Can My Dog Recognise Itself In The Mirror
“Can my dog recognise itself in the mirror?” This is a deceivingly simple question that unpacks a lot more about dogs – and humans – than one would expect. To answer the question: no, dogs do not recognise themselves when looking in a mirror. However, they do see their reflection as another dog, which is why many puppies go berserk attempting to “play” with the puppy in the mirror.
This puppy in the mirror is an odourless, two-dimensional counterpart that most dogs come to realise will not engage in any form of interaction. This is why many, with time, become indifferent to their reflection in the mirror.
While this is a pretty straightforward explanation, it prompts the question: do dogs have a sense of self? In other words, are dogs self-aware? Do they know the difference between “I” and “you”?
These are deep questions that have largely been left unanswered. Some research has discovered that dogs show self-awareness in terms of smell. Animal cognition researcher, Marc Berkoff, found that his dog, Jethro, was least interested in his own scent, and most interested in other dogs’ scents. This was discovered through his novel experiment, the Yellow Snow Study. Over five winters, Berkoff would move Jethro’s and other dogs’ pee-soaked snow while Jethro wasn’t looking. Jethro would consistently mark his scent over the other dogs’ yellow snow, but would leave his alone. Berkoff believed this revealed that a dog’s sense of self is through olfactory cues, rather than the visual indicators that humans are more predisposed to.
While insightful, the results are largely unsurprising, and it does not necessarily prove that dogs are self-aware. The challenge is to test this on their terms, not ours. The mirror test reflects a sense of self that can only be applied to humans and some other high-intelligent animals such as chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, and dolphins. It would be a fallacy to conclude that dogs, along with many other animals, do not have a sense of self based on their ability to recognise themselves in a mirror. While Berkoff’s test may be a step in the right direction, there is still much in this regard that leaves us guessing. One thing’s for sure, don’t expect your dog to be checking itself out in the mirror.
Read more: Can Dogs Understand Time