Self-awareness in animals is different according to species and mirrors. Orangutans, Chimpanzees, Dolphins, Elephants and Magpies are considered self-aware because they pass the ‘mirror test.’ They have what is considered a sense of “me-ness.” Since dogs don’t seem to recognize themselves, the scientific community up till have felt they lack self-awareness. But is that the case, or might they recognize themselves if another sense was used to determine this psychological make-up?
The Mirror Test
Since the 1970s, researchers have used the ‘mirror test’ as a tool to identify self-recognition in animals. The main components of the self recognition assessment are a mirror and an animal who has identifiable marks on their face or body. In the original mirror test, chimpanzees — who had covertly been marked on the face with red odorless dye — were found to use the mirror to examine the mark.
In so doing, something about them changed.
They would touch the mark on their face similarly to how a teenager might examine a newly formed pimple on their face. They did not reach toward the mirror, but instead used the mirror to refer back to themselves.
But dogs don’t pass the ‘mirror test.’ Instead of using it to defer to themselves, they appear to analyze mirrors as another dog. And when the dog doesn’t interact or engage with them, they typically begin to ignore the mirror image altogether.
So are Dogs Self-Aware?
So, if our canines fail the mirror test, can we definitively say they lack the so-called 'self-recognition gene'? Not according new research. New studies think the traditional mirror test isn’t the be-all in determining the self-awareness of our pooches.
Sniffers versus Spyers
If you ask dog-owners their opinion, many would tell you their dogs are more affected by ‘smell’ than ‘sight.’ In essence, they are sniffers versus spyers. And research now tells us that dog have ‘sizable brain regions’ dedicated to olfaction where they are equipped to process smells and associate those smells with dogs they may or may not have met in their travels.
Urine Test vs. Mirror Test
Pee appears to be tops on our dogs’ list as to what smell they like to investigate more than others. According to Julie Hecht at Scientific American, “it is pee that leads countless dogs around the world to pull humans this way and that when out on a walk.”
So instead of mirrors, we’d be better served investigating the question of self-awareness with our dogs with smell tests.
With that in mind, Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, suggests biologists should turn to urine for questions of “self” and “other” in dogs.
Bekoff’s “yellow snow” study, published in 2001, explored the topic of “me” / “my” and “you” / “your.”
His field experiment is the new benchmark for determining how dogs view themselves. Over five years, when out walking his dog Jethro in the snow, Bekoff moved urine-soaked snow to see how Jethro behaved when encountering his own pee versus that of other dogs. Jethro performed as expected, sniffing other dogs’ urine more than his own. Jethro, Bekoff suggested, “clearly had some sense of ‘self’: a sense of ‘mine-ness.'.”
So, according to man's best friends, it appears you are what you smell . . . and may pees be with them! Happy sniffing dog-owners!
Primary Source: Dogs Knowing Themselves