Monday, August 25, 2008

Dog morality

Dogs learn morals from owners

Dogs have morals??

Dogs can be taught cause and effect. Some seem better equipped to remember what pulling washing off the line results in. And it isn't a treat. But do they lie about thinking whether pulling the washing off the line is a good or bad thing to do?

Yet we do overlay a capacity to be moral on animals. Right from infancy we allow children to be comforted by animal soft toys that are their friends and protectors. But we expect at some point that the child realises the effect is actually in their head. Nevertheless the child has learnt some empathy. They will pass that on to a pet and their friends.

So assuming animals have morality is a construct that serves us well. Usually. What about those bad bastards that want to teach bad bastardness to their dogs?

When I was looking to replace my last dog, about 5 weeks ago, I spent some time at the SPCA. In the late 70s I did a brief stint there as a volunteer. (Very brief - I couldn't handle sacks of dead puppies.)

The SPCA has now become the CYFS of the dog world. Many of the dogs are being held while owners are prosecuted. Many have been terribly maltreated. Their cage doors exhibit various instructions about whether the animal can be put in the yard with other animals or which other animals in particular. Whether it is an animal that is suited to be homed with children. So many now have the physical aspect of the broad skull which I guess comes from interbreeding with Bull terriers, Mastiffs, Staffies etc. (I took one such dog home once and had a 5 month nightmare. She wasn't violent - just completely chaotic and increasingly powerful.)

But the SPCA seems to be possessed of a rigid ideology that all animals are salvageable. It reminds me of the CYFS ideology that all babies are best with their biological mother. The failure of either dogma can be tragic.

I left the SPCA last time saddened. I saw too many animals that looked like a risk. Perhaps persevered with longer than they should have been. And the environment isn't exactly the Hilton for Hounds.

Believing animals have morality seems a little screwy to me. It suits us to believe in such when the truth is such a faith can turn around and bite us.

'Girl' is gradually learning my right from wrong. And she is giving us all a lot of pleasure with her antics and exuberance. But I wouldn't fall into the trap of believing she can intellectualise. She's just a dog. Albeit it a very lovable one.

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