Welcome Back to Science Sunday
When I was a kid I couldn't wait to tune into Lassie every Sunday (in glorious black and white) to find out what trouble Timmy would get himself into and how Lassie would rescue him. Would your dog rescue you if you fell into a well? We have all seen stories in the news of heroic dogs saving their humans.
Many involve waking the sleeping family while a fire rages in the home, but this is not all that remarkable since there are stories of even cats doing the same thing. It could be more a case of self preservation than benevolent heroism, especially if cats do it.
The Purina Animal Hall of Fame has many stories of animal heroism such as the story of Shelby, a 14 year old shepherd cross who fought off a black bear with cubs to protect her family who encountered them while out for a walk near their home in Sault Ste. Marie. Shelby went through 4 months of surgeries and recovery but her owners credits her with saving their lives.
So do our dogs really want to rescue us? A team from the Arizona State University devised some experiments to study this question. They built a box large enough to hold a human, with a easy to open sliding door. Next the dog owners were hidden in the box and instructed to call for help. They were coached on this so that it sounded authentic, and were not to call the dogs name. Disappointingly, only about 33% of dogs came to the rescue. So does this mean 67% of dogs are uncaring wimps? The testers tried another test by dropping food treats in the box and seeing how many of the dogs were able to retrieve the treat. Turns out it was the same percentage as the rescue dogs. The researchers concluded that the dogs would rescue their owners if they new how to do it.
So maybe we should send our animal companions on an outward bound course so they could fashion a rope from a vine to save us from drowning, in the mean time take care not to fall in any open wells.