We know consciousness requires a specific level of awareness. Many people view other life forms who have a lower level of awareness as having a lower level of consciousness. Thus consciousness correlates on a reasonable level with awareness.

Can a dog give consent?

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    Could you clarify what you mean by "consent"? I can argue this either way, depending on that. – David Thornley Nov 13 '18 at 23:05
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    One option would be "moral consent", an analogy to the human notion of "consent". – elliot svensson Nov 13 '18 at 23:21
  • Ref for prank article about dog park "rape culture": politico.com/magazine/story/2018/11/11/… – elliot svensson Nov 13 '18 at 23:30
  • To what? Are you feeding it? Having sex with it? – user4894 Nov 14 '18 at 0:38
  • While this question stimulatingly prompts us to think about the nature of consent, it also concerns the nature of a non-human animal consciousness, that of a dog, and so falls within zoology. There are zoologists on this site who can use their scientific knowledge but the question is only partly philosophical. – Geoffrey Thomas Nov 14 '18 at 9:20

According to Planned Parenthood, consent must be FRIES:

Free, Reversible, Informed, Enthusiastic, and Specific.


I suppose that any of these aspects of behavior could apply to dogs, except for "Free". In many cases, it seems to me that a submissive dog has not arrived at submission without the threat of violence, or perhaps real violence.

Also, in the case of sex, it is not generally Reversible for the dog not to get pregnant once the dog has gotten pregnant.

It is hard to know if a dog knows what will happen after it has sex, so I suppose that Informed consent is also hard for a dog to grant.

Dog consent may be Enthusiastic or not. Clearly this is a matter of circumstances.

  • I do not personally agree with Planned Parenthood's formulation of consent as a general definition: consent that is reversible is hard to explain and borders (to me) on incoherence. – elliot svensson Nov 13 '18 at 23:48
  • To be self-regulating and a bit pedantic: a good way to say that consent is reversible is to prevent a language difference or misunderstanding from resulting in rape on the possibility that somebody "gets consent" from somebody else and then turns his or her ears off (or enters an altered state of consciousness) and fails to provide his or her sexual partner the opportunity to demure from that moment onward. This would be bad, but I think requiring consent to be specific resolves this conflict. – elliot svensson Nov 13 '18 at 23:52
  • A bad way to say that consent is reversible is if two people are entering into a joint business venture, in which one person makes the first big investment and the other person makes the next big investment... if the second person to invest exercises the supposed right to reverse his or her consent, then the first person's consent has been materially compromised because it was offered with an expectation that had not been met; i.e. the first investor's consent has been shown not to have been informed. – elliot svensson Nov 13 '18 at 23:54
  • I posit that this tension between informed consent and reversible consent (which I laid out in the comment starting with "a bad way") makes the FRIES formulation of consent somewhat unstable; I wouldn't use this formulation myself and I hope that Planned Parenthood can develop something more bulletproof to tell teenagers in the future. – elliot svensson Nov 13 '18 at 23:57
  • Are you saying once you agree to anything, you can't change your mind? – CriglCragl Nov 14 '18 at 11:47

Looking at the Op's profile, Ric clearly knows dogs, and therefore already clearly knows the answer to his own question — yes, dogs clearly possess the requisite awareness/consciousness/whatever for "consent". No need to grossly over-intellectualize it.

What's really, really clear is that dogs can express enthusiasm, and conversely reluctance. Consent is maybe a bit more subtle, but it's not a question of if the dog can express it, but of whether or not you know the dog well enough to read its expression and body language. I've been in plenty of dog situations where it's clearly communicating, "Yeah, yeah, okay, but it ain't my first choice."

How do I know for sure that's what the dog's feeling/communicating? Well, there's the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turing_test for intelligence, whereby Turing pretty much gave up on a quantitative definition/test for "human intelligence/consciousness". And I'd imagine we're pretty much barking up the same tree (sorry, couldn't resist) for "dog consent". And they most unquestionably pass my Turing test for that.


Clearly, a dog's consent wouldn't have a form of human consent. Elliot Svensson's answer goes in such direction. Humanizing non-humans is a common but wrong subjective interpretation of causal mechanisms (actions, reactions) of other entities, like animals. I'm not telling his answer is wrong: consentment would only properly be applied to human interaction. But perhaps we can do an interpretation.

Perhaps a systemic approach regarding interaction can be applied. Interaction produces attraction or rejection as a result (e.g. you've bought delicious bread from bakery X; then, you experience some attraction to such bakery, which would cause you to come back; if you didn't liked it, you will try to get far from it). So, if the animal feels attracted to the interaction to be performed, we can assume such causal reaction as a form of consent, without humanizing the animal actions and reactions. This is one issue to consider.

The issue here is that such reaction (attraction or rejection) is produced after the interaction. Consentment is usually associated to an interrogation prior to the interaction. So, since we cannot ask a dog if he would like to test a drug, just give it to him, consentment wouldn't be possible. This is the second issue to consider.

Third issue: in the second case, since animals can make associations, Pavlov ringing the bell could be associated with proposing the action. If the animal has a positive (attractive) response, it can be considered as consentment. But here, we're already assuming that ringing the bell is trigering a form of understanding, so, again, we're humanizing the process. Kant wouldn't agree.

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