Do Dogs Recognize their Reflection?

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When we look in a mirror, we recognize the image we see as our own. Some other animals also have this ability, including apes, dolphins and elephants -- but are dogs among the list of "self-aware" animals?

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The "Mirror Test"

A standard "Mirror Test" (or Self-Awareness test) allows us to determine whether dogs and other animals understand that they are looking at themselves and not another animal when they see their reflected image. In the test, an animal who has been given an artificial topical marking is placed where he can look in a mirror. If the animal tries to touch or fiddle with the marking, the tester assumes the animal recognizes the mirror image as her own reflection, meaning the animal possesses what scholars refer to as 'self-awareness.' Elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, and some birds have successfully passed the Mirror Test. Dogs, however, do not.


Why Dogs Fail

The Mirror Test seems biased in favor of animals who rely primarily on their sense of sight for recognition. Dogs rely mostly on their sense of smell. This reliance explains why dogs may initially growl or sniff at the image in the mirror before losing interest, since they cannot smell the reflected canine. Professor Marc Beckoff conducted an experiment with dog urine to see if dogs react differently to the scent of their own and other dogs' urine. He found that dogs do seem to recognize their own scent, suggesting they do have self-awareness despite their mirror test results.


By Amy S. Jorgensen


Psychology Today: Does My Dog Recognize Himself in a Mirror?
NPR: I Sniff, Therefore I Am. Are Dogs Self-Conscious?
VetStreet: What Do Animals See in the Mirror?

About the Author
Amy Jorgensen has ghostwritten more than 100 articles and books on raising and training animals. She is also an amateur dog trainer. She has also written more than 200 blog posts, articles, and ebooks on wedding and party planning on behalf of professionals in the field.