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Do Dogs Recognize Their Reflection In The Mirror

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Do dogs recognize their reflection in the mirror?

Humans are not born with the ability to recognize their own reflection. Once a sense of self-awareness develops, then we are able to see that the reflection is ourselves. The questions become, are dogs self-aware? Other spices and babies are tested using their reaction to the mirror to see if they are self-aware. Most dogs ignore the reflection after sniffing it and initial barking. We cannot tell if the dog is ignoring the image because it has no smell? Or if the dog recognizes himself but they are simply not as vain and concerned with their appearance as higher primates? We know dogs have a sense of body and belonging. Like this is my foot, my face, my spot, and my person. What we are not able to test is their sense of otherness.


What do dogs see when they look in the mirror?

The mirror test is so far the only way that we can measure if an animal is self-aware. The test is simple. Draw a mark on the mirror over the reflection. An animal that is self-aware will touch his own face as if to see if the mark is on them. Animals which have passed the mirror test are common chimpanzees, bonobos, orangutans, dolphins, elephants, humans and possibly pigeons. Surprisingly, gorillas have not passed the test, although at least one specific gorilla, Koko, has passed the test; this is probably because gorillas consider eye contact an aggressive gesture and normally try to avoid looking each other in the face.

This test was developed in 1970 by Gordon Gallup Jr. There are many pros and cons to the test, which include the question if it is an accurate way to measure self-awareness.

Human children tend to fail this test until they are at least 1.5 to 2 years old. Dogs fail the test each time.

Most believe that dogs fail is because they are not smart enough to realize that the mark or spot is on the mirror and that it is, in fact, their reflection. I personally agree with Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC  and Marc Bekoff that this test is very visual. Dog’s do not rely on their sense of sight but rather on their sense of smell.  Marc Bekoff experimented with his dogs by moving around his dog’s pee spot (or his scent). He concluded that dogs do have a self-awareness in the form of “mine-ness” as in this belongs to me, this paw, this spot or this smell.

Before concluding that dogs are not smart enough or lack a consciousness or self-awareness, we should develop a better testing procedure.