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Do Dogs Know What They Look Like? Do They Know Themselves in a Mirror?

Jessica Kim

By Jessica Kim

Pug on Mirror

While humans use mirrors to check how they look and fix their appearance, dogs don’t use mirrors in the same way. Many dogs have a funny first encounter with mirrors and can get used to what mirrors do. Other dogs can even learn to use them as tools.

So, dogs aren’t able to recognize themselves in mirrors. However, this doesn’t mean that mirrors are completely disregarded and don’t play a role in their daily lives.

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Do Dogs Know What They Look Like?

Dogs don’t quite have the ability to recognize themselves in mirrors. That’s why many puppies will try to befriend and play with their reflection when they first encounter mirrors. However, most dogs will eventually grow bored and don’t interact any further with a mirror. So, they don’t learn that the mirror reflects their appearance.

Tests have been done to see if dogs can recognize themselves in mirrors, and dogs consistently do not pass these tests. In one experiment, scientists placed marks on dogs to see if they would notice the change in their appearance through a mirror. The dogs in this experiment weren’t able to recognize and identify their physical appearance.

Another experiment presented mirror images to dogs. Dogs either treated the images as another animal or ignored them completely. Meanwhile, other animals, including dolphins, gorillas, and orangutans, were able to recognize themselves and understand that they were staring at themselves.

Puppy in mirror
Image Credit: Tomasz Wrzesien, Shutterstock

How Do Dogs Use Mirrors?

Just because dogs don’t recognize themselves in mirrors doesn’t mean that they don’t know how to interact with them. Some tests show that dogs can use mirrors as tools to find objects. For example, if a ball is hidden beneath a couch but is reflected in a mirror, the dog can use the mirror image to find the location of the ball.

Do Dogs Have Self-Awareness?

Despite failing mirror tests, dogs do have a certain level of self-awareness. It’s just that mirror tests were the wrong mediums to use on dogs. This makes sense because dogs’ primary sense isn’t sight. Instead, they rely on their powerful noses.

Therefore, newer scent-based tests indicate that dogs can have a certain level of self-awareness. For example, one test showed that dogs are able to recognize their own scent through urine scents.

Another test proved that dogs can have body awareness, which is another form of self-awareness. This test had dogs stand on top of a mat and try to get a toy underneath the mat. The only way to get the toy was for the dog to realize that its own body was a part of the challenge, and it would have to step off the mat to get the toy.

Dogs were able to pass this test, which indicated that they have a certain level of understanding that their actions have consequences.

dog smelling flowers outside
Image Credit: Mylene2401, Pixabay

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Wrap Up

Dogs can’t recognize their own reflection and don’t realize that they’re looking at themselves when they’re staring at a mirror. However, this doesn’t indicate that they lack self-awareness. If anything, it reinforces that they don’t rely on sight in the same way that humans and other animals do.

Dogs have also proven that they have self-awareness through other types of tests. In addition, their ability to empathize and display other advanced cognitive abilities are further reinforcements that dogs are self-aware, despite their inability to recognize their own reflections.


Featured Image Credit: m20143407, Pixabay

Jessica Kim

Authored by

Jessica is a freelance writer who spends most of her day researching and writing while her fluffy Cavapoo, Nora, naps beside her. She loves and appreciates pets and animals because there’s so much to learn from them, and they do so much for people. As a dog mom, she understands the special connection that pet parents have with their pets. So, she loves sharing helpful information that people can use to better understand...Read more

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