It's no surprise to dog owners that, according to animal researchers, man's best friend is a creature of remarkable emotional depth and complexity able to experience joy, to laugh and even to tell right from wrong.
Anyone who's seen the look of canine remorse at the admonishment "bad dog" or been the object of a whole-dog wag greeting at the door was already aware that, compared to most humans, canines are paragons of virtue. Still, it's gratifying to have that belief reinforced by scientific study.
A recent Denver Post story highlighted the work of University of Colorado animal behaviorist Marc Bekoff, who says dogs, like humans, have a "nuanced moral system."
Rover, Mr. Bekoff maintains, knows right from wrong and enforces fair play in games with other dogs, even excluding cheaters and gearing the games so that smaller dogs have a chance to compete. Rover also experiences jealousy, embarrassment and fear, and recognizes unfair treatment. Critics will claim that dog owners and researchers infer human characteristics where there are none and that Rover is motivated merely by reward and punishment, not an ethical sense.
But tales of canines warning their masters of danger or seeking help for an injured person tell another story. Indeed, there would be far fewer problems in the world if humans, before they acted, asked themselves: What would Rover do?