In detail

Self-recognition: Do dogs have a self-awareness?


What most dog owners have long guessed that my researcher has now proven: Dogs have a self-awareness. Self-recognition seems to be a breeze for the four-legged friends, experiments suggest. Even if they fail the mirror test, dogs still have a self-awareness - Shutterstock / Zuzule

What does self-awareness or self-awareness mean? The simplest thing is that a living being recognizes a difference between itself and the environment and knows that it is an individual. Dogs may not think about it as reflectively as humans, but they still meet the basic criteria of self-recognition.

Dogs fail the mirror test, but pass the smell test

Like most other animals, dogs do not recognize themselves in the mirror. So they don't know what they look like and, in spite of their complex cognitive functions, they don't connect the reflection with themselves. Therefore, it was long thought that dogs cannot keep up with animals such as monkeys when it comes to self-recognition. However, the mistake was not in the lack of self-awareness of the fur noses, but in the type of test.

Using an odor test, researchers were able to summarize the evidence that dogs recognize themselves. The animals simply use their sense of smell more than their eyes to recognize them, so they recognize themselves by the smell and not by the reflection. In the test, urine samples were distributed by foreign dogs and by the animal test participants themselves. The animals paid much less attention to their own urine samples than to those of the foreign dogs. The conclusion suggests that dogs recognize their own smell and are therefore not as interesting as unknown smells.

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I-consciousness: can dogs deceive people?

In other experiments, the suspicion was raised that dogs have the ability to recognize themselves. It was about deception or planning ability. Apparently dogs seem to be able to use their own behavior in a way that benefits them. For example in the form of a reward or a treat. Dogs are also likely to be able to assess what a living being is doing next and adjust their behavior accordingly. In order for this to be possible, they have to differentiate between themselves and others, which in turn indicates a self-awareness.