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Do Dogs Have Souls?

buddha_photoalbum_2mon_019By Electa Draper for The Denver Post

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.

He said looking for the roots of morality in animals is a difficult scientific undertaking. It begins with looking for emotions central to morality, such as empathy: understanding of another’s situation, feelings and motives.

In humans, emotions are centered in specific brain structures and are affected by chemicals called neurotransmitters. Mammals possess the same brain structures, affected by the same chemicals as humans.

“Dogs apparently laugh,” Page said. The same brain structures show the same activity in laughing humans and in dogs that are enjoying themselves. A dog’s laugh is a rhythmic pant.

Play is necessary for healthy brain development in animals and is seen in many mammalian, and some avian, species, Bekoff said.

Play hones cognitive skills and later helps in hunting and mating. And play would not be possible without cooperation and trust.

“Virtue is its own reward,” Bekoff said. “Fairer is fitter.”

To prevent any misunderstanding, a dog will signal to another dog that the imminent jostling, nipping and chasing are “just play” rather than aggression, he said.

The game is initiated with the “play bow.” A dog, wolf or coyote will crouch on its forelimbs while keeping its rear upright.

Any hard-biting cheats find themselves excluded from games.

“Dogs are thinking animals,” Bekoff said. “They seek the outcomes they want. They avoid the ones they don’t. They solve problems. They have expectations. They have hopes.”

Critics skeptical about some research trends in animal thinking, emotion and morality downplay the evidence as often anecdotal and anthropomorphic, that is attributing human motivation or characteristics to animals.

Bekoff countered that thousands of anecdotes equal data. And anthropomorphism, he said, is a misleading label for what is a shared evolutionary history.

Humans and dogs share most of their genes and a great deal of physiology and behavior. Bekoff sees that shared heritage extending into the spiritual realm.

“If we have souls, our animals have souls. If we have free choice, they have it,” Bekoff said. “If we can’t know this for sure, let’s give them the benefit of a doubt.”

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dog gift
13 years ago

Do Dogs Have Souls?
Do all animals have feelings?
Is it preposterous that any humans consider humanity is so different to the rest of mammalian life on this planet?

Kenn Bell
13 years ago

I agree! But sometimes I think it's not that they are as “advanced” as us, but that we aren't as “advanced” as we like to think we are.

13 years ago

I'm not sure about this one…. Its seems to me once again we are looking at dogs in a rather hurbis human way, I am not even sure why we are asking the question…Dogs don't care about this…and I'm sorry with or without a soul dogs are completely dependent on humans. We love them and treat them well for mostly selfish reasons–for what they give us. We created this dependence and we owe to our canine friends to love them well, However, they are not advanced enough to live independently of humans, or in most cases to make the moral choice not to eat my bagel off the counter or steal my Starbucks. And certainly a dog loves you unconditionally but really what choice do they have..divorce? Do dogs have a soul–who get to decide this? A human of-course, who gets to recognize it or not…a human, who will care enough to argue…a human. The dog? Is lying over on his bed enjoying a nap.

13 years ago

I agree…, I've alwyas thought that my last dog was the best “person” I've ever met…, honestly…
…and I keep thinking I'll see her again in the future…, maybe not as a dog…, I don't know…

Nice review!

13 years ago

When our yellow lab died my young daughter asked me, “Do dogs go to Heaven?” My answer was a solid, “Yes.” I gave no thought as to whether or not our dog had a soul or a spirit. Rather, I based my answer on the simple fact that any Heaven I could envision would include every dog I had ever owned. Heaven and the after life includes whatever makes you the happiest…any dog lover would agree that would include the unconditional love of their loyal, trustworthy best friend. Nothing compares to the love of a dog.

John D. Sullivan
John D. Sullivan
12 years ago

I cannot imagine heaven/afterlife without my my faithful companion Zappa.Frankly, I would not want to pass eternity without him. The bond we shared is essentially spiritual and for that it is logical to conclude that if I have a spirit/lifeforce so would he. My only confort with his recent passing is that someday we will be reunited again.

John D. Sullivan
John D. Sullivan
12 years ago

I cannot imagine heaven/afterlife without my my faithful companion Zappa.Frankly, I would not want to pass eternity without him. The bond we shared is essentially spiritual and for that it is logical to conclude that if I have a spirit/lifeforce so would he. My only confort with his recent passing is that someday we will be reunited again.

12 years ago

My long haired GSD passed away seven months ago in my arms from a severe seizure that led to heart failure. Let me tell you what i felt, I felt her life rewind before me in my head about thirty seconds before she passed away. I also looked up to feel a small energy of wind blow into my face on a otherwise windless sunny day about five minutes after her passing. It was a thirteen year bond i will never forget. Sometimes its strange,when i think of her some days i immediately see a dog/s appear after wards or walk pass my house when i exit the front door of my house. Yes, dogs do have souls.

