Do Dogs Recognise Themselves In Mirrors?

When dogs look in the mirror, they don’t see themselves. Instead, they may think they have run into another dog – a potential friend or foe – and behave accordingly.

If they are a little disturbed by the appearance of an unfamiliar dog in their space, they may tense up and look up. Or, thinking they’ve found a new friend, they might do that cute little “let’s play.”

The reason scientists are convinced that dogs can’t see themselves is because, they say, dogs don’t have self-awareness.

The key is the mirror test. If you put a tag on a magpie’s wing and place the bird next to the mirror, something amazing happens.

The magpie will see in its reflection that there is something on its wing and try to remove it.

Dolphins, elephants, and some monkeys are also capable of doing this. Dogs, however, do not.

Even humans are not born with this ability. Only when we turn 18 months old do we take the mirror test ourselves.

Dog’s test for self awareness – Mirror test

The mirror test is a classic but controversial scientific experiment that helps researchers determine the level of self-awareness in animals(dogs).

Today, canine behaviorists have more accurate, more appropriate ways to test self-awareness.

For example, although dogs fail the mirror test, they pass the more modern “body as obstacle” test brilliantly.

In this AKC experiment, the dog is tasked with picking up a toy and handing it to its owner.

Part of the test involves attaching the toy to the mat the dog is sitting on to see if the dog can recognize its own body as an obstacle.

The study found that yes, it can. Because puppies know where their bodies are in space, they may have more self-awareness than we think.

However, although some dogs respond to their own reflection, research has yet to confirm that dogs recognize a reflection as another dog, let alone themselves.

Why do dogs look in mirrors?

If dogs don’t see themselves in mirrors, what do they see?

Most likely, like us, they use mirrors as a tool. Tiffany Howell and Pauline Bennett of the Anthropozoology Research Group conducted a recent mirror study to see if dogs process what they see in mirrors.

Specifically, do they understand the reflective properties of these everyday objects?

In one study, in which a puppy’s owner was only seen through the reflection, only seven out of 40 dogs turned to their owner when they saw him in the mirror.

In the second experiment, the dogs had to find a bowl of treats that was only visible through the mirror.

The results of this study were similarly uncertain – 77% of the dogs were able to find the food through reflection, although 41% of the participants still succeeded without using a mirror.

Why are humans more self aware than dogs

Self-awareness is the ability to think of yourself as an individual and to realize that you are separate from the people around you – to have a sense of self-worth.

It is considered a prerequisite for understanding that other people may have different feelings or thoughts than you do.

It is a key part of being human, and for some scientists it is the disputed line between humans and animals.

Because you can’t ask them what they’re thinking, a classic way to study self-awareness in animals is the mirror test, developed by Gordon Gallup Jr. in 1970.

To conduct the test, an animal’s body is secretly marked, for example, by applying an odorless red paint to its muzzle, and then the animal is given access to a mirror.

If the animal realizes it is looking at itself and not at another animal, it may touch the mark while looking in the mirror or turn its body to better see the reflection of the mark.

This indicates self-awareness, which in turn hints at self-awareness.

Mirror self-recognition may seem obvious to people, but it requires a certain cognitive complexity.

Human children do not understand mirrors until they are 18-24 months old. Over the years, only a few animal species have passed this test.

And dogs are not one of them. Your dog’s early introduction to the mirror may have caused him to be afraid or curious about the other dog in the room.

This lack of understanding seems surprising given the other complex mental and social skills dogs have been shown to possess.

But there may be a simple explanation, humans are visual creatures; we perceive the world mostly through sight. Dogs are not.

A dog’s sense of smell is its main gateway to the world.

This led Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, a researcher at Tomsk State University in Russia, to hypothesize that smell may be a window to self-knowledge and possibly self-awareness in dogs.

He developed a test of self-awareness through sniffing and found that dogs seem to recognize whether a smell is their own.

Dogs may not recognize themselves in the mirror, but if you change the self-awareness test to the sense that dogs rely on more, the sense of smell, they do seem to pass the mirror test.

Whether this means that dogs really do have self-awareness remains to be seen, but by asking this species-specific question, scientists can learn more about the minds of our canine companions.


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