Whenever your dog looks at his own reflection in front of the mirror, he barks. Though it's funny and cute, you're left wondering: Why does my dog bark at the mirror? Is he scared? Does he recognize himself? What exactly does he think is going on? By learning about this behavior, you can hopefully calm your dog down when he's barking at the mirror with a little bit of love and affection.
What happens when a dog sees a mirror
When a dog encounters a mirror or window – especially for the first time or if he is a puppy – he may think he's looking at another dog. Additionally, 2017 research from the Department of Psychology of the Barnard College in the USA shows that dogs may recognize themselves based on smell, but not on sight, according to The New York Times. Alexandra Horowitz, a psychologist at Barnard College, found that dogs recognize the smell of their own urine, but not the sight of themselves in a mirror.
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Your dog may try to walk around the back of the mirror or attack the "dog" in the mirror. He could growl as well and take a combative stance. He may also sniff at the mirror to see if he can smell the other dog, since smell is how dogs figure out the world around them. When he doesn't smell anything, he may quickly lose interest and stop barking at the mirror.
Most dogs will start ignoring mirrors once they learn that there is no smell associated with them. This is called habituation, according to Scientific American, and it's a good thing. If dogs didn't ignore mirrors or responded to every single stimulating thing they saw, sniffed, or heard, it could be a waste of energy. Habituation demonstrates that your dog has critical learning and memory skills.
However, if your dog hasn't seen a mirror or window in awhile, the old habit of attacking the "other" dog and sniffing at it could return. This is a return of your dog's old response, which is also called spontaneous recovery. Once your dog realizes the mirror is pretty much useless to him, he should stop barking at it again.
What to do if your dog won’t stop barking at mirrors
If your dog is getting frazzled when he sees his own reflection and not learning to ignore it, then you can always take steps to calm him down. Aside from keeping him away from mirrors and windows, according to Central California SPCA you can calm down your dog by making sure he gets plenty of exercise, cuddling him as much as possible, and putting him in a quiet space of his own to play. If those don't work, some pet owners also find pheromone sprays effective, though the evidence for them is still inconclusive.
Perhaps your dog's issue with the mirror reflects his attitude towards other dogs. He may be aggressive towards other dogs when you take him out for a walk or you go to the dog park. If this is the case, you can train him not to be. It's best to socialize your puppy when he's young by taking him to the dog park and letting him play with other puppies (after he's been vaccinated).
According to VCA Hospitals, you also need to train your pup by telling him how to sit, stay, and be quiet through positive reinforcement, of course. Your dog is going to look for contextual cues from you, so if you are anxious and loud, he may be, too. You can also learn to recognize signs that your dog is getting aggressive, like growling, showing teeth, lunging forward, and becoming very rigid and still, according to the ASPCA. If you're having trouble with training your dog not to be aggressive, then you can always take him to a professional trainer.
Your dog likely barks at the mirror because he thinks there is another dog. Once he sniffs the mirror, he should lose interest. If he doesn't, you can use training methods to calm him down and keep him happy.