11 years ago

my dog 16 years old pomeranian was suddenly feeling very sick about two weeks ago, so i immediately took her to vet then she was dignosed kidney failure and I was ask by the vet to put her down, but i nursed her every hour then after one week she was better, but then i guess situation got worst last friday she sufddenly howl three times twice at first i didn’t realise the sound was from her, then the second time i realized it was her, so i immediately comfort, we slept together the whole night then in the morning she woke up wanted to get up, i thought she may want to go to toilet so i helped her but at the end she didn’t instead i gave her some water after few hours again she wanted to get up, so again i helped her to go to toilet, then she did…after i praised her then she howl ‘arw’ once and she muble a bit then she pass away in my arm

11 years ago

Got this sent to me last week.This is one of the kindest things you may ever see..

It is not known who replied, but there is a beautiful soul working in
the dead letter office of the US postal service.

Our 14 year old dog, Abbey, died last month. The day after she died, my
4 year old daughter Meredith was crying and talking about how much she
missed Abbey.. She asked if we could write a letter to God so that when
Abbey got to heaven, God would recognize her. I told her that I thought
we could so she dictated these words:

Dear God,
Will you please take care of my dog? She died yesterday and is with you
in heaven. I miss her very much. I am happy that you let me have her as
my dog even though she got sick.
I hope you will play with her.. She likes to play with balls and to
swim. I am sending a picture of her so when you see her You will know
that she is my dog. I really miss her.
Love, Meredith

We put the letter in an envelope with a picture of Abbey and Meredith
and addressed it to God/Heaven. We put our return address on it. Then
Meredith pasted several stamps on the front of the envelope because she
said it would take lots of stamps to get the letter all the way to
heaven. That afternoon she dropped it into the letter box at the post
office. A few days later, she asked if God had gotten the letter yet. I
told her that I thought He had.

Yesterday, there was a package wrapped in gold paper on our front porch
addressed, ‘To Meredith’ in an unfamiliar hand. Meredith opened it.
Inside was a book by Mr. Rogers called, ‘When a Pet Dies..’ Taped to the
inside front cover was the letter we had written to God in its opened
envelope. On the opposite page was the picture of Abbey &Meredith and
this note:

Dear Meredith,
Abbey arrived safely in heaven.
Having the picture was a big help. I recognized Abbey right away.
Abbey isn’t sick anymore. Her spirit is here with me just like it stays
in your heart. Abbey loved being your dog. Since we don’t need our
bodies in heaven, I don’t have any pockets to keep your picture in, so I
am sending it back to you in this little book for you to keep and have
something to remember Abbey by..
Thank you for the beautiful letter and thank your mother for helping you
write it and sending it to me. What a wonderful mother you have. I
picked her especially for you.
I send my blessings every day and remember that I love you very much.
By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love.


Donna Stehr
Donna Stehr
10 years ago
Reply to  Mhhaslam

O.k.,So now I am sitting here and crying reading this.God bless the beautiful souls who perform these huge acts of kindness and humanity.And God bless the creatures of the world.Unlike humans,their souls are pure and innocent.They deserve to inhabit the afterlife as much or even more than we do.

Joann Coffaro
Joann Coffaro
11 years ago

Che k out the book,” Inside Of A Dog” by Alexandra Horowitz if you liked this article. It’s technical, but interesting.

William Dworzan
William Dworzan
11 years ago

I had a beagle, a rescue dog from the pound. That dog was my best, most faithfull and trusted friend. I always told myself, “if I could be half the man my dog was a dog, I would be a better man!” I was excited when I read about a man with a near death experience, who met his dog on other other side. I look forward to seeing my “Max” again.

11 years ago


Today I buried my little dog
and I feel I’ve been in a fog

She went with me to pray and even to comfort me,
when I had to look for a job.

I shared my food with her, my bed, my joys, my fears, my tears
She never knew she was a little dog, always focused on her world

I could CLAP and she’d come running
and when others saw how trained she was.
They always said…”Thats’ somthin”

Bella didn’t cry a tear, she gave it her very best shot
It was over OHHH so quickly….
I will miss her alot

I hugged one last time when the Doc finally came
Beter to end it now than to see her in pain

I buried my little dog today
I never knew such love.
So if you have a gift from God
make sure to love them hard
we never know when they will go. and be just a sweet memory

I know she is in Heaven now…Some Angles left me word
I Know that I will see my Bella again
and hike and play and laugh
and I will smile when I see her and her little tail wag.

Herman bryant
Herman bryant
10 years ago

my dog crissey passed away yesterday she was my little girl i loved her so much i know i will see her in the after life crissey daddy loves you with all my heart i will never forget you as long as i live untill then i will think of you everyday for the rest of my life thanks for makeing my life a better one love your daddy


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