The timeless question, “Do dogs have souls?” is tricky since what we mean by “soul” can differ vastly according to our faith and beliefs. Still, this is an important question for many of us as we want to believe that our dogs and other animals cross the rainbow bridge and go to heaven just as the human soul can.
Having a sick or dying is one of the hardest parts of pet ownership. Of course, we try everything to keep them healthy as long as possible, such as canine vitamins and joint pain relief supplements. Even so, the stressful time eventually comes when we need to comfort a dog in pain, help them after surgery or deal with distressing symptoms like dogs walking in circles as they are dying.
So, Do Dogs Have Souls?
Any dog owner who has stared into their pup’s eyes knows their dog has a soul. Traits such as empathy, compassion, ability to bond, personality, and sentience also confirm this. However, this also depends on how one defines a soul, and we strive to respect faiths and beliefs that disagree.
After all, this is a controversial topic.
Many religious traditions have grappled with the idea of animal souls. In Christianity, for example, some theologians have been going back and forth over whether animals have souls for centuries.
More recently, in 1990, Pope John Paul said that dogs have souls since they were “created by God’s breath.” Then Pope Benedict reversed this and was adamant that animals do not have souls. But Pope Francis seemed to say that all creatures go to heaven (although there is some controversy about this).
In Buddhism, dogs do not have souls, but neither do humans. The idea of the “soul” or self is seen as an illusion. Still, life continues as new life in a process called rebirth. So in a sense, dogs do carry on in Buddhist tradition.
So views on whether dogs have souls differ vastly according to religion, sects within a faith, and an individual’s personal beliefs.
From a scientific standpoint, the question is even more complicated. In general, science says nothing about souls because no experiment can prove or disprove that souls exist. Therefore, science cannot tell us whether dogs do or do not have souls.
While there is no conclusive evidence that dogs have souls (or even that souls exist), there are many indications that they possess qualities that we typically associate with souls. We will look at these qualities further below. But first, let’s discuss the idea that dogs are connected to the “spirit realm!
Can dogs see spirits or ghosts?
One clue about whether dogs have a spirit is the longstanding belief that dogs can be aware of the paranormal. Many people believe dogs have spiritual awareness that is difficult to explain. It’s pretty common for dog owners to report instances where their dogs seemed to sense things that humans could not, such as the presence of ghosts or other paranormal phenomena.
Of course, many people don’t believe in ghosts, and there is usually a rational explanation for strange behavior. Such as dogs staring at walls because they can hear sounds we can’t or smell something very far away.
But for those that do, the idea that dogs have a special connection to the spiritual realm is ancient and existed in many ancient societies. For example:
- In ancient Egypt, the god Anubis, who had a dog’s head, was the god of embalming and the dead. The Egyptians believed that Anubis guided souls into the afterlife.
- In ancient Rome & Greece, dogs were companions to Hecate & Pluto. Hecate was the witchcraft and magic goddess, and howling dogs would mean she was approaching. In Rome, Pluto ruled the underworld. His dog Cerberus guarded the underworld.
- In Aztec mythology, the journey to the underworld was treacherous and full of dangers, and the soul needed the help of a dog to make it through.
Therefore, the idea that dogs don’t have souls is fairly modern. In fact, many people throughout civilization never doubted that dogs are spiritual beings that stay our companions and guardians after we die.
So, let’s look at what a soul is.
What is a soul?
Not everyone agrees on what a soul is, but generally, a soul is described as a non-physical essence or energy that resides within a living being. The soul is seen as the eternal part of us that exists outside of the physical world. We also associate a soul with consciousness, personality, and morals.
Of course, religions, individual beliefs, and science all disagree over what a soul is. We may need to look at it from a different angle.
What does it mean when we say someone or something is soulless?
One way we can decide if a dog has a soul is by looking at what it means when we say something is “soulless.” For instance, we often think of the dead-eyed stares of murderers and animals of sharks as being a sign that they don’t. Perhaps this is the first sign that dogs have souls. After all, what are puppy eyes if not soulful?
But let’s delve into this deeper.
When people say that someone is “soulless,” they usually mean that people lack the qualities associated with a soul, such as empathy, compassion, and a sense of morality. This can also imply that the person is empty or lacks depth of character or personality.
The term “soulless” can be used to describe a variety of different behaviors or traits. For example, someone who is perceived as selfish, greedy, or cruel may be called soulless because they are not seen as having empathy for others or a sense of moral responsibility. Similarly, someone who is seen as lacking in creativity, passion, or emotional depth may be described as soulless.
If we put it this way, does a dog sound “soulless” to you? In fact, this actually gives us several reasons that dogs do have souls.
Reasons dogs have souls
Dogs have sentience
It makes no sense one creature with sentience would have a soul and not another. So sentience, or the idea that one exists and is self-aware, is a good indication that a dog has a soul. Increasingly, studies show that dogs are very human-like in terms of sentience. One study writes dogs are comparable to human children in their emotions, empathy, and bonding.
Dogs are also aware of themselves in that they know how they take up space.
Dogs have emotions like empathy and compassion
We all know that dogs are deeply in tune with our emotions. One study shows emotional contagion between dogs and their owners. This means if you react emotionally, your dog will react too. Research also shows that dogs have so much empathy that they not only register when their owners are in distress but often try to rescue them.
In fact, in a room where someone is crying, dogs prioritize going to that person to comfort them over almost any other activity.
Can anything that does not have a soul still have empathy and compassion? I think not.
Dogs can laugh
Many animals can laugh, including dogs. It may seem unrelated, but it seems bizarre that any creature that can laugh would not have a soul.
Dogs form close bonds
We already know this, but a canine’s ability to bond to their humans and other animals is unparalleled. Of course, a dog’s love and trust for their owner can lead to such deep attachments that we constantly see selfless behavior, such as dogs putting themselves in harm’s way to save us. Just like in this video of dogs (and one cat) saving their favorite humans:
Dogs also consistently save other animals. Sometimes this is a dog’s job, like livestock guardian breeds who save their livestock. But just see this video of a Dogo Argentino who saved his best friend, a Border Collie, from a pack of coyotes:
Dogs have morals
One of the most surprising things about dogs is that they may even have a sense of morals. Dr. Marc Bekoff from the University of Colorado at Boulder reports that he has seen signs of morality when dogs play that is innate. That means it is not something learned.
One example of dogs’ sense of right and wrong is that a group of dogs may punish one that is playing too rough by ignoring it. Science also shows us that dogs have a sense of injustice (such as when another dog gets a bigger treat for the same trick. They also are able to read honesty and deceit in others.
A dog’s sense of morality may not be as developed or complex as ours, but its roots are there. After all, morals ultimately affect how we treat each other. As social animals, how they treat each other is very important to dogs. This is the foundation of ethics.
Ultimately, the question of whether dogs have souls is deeply personal and subjective. For most of us, the love and companionship we receive from our dogs prove that these animals possess a kind of soul. Others may believe that dogs are intelligent, emotional beings that do not have the kind of spiritual essence that we associate with souls.
Regardless of where one falls on this issue, it is clear that dogs hold a special place in the hearts of millions worldwide. Whether or not they have souls, they have certainly left a lasting impression on the lives of countless humans and will continue to do so for generations to come.
Tamsin De La HarpeAuthor
Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.
Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.
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