening. Upon arriving, she saw that her backyard gate was open and she was greeted by two of her neighbors.
Apparently, my mom’s shepherds, Brando and Cordon were barking steadily,
a deep defensive bark. The one neighbor said they would not stop and this was odd because usually, they are very quiet all
day. The neighbor on the other side of her house also heard the barking and a sound like a water hose hissing. His dogs joined
in with the same barking. Soon, the neighbor’s dogs from two houses away in the cul d’sac began to bark as well.
All the dogs in mom’s particular area were barking in unison. The neighbor said later that the noise was amazing, very
loud and odd enough to let the humans know that something was not right.
the dogs in the neighborhood were alerting their human companions. They came together as if to come to the aid of my mom’s
dogs in alerting any humans inside or out to step out and come to the aid of their canine neighbors. The canines succeeded.
The one neighbor joined the other and entered my mom’s backyard and found Brando and Cordon defensively barking at a
five foot long Black Pacific Rattlesnake. The one neighbor told Brando to go to the other side of the kennel, and he obeyed.
Meanwhile, the second neighbor had run home and retrieved a homemade snare. He somehow slipped it over the snake’s head
while the other neighbor called the fire department. The rescue came and disposed of the snake.
Dog to dog and human to dog altruism ruled the day! The canines relayed the message of Brando and Cordon’s
distress to their human friends who rallied to the aid of their canine neighbors. I only wish I could have witnessed the exact
sound of the barks and had been there to hear the message being relayed. What an experience that would have been! However,
the entire event does reveal how intraspecies communication can occur between canines and that communiqué can be sent
to their human companions in order to help each other when danger occurs.