A video of a dog compassionately burying a dead puppy has gone viral. That the video garners such attention among humans is perhaps a reflection on how we see the world – as much as the how a canine in mourning behaves.
In the video, whose title translates from Arabic to “dog buries his son in Iraq,” a dog gently sniffs the puppy – found in a ditch with empty water bottles – then proceeds to tenderly bury it, nudging with his nose the sand and dirt over the little body. In the background, three men talk inaudibly in Arabic while the dog works and then call out, in English, “thank you very much” as the dog finishes and leaves.
The video does not give any other information about the scene, such as where exactly it was shot, who took the video, the relationship between the two dogs, or how the puppy died.
The video, posted last week to YouTube, has since gone viral. There’s nothing that web audiences like more than animals behaving like people, especially when that animal is replicating our kindest, most selfless practices. Last month, an Oklahoma zoo captured a lion and a puppy "kissing." Last year, a video of a dog assuming maternal duties for an abandoned kitten also went viral, as did another video of a dog trying to push a dog that a car had just hit and killed out of a road. Other videos of dogs standing sentry at the graves of their owners or crying for deceased animal friends have also made the Internet rounds.
Humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize the animal kingdom. But these videos arguably offer a portrait of a moral animal who embodies the best in human behavior.
"Grief is one of the basic emotions dogs experience, just like people, Dr. Sophia Yin, a San Francisco-based veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist, told HealthDay.com. Dogs also feel fear, happiness, sadness, anger, as well as possessiveness.
While dogs do experience emotion, the recognizable behavior through which dogs express that emotion is probably learned from humans, say some scientists. Studies have found that dogs have an extraordinary capacity to learn and mimic human behavior. Two years ago, researchers found that dogs learn from their owner’s facial cues to perform good behavior when their owner is watching and to save the misbehavior until their owner’s back is turned, like a wised-up child pilfering from the cookie jar.
Does that mean this dog in Iraq learned from its owners how to mourn the loss of a child? We don't know. Certainly, Iraq has been a venue for some of the worst in human behavior in recent years. But the fact that "even dogs" can express compassion is perhaps why we respond so well to such videos: They are encouraging, hopeful reminders that such actions are natural to all beings, including humans.