How One Dog Found God

This story is really beautiful. Or sad. Or funny. Depends how you look at it.

It starts with Jeff throwing a few morsels of dog food, through the space underneath his laundry room, to the dog (Zig) on the other side…

This was the greatest thing ever in the history of things to happen to this dog. She went bananas chasing the pieces of food as they skittered across our tile. I’d try to get them past her but she was the most motivated goalie in history. We laughed, had fun, and then we forgot about it.

Zig didn’t.

She began staring at the bottom of every door in our house, sometimes even if the door was open. She could easily just peek around the door and see nobody was there, but she doesn’t. There is a simple explanation for how food comes out from under that door, but she doesn’t make the connections. Instead, she is sure our doors are magic and randomly spit out food.

Then it occurred to me what was going on — our dog had created her own religion.

It really is a great analogy for how religion works. At least in Zig’s case, her prayers will be answers.

(Thanks to Jill for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    There is an interesting phenomenon called superstitious behavior where the animal (or person) draws the incorrect causal relationship between his or her actions and a reinforcer. Hilarity can ensue.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._F._Skinner#Superstition_in_the_pigeon

    • Tom

      Came here to post this; saw you beat me to it; going away happy.

      • Incredulous

        Ditto

  • http://onefuriousllama.com/ onefuriousllama

    Oh that’s awesome. It’s such a brilliant analogy! 

  • The Other Weirdo

     Dogs don’t need magically appearing food to found a religion. They already have one. It’s called The Owner, or The One Feeds Me And Houses Me And Washes Me For My Own Good And Takes Care Of Me Therefore The One Must Be God.

  • http://improvmedia.com/ Jeff Moriarty

    Hemant ~ Thank you for sharing the story of my strange little dog. I’m an atheist and a skeptic and have read Friendly Atheist for quite a while. Was quite thrilled to see this show up in my feed. Cheers!

    • Heidi

       Great story!

  • Marguerite

    Albert Payson Terhune (who wrote Lad: A Dog) wrote quite a bit about how dogs believed their owners to be gods, and suggests that the dog is lucky because he, unlike humans, gets to know his god firsthand. I definitely believe my dogs think I can perform magic, though whether they regard me as a goddess or a slave I haven’t quite determined.

    • Reginald Jooald

      Yeah, I don’t know about that ‘owner = god’ thing, it seems to be oversimplifying the relationship. Maybe it depends on the dog, but my folks’ dog will disagree when he doesn’t want to walk (it’s too hot, too cold, he’s too tired, etc.), he’ll ask for things that he wants and might pout if he doesn’t get them, he doesn’t seem to treat baths as though they’re a test of faith, and he doesn’t seem to *worship* anyone. 

      • Marguerite

        I think it boils down to Clarke’s law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” To dogs, all technology is inexplicable; therefore my ability to open the door or to get dog food out of a sealed container qualifies as magic. However, their respect for my magical abilities doesn’t seem to extend to worship, exactly. They are demanding and contrary and can get quite annoyed with me if I fail to understand what they want in a timely manner. I think as far as they’re concerned, I may just be a particularly useful sort of servant with opposable thumbs.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I definitely agree that owners are a kind of tyrant. It fits the monotheistic God pretty well.

  • Anonymous

    I thought she just saw her species name in the mirror? (Think about it :D )

    • RdeG

      ?sirailimaf supul sinaC

      • Anonymous

         Cave Deus!

  • Kelleyglenn

    I can’t help but think of William Sleator’s young adult science fiction novel “House of Stairs”

  • Anonymous

    Dogs may think their owners are gods, but cats seem to assume they were given the owner as slave and provider.  Is it pack hunting/solo hunting heritage, or is there some other way these two domesticated mammals differ?  If we knew, then we might be able to figure out what affects why skeptics and the religious differ.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1535286477 Roxane Farrell Murray

    Our cat created her own religion, too.  My husband always starts and ends a laser pointer game with the red dot emerging from, and returning to, the vent in the floor.  Poor Cressie sits and watches the vent for hours, waiting for the red dot to come out to play.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=527580163 Elizabeth Klein

      Poor cat! I feel bad laughing so hard…

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jonathan-Garneau/100001037513758 Jonathan Garneau

    From my understanding, dogs have the mentality of a 5 year old. Guess it kinda says something about religion.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/James-Sweet/1280927267 James Sweet

    Meh.  I think Jeff is just angry at the door.

    • http://improvmedia.com/ Jeff Moriarty

      The door does stick sometimes, which can be a bit maddening.

  • http://twitter.com/Cafeeine Cafeeine

    It tell the truth, seeing the title I immediately thought of this pic:
    http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_jl08Pk11RNI/SvmiOZgFkxI/AAAAAAAAAYM/20xswh6u2aE/s400/dog-bible.jpg

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    I have a friend who’s dog refuses to walk down one side of the hallway in one direction.  Going the other way, he’s fine.  But if there’s a laundry basket on the wrong side when going the wrong why, he gets stuck and refuses to go around it.  If the obstacle is something small like a backpack, he’ll step over it.  But much bigger, and he won’t.  They have no idea what happened to scare him from the other side of the hallway in just one direction.

    My friend happens to be LDS- I wonder if I should point him to this…

  • Julie MacTíre

    This! OH DOG, THIS.

    I work in a dog daycare.  Don’t fool yourselves; it’s not all romping with clean, fluffy dogs on acres of green grass.  Dogs are filthy creatures who are always trying to get away with something.  I love them, but dog daycare (along with pretty much any serious work involving the canine species) strips any cherished illusions you may have about them.

    It used to be that the dogs were taken in/out via the inner room, where a ramp led up to the door.  In the afternoon, dogs will slowly accumulate around and on the ramp, waiting to be called into the inner room in preparation for being collected by their owners.  Most of them are on a schedule, so they had a pretty good idea of when they’re going home.

    However, there is a significant percentage of dogs who need. to. get. into. the. inner. room. and haunt the ramp for a chance of getting inside.  We have a French Bulldog who is particularly notorious for slipping through the gate and into the ‘inner sanctum’.

    Because, you know, when they’re in the inner room, they get to go home!  Why wouldn’t they think that?  Most of the time when they’re there, their owner magically appears and they get whisked away in the car.  So, naturally, they believe that just by being in the room, they can get Alpha Mom or Alpha Dad to materialize in the lobby.

    Even when they can see that no Mom or Dad is there, they refuse to realize that s/he just isn’t coming and go quietly back to the dog yard or dog room.  No, Mom or Dad is coming and if they just bark and jump and slam their front paws against the gate enough, s/he will appear.

    When they are removed from the inner room because we need it to be open for the dogs coming in/out, they don’t believe it’s because their owner hasn’t come to pick them up.  Oh, no.  It’s us horrible, unfeeling daycare staff who deliberately prevent them from making their owners appear by tossing them back into general population.  They can make their owners appear by being in that inner room and they just keep trying to shoulder their way in to make that happen.

    It’s kind of like prayer.

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

       Do the dogs usually enter the inner room before their owners?


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