Can Dogs See Themselves In The Mirror?
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Summary: In this blog, we learn all about dogs and mirrors. We’ll find out if dogs understand mirrors, how self-aware a dog is when it comes to their own reflection and we’ll learn whether dogs can even see themselves in the mirror…
We know we’re self-aware as human beings because we notice when things change on our face and body when we look in the mirror. But, as proud puppy parents, we start to question what our dog’s experience of these similar day-to-day occurrences are too.
Do dogs experience mirrors in the same way that we do? Do they recognize their reflection as themselves when they look in one? Can they even see in the mirror in the first place? Let’s find out…
Dog Mirror Test
Around half a century ago, a researcher called Gordon G. Gallup designed a test to establish if animals were self-aware. An odorless dye mark was applied to their face (the fact it was odorless was very important, as the smell could be distracting and interfere with their genuine responses) and then they were put in front of a mirror. The theory was that if the animal interacted with the mark on their face this proved they were aware of themselves.
Unfortunately for dogs, they didn’t seem to notice or acknowledge the mark unlike great apes, dolphins, elephants, and even magpies who did. But, the test’s validity and the design itself, amongst other researchers, was disputed quite extensively and it was argued that this test couldn’t prove whether a dog was self-aware or not…
Dogs And Self-Awareness
It was argued that vision and sight were not a dog’s primary sense; their nose was (which is why we make sure our PetLab Co. treats smell and taste as great as possible!) So, another test then took place conducted by competitor researchers to determine if a dog could be considered self-aware by recognizing the scent of their own urine. Dogs seemed to fair much better in this test by being able to show signs of recognizing their own pee when compared to their reaction to a doctored sample. However, the jury’s still out as to whether this can be considered conclusive proof of a dog’s self-awareness.
Some scientists then explored whether establishing if a dog had body awareness could then help them conclude that dogs are self-aware. We’ve all experienced a dog that’s too big to fit on someone’s lap try regardless!
The test was simple; place a dog on a mat with a toy attached to it and get them to pass the toy to their owner. If a dog was self-aware, they’d get off the mat when they realize their weight is what’s stopping their ability to pick up the mat-attached toy. Elephants pass this test, but human infants between the age of 18 and 24 months do not…
To be sure the dog understands what to do, the task is first presented with the toy loose from the mat before they’re asked to do the same with the toy attached to the mat. Interestingly, most of the dogs would get up and leave the mat solving the solution and ultimately proving they recognized their own weight and body as the obstacle. So, it’s argued that from these results that dogs are self-aware, alongside their ability to recognize their own pee and their proven ability to imitate other dogs and humans, but it’s not quite passing the mirror test…
So, Do Dogs See Themselves In The Mirror?
Probably not in the same way we do. They see another dog, but don’t know that dog as themselves. What’s most likely is that they’re so used to living in a human world and just aren’t surprised by the magic of a reflection, as they’re so regularly exposed to mirrors. This is also most likely why puppies tend to be so much more excited by a mirror than an older pup typically is. So, yes dogs can see in mirrors but are they seeing the reflection as themselves? Most likely not.
“Do Dogs Recognise Themselves In The Mirror?” Tails, Oct 01. 2021 https://tails.com/blog/2021/10/01/do-dogs-recognise-themselves-in-the-mirror/
Author Gibeault, Stephanie MSc, CPDT “Are Dogs Self Aware? New Research Suggests Yes”, American Kennel Club, Apr 08. 2021 https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/news/a-new-way-to-look-at-dog-self-awareness/