puppy in mirror

Dogs aren’t just soft and fluffy pets that take up residence in people’s homes. Many dog owners also receive care from their dogs as they care for their pets. Dogs have the ability to connect with humans in a special way, and their emotional and social intelligence are topics of research and debate.

For years, researchers believed that dogs are not capable of being self-aware. However, new research indicates that dogs have at least some level of physical self-awareness. Here’s what we now know so far about self-awareness and dogs.

What Is Self-Awareness?

The basic definition of self-awareness is the ability to recognize yourself as separate from your environment. Researcher David DeGrazia identified three kinds of self-awareness in animals:

  • Bodily self-awareness
  • Social self-awareness
  • Introspective self-awareness

The Mirror Test and Past Research

A common test that researchers would use to determine self-awareness is the mirror test. Basically, animals would stand in front of a mirror and be tested to see if they could recognize their reflection in the mirror. Successful recognition indicates that the animal is able to differentiate its own body from other bodies.

In another variation of the test, scientists would place a mark on the animal’s face. This was done to see if the animal would be able to recognize the strange mark that suddenly appeared on their faces.

Some animals have passed this test, including dolphins, elephants, great apes, and magpies. However, dogs haven’t been able to recognize their emotions. Some react to their reaction as though they’re meeting another dog, while others don’t react at all. These test results perpetuated the belief that dogs aren’t self-aware.

Pug on Mirror
Image courtesy of Pixabay

Evidence That Dogs Are Self-Aware

The mirror test ended up being biased because it requires test subjects to rely primarily on their visual senses to pass the test. However, dogs don’t use sight as their main sense to navigate the world. So, a new type of test would have to be employed to determine a dog’s level of self-awareness.

The “body as an obstacle” test was developed as a more appropriate and fairer test for dogs. The basic premise of the test is to place the dog on top of a mat that has a treat or toy attached to it. The dog can only get to the treat or toy if they step off the mat.

Dogs that have been able to get the reward in this manner successfully demonstrated body self-awareness. They were able to become aware that their own body was getting in the way of the reward.

Dogs were also able to prove that they had some levels of self-awareness through other tests. They have episodic memories and can remember specific things that happened in the past, and they can also identify their own scent.

Wrap Up on Dog’s Self-Awareness

Research shows that dogs have some level of self-awareness. However, more research has to be done to determine the exact capacity of their self-awareness.

Regardless of how self-aware dogs are about themselves, there’s other research that shows that they can be empathetic animals. Dogs can act on their empathy for humans and other dogs and animals. Despite what we know and have yet to discover about dogs, there’s no denying that they’re remarkable animals and are well deserving of the title of man’s best friend.

Featured Image Credit: Tomasz Wrzesien, Shutterstock