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Do Dogs Know They Are Dogs? Self & Body Awareness

Rachel Giordano

By Rachel Giordano

doberman pinscher dog sitting with owner on the living room floor

Many dogs are goofballs and entertain us with their antics, but dogs can be super intelligent and seem to bond with us in ways that exceed our expectations. Being a dog owner, have you ever wondered if dogs know they are dogs? Or do they simply walk and wag through life only thinking of a treat or chasing a squirrel? In other words, are dogs aware that they are dogs and not humans? Interestingly, new studies seem to indicate that dogs do have a sense of self-awareness regarding their bodies.

So, what does this mean, and how did researchers discover this fascinating piece of news? Let’s dive into this topic more closely to determine how dogs have a sense of body awareness.

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The Mirror Test

A controversial and typical test of self-awareness is the mirror test.1 The test consists of secretly placing a mark on a dog’s body and then giving the dog access to a mirror. If the dog tries to touch the mark or look to examine the mark, this is an indicator that the dog has self-recognition. However, most dogs fail this test, but apes, elephants, and dolphins pass it with no problem. The controversy with this test is that vision is not a dog’s primary sense, making the test inconclusive.

White bulldog looking at himself in the mirror
Image Credit to PokoFoto, Shutterstock

Self-Awareness and Body Awareness

Body awareness is key to self-awareness in the sense that an individual or being has the ability to perceive themselves, as well as perceive how their bodies move about the world around them. Dogs, like humans, seem to have this cognitive ability, according to new research.

Since some large dogs never seem to realize that they are not a puppy any longer but still climb up in your lap may conclude that dogs have body awareness conflicting. However, researchers adapted a study formerly used on toddlers and later elephants, known as a “body of obstacle” test, to determine if dogs have the ability to understand how their bodies move around the space surrounding them and if they understand their body is an “obstacle.”

The test was conducted using 32 dogs of different sizes and breeds, and the task was to simply hand a toy over to the owner—but there was a catch—the toy was sometimes attached to a mat that the dogs were standing on, and sometimes, the toy was attached to nothing at all. The goal was to see if the dogs knew they needed to get off the mat to release their own body weight in order to hand over the toy, whether it was attached or not. The dogs passed the test when they successfully delivered the toy to the owner. The test used control groups with different scenarios, which you can read about here.

blue merle australian shepherd dog playing with fleece rope toy in the meadow
Image Credit to Kristyna Mrazkova, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

We couldn’t find research that shows dogs know they’re “dogs,” but new evidence suggests they know they are another being apart from us and have self-awareness, which means they have body awareness. There’s no doubt that dogs are intelligent, as they can recognize their own odor and recall memories—abused dogs do not forget the treatment they received from a former, abusive owner.

Regardless if dogs realize they are “dogs,” one thing’s for sure: they deserve all the love and attention we can give them. Dogs are smart enough to learn how to play fetch and obey commands, and the key to keeping your dog happy and healthy is to provide a complete and balanced diet and ensure your dog gets adequate exercise. Most of all, allow your dog to be a dog!


Featured Image Credit to gemphoto, Shutterstock

Rachel Giordano

Authored by

Rachel Giordano is a writer and musician out of Pensacola, Florida, living there with her partner and their two dogs, Aero, a Border Collie/Sheltie mix, and Sophie, a Boston Terrier. Rachel has a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and enjoys writing about all types of animals. When Rachel’s not dedicating her time to writing about animals, she enjoys writing thriller/suspense novels. A writer by day and a musician...Read more

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