Do dogs know who they are?

If you look into a mirror and see your reflection, you know that it is you. Humans use mirrors to do their hair, fix their makeup, and make sure their outfit looks good. But have you ever put a dog in front of a mirror? The dog will most likely bark at its own reflection, thinking that it is another dog. They do not understand that the dog looking back at them is in fact themselves.


A man named Mark Bekoff, a biologist from The University of Colorado, thinks that just because dogs aren’t able to recognize their own reflection, doesn’t mean that they aren’t self aware. Noting that a dogs strongest sense is smell and not sight. He did an experiment where he would take his dog for a walk in the winter (the experiment lasted 5 winters) and during his walks, he would scoop up his dogs pee, and later place it near the dog to see his reaction. What he found was that the dog spent much less time re-sniffing his own pee, than the time spent sniffing and peeing over another dogs pee. This suggests that the dog recognized his own smell and knew that it was his own “yellow snow”.

This experiment was different than others performed, which involved mirrors and animals, because it used another sense other than sight. Mark Bekoff used a different approach to see if a dog was able to recognize himself.

I think that this experiment is a good start to test the self awareness in dogs but it is not clear evidence as to whether they actually are self aware or not.  Testing senses other than sight is also a good idea because like Bekoff said, a dogs sight is not its strongest sense and so it might not be the best way to test the dog.


3 thoughts on “Do dogs know who they are?

  1. Anne Curry Heffernan

    Interesting question as to why dogs think that it is a different dog in the mirror, and I think that the answer lies somewhere in the fact that dogs rely on their vision way less than humans do. Dogs mostly communicate through their sense of smell, which is 1,000 to 10,000,000 times more sensitive than humans sense of smell. Dogs also can’t see as well as humans can, because the different colors they see are sometimes blurred together in the same color, so they overlook certain shapes and colors as things are also more blurry than what humans see. So dogs probably do not understand the concept of a mirror, and do not necessarily know what they look like, but recognize themselves through smell. Humans recognize themselves and others more through sight, as we rely on our eyes way more than our noses.

  2. Jennifer Lynn Finkelstein

    This blog post is super interesting because I once put my dog in front of a mirror and she didn’t really have much of a reaction. She kinda just sat there. When we did it to my friends dog, he started jumping and licking the mirror as if it was another dog. I wonder why my dog didn’t have the same reaction? Very interesting study and experiment!

  3. Kirya Ades-Aron

    It’s so funny to watch a dog in front of a mirror because they bark non-stop thinking that it’s a different dog! I always wondered if dogs knew what they looked like but according to your blog they at least know what they smell like! Since dogs senses of smell are so strong and accurate that probably explains why my dog pee’s in the same spots each time I walk him. Who knows, maybe he’s communicating with other dogs that also have gone to the bathroom in that same spot.

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