Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Can a dog recognize itself?

Mirrors have always fascinated me.

When I was a kid I’d visit my friend and we’d take the huge mirror hanging in my friends parent’s bedroom down into the living room – scared that we might break it – yet really excited all the same.

We’d then carefully lean it up against the wall and call my friend’s dog named Rover into the living room.

The dog would race into the room, see its reflection in the mirror, and go absolutely wild, barking his head off like crazy.

Calm down Rover! It’s not another dog! It’s YOU!

But he never did twig on.

Dogs can’t recognize themselves. Basically they don’t have what psychologists call “self-consciousness” – i.e. they haven’t a clue who they are. Recently I’ve begun to wonder who I am too – and even where I am - but those are different questions altogether and have more to do with moving around too much and not really knowing what place to call home.

So, who do dogs think we are? I mean when that dog of yours looks you in your face does he think you are another dog? After all, isn’t that why he loves you so much? I mean it’s a bit incredible that a dog somehow decides a human is his best friend isn’t it? Or is he actually aware that you are somehow different from him? But then again, if he was aware that you were different from him – that you were a human rather than a dog - then he’d logically have to be aware of himself too wouldn’t he? But as he can’t recognize himself in front of the mirror, he isn’t aware of himself is he? So what is going on here then?

Apes though are a bit more clever. And so are elephants interestingly enough. Because both can recognize themselves in the mirror.

Footnote: for added fun, find a young child (less than 12 months old) paint a red dot on his/her forehead while asleep, and then see when they wake up whether they recognize themselves in front of the mirror and try to touch the dot…


David Rader II said...

I wonder what would happen if you showed a dolphin a mirror... (or something to echo sound in all six basic directions around it) I'd put plexiglass on the mirror though, so if it attacks the mirror it doesn't break it and cut its nose. They need noses. Plus, some say it's bad luck.

Momof2 said...

Hmmmmmmm, i wonder if it is really true. My Shitzu or Yorkie doesn't bark, growl or try and attack the mirror, they both just sit there and look as to ask what is that. When I am in the mirror with they they are at ease and just look with there ears up at attention.

wankongyew said...

Heh, I've always wanted to do this experiment with all sorts of animals, but judging from my own dog's intelligence and how she reacts to the things she sees, I agree that she's not likely to recognize herself in the mirror.

As for what they think about humans, I remember reading that dogs basically consider the humans they live with as being part of their pack, while realizing that humans aren't dogs.

Sunny said...

Maybe if we were clever enough to be able to speak dog we could explain to our dog that it is in fact him/herself in the mirror. I mean, we only know it is us we see in the mirror because someone at some stage told us that. When I was pregnant sometimes when I caught sight of myself in a shop window I wouldn't recognise myself and I'd be like "That woman is really pregnant" then remember that woman was me.

JJ said...

My pigs can recognize themselves in the mirror. They did an experiment with pigs where the pig could only see food through the mirror, but the food was hidden in plain sight. The pigs used the mirrors to find the hidden food.