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Lessons for life from your dog

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 11 November 2022

There is a whole slew of new books that have come out on dogs recently, along with television shows on our canine companions. A TV series with Tony Armstrong is dubbed as “Survival of the Friendliest”. One of the more recent books  is Dog Is Love by Clive Wynne , a canine behaviouralist, who asserts dogs do love us. And that they care for our wellbeing.  Of course, we have had books praising dogs all our lives, from Lassie Come Home with Elizabeth Taylor in a movie about Lassie playing Priscilla, a young teenager who befriends the dog. There have also been Jack London’s Call of the Wild, and White Fang, and Sherlock Homes in Hound of the Baskervilles.      

Mark Twain, author of A Dog’s Tale. once said:

If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man. The dog is a gentleman; I hope to go to his heaven, not man’s.


A collaborative project between researchers at the University of Manchester and the University of Southampton tells us that the increasing emotional significance of relationships between people and animals takes on particular salience for people living with a long-term mental health conditions. Demonstrated benefits from pet ownership include reduced stress, improved physical health, increased social interaction and reduced loneliness.

Another book has just come out  Dodgie Dog, Our Dog on Amazon that goes even further. The author explores the world of his own dog, Dodger, finding him similar to that of other dogs, wanting to be with you all the time, much preferring your food to even the best of his dog biscuits, watching the shop door unwaveringly, waiting for you to come out. The author leaves no doubt that in his Dodger, he has a faithful and loving companion.

But this book goes one further. The author, a former academic who once taught ethics at university level, introduces another dog book Teaching Philosophy to your Dog.  That book outlines the numerous moral theories put forward by moral philosophers over the centuries, many of which contradict one another. The Teaching Philosophy author favours a German philosopher, Immanuel Kant whose categorical imperative is at the core of many of today’s political conflicts. Kant’s imperative reads “Act only according to a maxim by which you can at the same time will that it (your action) shall become a universal law”. The Dodgie Dog author points out that this imperative cannot be accepted, as it endorses the core conflicts we see in the world today. Most noticeable in the United States with the Republican Party almost at war with the Democrats; but also seen in other countries – Britain, Brazil, Somalia for instance.

Instead, he proposes a moral theory that has been developed from the days of King Solomon, through the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Sermon on the Mount, through most Asian philosophies, to a number of today’s moral philosophers. In the words of the Dalai Lama it is

If you can, help others; if you cannot do that, at least do not harm them.

It is a very similar moral rule to the universal “Do unto others as you would have done unto you”.


This philosophy endorses the great advances in the human condition over the centuries, such as the abolition of serfdom, ending slavery, the prohibition of foot binding, stopping the imprisonment or even the execution of homosexuals, the ending of duelling. Together with the introduction of social welfare programs – sickness, old age and unemployment benefits - all aimed at relieving a harm, this guideline evidences demonstratable benefits in comparison to Kant’s categorical imperative.

The Dodgie Dog book claims that most dogs adopt this morality, possibly subconsciously, as a result of their evolutionary history. The first wolf pup to accept food from a human, had a genetic mutation not unlike the mutations that turned chimpanzees into humans. The evolutionary advantage, the survival of the fittest, was through all subsequent progeny of that wolf pup living within the safer and protected environment of human habitations. The gene spread, producing dogs, wanting to eat our food, sleep on the end of our bed, desiring of nothing more than to live with us.

Dodger exemplifies his obedience to that moral rule. One was when he sat by his walker when she had a fall, guarding her until the ambulance arrived. Dodger was brought home in the ambulance. Second was licking the cut on the author’s leg. But he exemplifies a morality in many other ways. If you do anything that annoys him, he will close his teeth on you, but never bite. The only action that appears to annoy him is when you try to move him off the bed.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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