What Does My Dog See When He Looks in a Mirror?

by Amy Jorgensen Google
    Your dog doesn't recognize himself in the mirror.

    Your dog doesn't recognize himself in the mirror.

    George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    When humans 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. Dogs, though, do not recognize their reflection in the mirror. When dogs look in the mirror, they see the image of a canine but they do not realize they are the dog they are seeing.

    The Mirror Test

    A standard "Mirror Test" allows us to determine whether dogs and other animals recognize themselves in reflected image. In the test, a 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 is self-aware. 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.

    Photo Credits

    • George Doyle & Ciaran Griffin/Stockbyte/Getty Images

    About the Author

    Amy Jorgensen is a writer and communications instructor from Indiana. In addition to 10-plus years working as a writer, she has been teaching writing and communication courses to college students for nine years. She has a Bachelor of Science in English, a Master of Arts in liberal studies and a Master of Arts in communications.

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