I am continually amazed by my dogs’ willingness to do what I ask of them in situations where they can’t possibly understand the reasons for the behavior or its consequences. When I leash up Kunga and hop him up into the van, he could be going for a walk or we could be about to drive for hours to a dog show. He doesn’t care: he jumps into the car willingly.
Susan Orlean wrote about the willingness of ordinary pet dogs to become war dogs during WWII. In her book about Rin Tin Tin (an excellent read, by the way), she tells the story about people who volunteered to send their pets to the Army, which trained them as battlefield couriers, bomb detectors, etc. Many of these pets lost their lives working for people. I don’t know if they could possibly understand that risk, but it seems they mostly did it willingly.
There was an entire “This American Life” radio broadcast about animals that are willing to sacrifice themselves for humans. You can download it here: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/480/animal-sacrifice.
Astonishing that dogs seem to love us enough to give everything for us.