Dogs learn morals from owners

Last updated 00:59 25/08/2008
The Press
GOOD BOY: Search and rescue dog Stig gets rewarded for his find. Research by University of Vienna scientists reveals that dogs "show a strong aversion to inequity", and can develop a sense of right and wrong.

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New research has gone to the dogs and discovered that canines pick up on the morals of their owners.

Research by University of Vienna scientists reveals that dogs "show a strong aversion to inequity", and can develop a sense of right and wrong.

The Austrian experts base their theories on the fact dogs will play with each other but this will rarely end in a full-on scrap, showing they abide by social rules.

LandSAR search dog handler Dave Krehic believed dogs like his five-year-old German shorthaired pointer Stig learned their sense of right and wrong from their owners.

"It's totally how someone brings it up. It's just like a child," said Krehic.

However, nature played a part as well as nurture. "They are a living thing and like humans there are some good ones and there are some bad ones. Some people say their dog would never be aggressive, but I think that could be brought out in most of them."

University of Otago associate professor of animal behaviour Ian Jamieson said it could be argued that dogs had developed a perceived "morality" as a way to order their society.

"Humans, like dogs, are very social and you need to have certain rules of engagement, otherwise there is complete chaos," said Jamieson. "People are interpreting morality in that sense when they look at dogs, but they could well be very basic fundamental behaviours that animals exhibit."

The president of the Selwyn District Kennel Society, Gary Doyle, said dogs could do more than just behave in a morally correct way they could expose some people by their actions. "We used a dog I had as a barometer of who we should sell pups to. If he went over to them and stayed by them, it was a sign he didn't trust them."

 

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