6 min read


Can Dogs be Courageous?



6 min read


Can Dogs be Courageous?


When a soldier risks their own life to save a comrade who has been injured, we call them courageous. What do we say when a canine dog of war does the same thing? Are they feeling courage when they choose to run through artillery fire and drag their handler back to safety? 

People who have saved others say it was something they had to do. Could this be a similar instinct in a dog? For the last ten years or so, science has revealed our woofers are intelligent beings who feel all kinds of human emotions. Is it a desire to help that makes them run into a burning house in order to save a child, or a gut instinct from their days as wolves in the wild? Can a dog feel courage - what do you think?


Signs a Dog is Being Brave

You hear the cries of anguish from a mother standing on the beach wondering where her child is. The toddler had gone into the sea and was close to drowning. Before the life-savers on patrol could make their move, the family Golden Retriever runs toward the waves and swims out to the little girl flailing in the water. The dog pulls her into shore and sits panting by her side.

What makes dogs spring into action when someone is in danger. There are countless stories of canine courage, so it’s intriguing to investigate what drives a Mastiff, Husky, or Dachshund to save a human life? There are dog fans who will tell you they are like brave, honorable people that answer the call but others are not as convinced and are often amazed when the local newspaper splashes another story of canine heroism.

For a woofer to feel courage, they would need to be a fairly confident dog that carries themselves with dignity, their ears perked up, mouth slightly open and tongue hanging to one side. Their facial expressions can reveal a lot as they stare happily at their owner and play-bow, looking to initiate some fun times. They might raise their paw when you smile and their tail will be wagging with glee. Like a self-assured person, a pup with a relaxed, self-confident stance is a joy to be around.

Love To Know reported the story of a Beagle named Belle, a therapy dog who called 911 to save her diabetic owner. Belle is a trained therapy dog who periodically licks her guardian’s nose to determine their sugar levels and if they are out of sync, she will alert her pet-dad by whining or pawing him. When her pet-dad collapsed one day, Belle used her biting skills to call on the phone for help. Yes, this bold Beagle had been trained, but when her owner’s life was on the line she didn’t hesitate to help.

The courageous spirit of a dog comes in all shapes and sizes, with the story of Zoey, a tiny Chihuahua who put herself between a rattlesnake and her 12-month-old family member. Zoey was bitten by the snake but bravely protected the child.

Were both these courageous acts a conscious effort, or is it the instinctive nature of both humans and dogs to step up to the plate when someone needs help?

Body Language

Here are signs your dog is feeling courage:<br/>

  • Panting
  • Wag Tail
  • Paw Raised
  • Ears Up
  • Tongue Hanging
  • Play Bowing

Other Signs

More signs a dog is courageous are:<br/>

  • Showing Fearlessness
  • Physically Exerting Themselves To Rescue
  • Sacrificing Themselves

History of Brave Dogs


Some would say an alpha wolf is a courageous creature, living in the wild through all kinds of weather, searching for food while protecting their young. Challenges for leadership are not uncommon as the head of the pack goes bravely into battle against a rival wolf. They are risk-takers who chase large prey, and thousands of years ago, had the guts to confront primeval man and form a co-operative bond.

Wolf-dogs roamed the earth as mankind played master of the universe, breeding dogs for guarding, herding and companionship. Today, dogs live in homes with plenty of tasty morsels in their food bowl and no longer have to ward off challenging wolves wanting to rule the pack. Some experts believe dogs have lost their "WOOF," through domestication, but deep inside exists an unconscious instinct, destined to come to light when a person screams for help.

Wolves fight to protect a member of their clan in the same way a human goes into bat to defend their family. Dogs embrace their human pack and when one is in trouble, they put their best paw forward to keep them safe.

Bark Post brings us a gallery of canine heroism starting with Sergeant Stubby, an all-American mutt who served his country In World War I and was awarded medals for bravery. Stubby had a nose for gas and alerted soldiers to imminent attacks. He was also adept at finding wounded soldiers. This amazing mutt became a national hero and was honored for his role in the war.

Rags was a cute Yorkshire Terrier who couriered messages across battlefields in the first world war. This fearless little pup was found on the streets of Paris and had no official training but made a pawsome effort to help, nevertheless.

There are skeptics who will say these dogs were trained to do a job and that’s a fair comment. The soldiers in past wars were also trained to fight but there were many deserters who couldn’t cope. Dogs were thrown into the middle of a human battlefield and asked to deal with gunfire and fear. Many dogs did so much more. When a person goes above and beyond the call of duty, they are called brave and a hero. Should dogs not expect the same respect and adulation?

The Science of Courageous Canines


Finding the facts about canines is a 21st-century pursuit, with scientists and psychologists putting their paws in the study mix to answer a lot of nagging questions about dogs. The bad press our woofers got back in the olden days stuck like super glue through several centuries. Scientist and philosophers of the time wanting to make their mark instructed a curious world that our mighty mutts were akin to futuristic cyborgs.

Dog owners know different and now, so do scientists, who have determined the mammal mind of the dog bears a strong resemblance to ours. They can feel pain and happiness plus they understand a lot about their human guardians. CNN News ran a story about brave canines who were trained to lie in MRI scanners. It was found the scientists of centuries past were way off the mark, as dogs are intelligent and emotive beings. 

The Guardian featured a fascinating analysis of dogs feeling courage with reference to medals awarded to dogs for bravery. The author suggests animal instinct is not unlike ours when we act without thinking to save a stranger. Professor Daniel Kahneman, of Princeton University, believes humans can use rationality for problem-solving or intuition, a kind of “Auto-Pilot,” style of thinking that gives us the courage to do great and brave things. 

With this comes the potential for mistakes and many a dog and human have lost their lives trying to save another. This theory puts us in the dog house and gives credence to why dogs risk their own lives to save a human's.

Training Your Dog to be Courageous


Training a puppy to walk in the shoes of great canines like Honey, an English Cocker Spaniel who brought help to her owner after his SUV rolled into a ravine, might sound an impossible task.

The truth is, you can teach them to be a confident pup but the X-Factor that denotes a selfless act of courage can come from the most unlikely of candidates. Take a dog called Peanut, who suffered horrendous abuse before being adopted by a caring family. One morning, this rescue pup was barking like mad at her guardians, who couldn’t understand what was wrong. Peanut was relentless and kept asking to go outside. Her new pet parents let her out and she went running across a field, followed by her pet dad. They found a 3-year-old girl, naked and shivering and all she could say was doggy. (Story by People).

Dogs are trained to sniff for bombs, find leaks in gas pipelines, and get the guy who just mugged an old lady on the street. Sled dogs run through the snow delivering medical supplies to areas off the grid and combat canines help the military as sentry dogs. Today, woofers chosen for courageous jobs are intensely trained so they go into a war-torn country, ready for the terrors they will encounter.

German Shepherds are a popular dog breed for work that requires courage and resilience, with the Belgian Malinois proving to be a tough, easily trainable dog for the military. Mercenary Mastiffs wearing heavy-duty armor and spiked collars were a menacing sight for the enemy in ancient Rome and Greece, as they courageously fought alongside soldiers. In the modern age they are Mastiff cops, keeping citizens safe.

Every day, dogs are wagging their tails with courage as they work for the good of mankind. Many brave woofers are family pets who surprise their owners with incredible acts of bravery.

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By a Japanese Chin lover Linda Cole

Published: 03/23/2018, edited: 04/06/2020

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