Are dogs really our best friends – or sneaky opportunists?

Dogs are amazingly loyal and often extraordinarily brave, say their admiring owners. So why are some people unconvinced?
Image courtesy of Morguefile
Date:21 May 2014 Tags:, , , , ,

With that astonishing YouTube video of a cat saving a child from an aggressive dog still fresh in our minds, we pondered the role of the domesticated animal variously described as “man’s best friend” and “that damn dog”. Opinions obviously vary, depending on whom you consult, but there’s no denying the evidence of history, which shows that dogs have rescued countless humans since they adopted us centuries ago. Take the case of Judy, canine PoW and protector extraordinaire.

National Geographic Daily News recounts the heartwarming story of how the brave English pointer,  aboard the S.S. Van Warwyck when it came under enemy attack in June 1944, swam to the assistance of the foundering passengers and guided them to floating pieces of wreckage; she even allowed them to hold on to her back. That was only the start of a remarkable career that ended in 1950 with her death in England, covered in honours. In a country that elevates dogs to a special niche, she stood out as a genuine heroine.

Over the course of three long years as a PoW, reports National Geographic Daily News, Judy protected her fellow British prisoners from the brutal camp guards of many occasions. That wasn’t her only challenge: during encounters in the jungle surrounding the camp, she barked at tigers and even survived a battle with a crocodile. Read the remarkable story here.

Dr Stanley Coren, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Psychology at the University of British Columbia, a psychologist known to the public for his popular books on dogs (and clearly a fan), wrote this in the journal Psychology Today: “I came across a wonderful quotation by Roger Caras, an author who also served as the president of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). It went: ‘We give them the love we can spare, the time we can spare. In return, dogs have given us their absolute all. It is without a doubt the best deal man has ever made.’ I brought it up because I thought that it nicely summarised my own feelings about dogs.”

In the interests of striking a balance, however, it has to be said that some people regard dogs as the quintessential con-artists. Among them is Stephen Budiansky, author of The Truth About Dogs: An Inquiry Into the Ancestry, Social Conventions, Mental Habits, and Moral Fiber of Canis Familiaris. Says Budiansky: “Dogs, in short, are a brilliant evolutionary success almost without parallel in the animal world, and they owe that success to their uncanny ability to worm themselves into our homes, and to our relentlessly anthropomorphic psyches that let them do it.”

Sources: National Geographic Daily News, Psychology Today, New York Times