Photo courtesy of nicoandgeorge.blogspot.com

By Alaa Mokhtar, Guest Writer

Photo courtesy of wall.alphacoders.com
Photo courtesy of wall.alphacoders.com

After watching the movie Hachi: A Dog’s Tale (2009), not only had I accumulated buckets of tears, I was struck by the extreme and enduring phenomenon of dog loyalty.

The movie Hachi is actually based on a real incident that took place in Japan in the early 1900’s. Back in 1924, a professor at the University of Tokyo, by the name of Hidesaburō Ueno, took in an Akita dog and named him Hachiko (‘hachi’ standing for the number 8 in Japanese, a lucky number, and the suffix ‘ko’, used as an affectionate way to address the dog).

Hachiko would wait for the professor every day at Shibuya Station around the time of his train’s arrival, and would walk home with him. This continued for one year until 1925, when Professor Ueno sustained a cerebral hemorrhage and passed away, never returning to Hachiko who awaited him at the train station.

Nevertheless, Hachiko never gave up going to the train station. During this time, he was initially shipped off to live with the professor’s relatives, yet ran away and went to Shibuya Station. Everyday at 6:00 p.m. Hachiko would be found next to the ticket booth, waiting for his master to arrive. He patiently waited for the professor’s return for nine years until he died.

Such a story evokes wonder on how a dog, who is unable to experience the myriad of complex emotions that humans do, was capable in expressing such dedication and devotion to his owner. There are multiple explanations for this, some tested, others just speculations. What science is sure of is dogs do experience some of the basic emotions that humans do.

Photo courtesy of nicoandgeorge.blogspot.com
A photo of Hachi courtesy of nicoandgeorge.blogspot.com

They primarily have the brain and emotional range of a two and a half year old child and are able to react to human cues better than our close relatives, chimpanzees. This is quite a surprising fact, when taking into account that chimpanzees are genetically closer to humans than dogs are.

However, a research published in the Journal of Experimental Analysis of Behavior (by Udell & Wayne) sheds light on this anomaly. Udell and Wayne both reason that dogs are more attuned to human emotions and stimuli as a result of their long history of domestication by humans.

Additionally, humans have been able to genetically select desirable traits in dogs and thus breeding docile, tamed, and less aggressive dogs (all characteristics that might have played a significant role in dog’s heightened sensitivity to human emotions/stimuli).

While some might argue that a dog’s loyalty stems from the fact that it is solely dependent on its owner for survival (food, water, and shelter), that theory doesn’t take into account the ever-increasing stories of dogs who have displayed fierce dedication to their owners during an attack, after an injury, or even death (“The Week” has compiled a nice list of these instances see below for web address).

Photo courtesy of armorreport.com
Photo courtesy of armorreport.com

Another explanation addresses the nature of dogs and the canine family in general and that is they are pack animals. Yet even with this theory, it’s still not correct to assume that dogs display to their owners exactly what they would to a dog member of their pack; there’s bound to be a difference.

Moreover, research still hasn’t decisively explored loyalty as a distinctive emotion that dogs express towards their human friends and therefore we can’t really be certain of anything.

Nonetheless, we can continue to take comfort in knowing that at least this beautiful interrelationship between man and dog still continues, regardless of whether there are “scientific” grounds for it or not.

References:

  1. TUdell, Monique A.R, and C.D.L Wynne. “Abstract.” National Center for Biotechnology Information. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 27 Aug. 0005. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.
  2. The Week
  3. Japanese-Akita-Club. “The True Story Of Hachiko by Japanese-Akita-Club on DeviantART.” Weblog post. The True Story Of Hachiko. DeviantART, 12 Nov. 2012. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.
  4. Coren, Stanley, Ph.D. “Which Emotions Do Dogs Actually Experience?”Psychology Today: Health, Help, Happiness + Find a Therapist. Psychology Today, 14 Mar. 2013. Web. 06 Oct. 2014.