Are dogs self-aware? Do they have a self-conscious?

Keats

Active member
The standard self-awareness test is how we respond to our own reflection in a mirror. Nine-month-old babies don't recognize themselves apparently, they see another baby. They don't know that THAT baby is them. This self-awareness in front of a mirror for humans starts at about age 2 years.

In animals, chimps pass this test every time, but gorillas fail consistently and so do dogs. Like a human baby seeing another baby, a dog sees another dog. Having said that, dogs can become very well-attuned to their owners' needs and wishes and so many dog owners believe that their dog has self-awareness.

Any dog psychologists out there?
 

Vinny

DR & CRR Founder, Consultant Lead
Staff member
Great topic and honestly when I observe a dog seeing themselves in a mirror most of them seem to know it’s them. Younger ones or fearful dogs sometimes react and seem startled for sure.

We have a good article on this topic:

“The argument for or against consciousness in dogs is important for dog behaviorists. When developing a working relationship with a dog, considering the extent a dog can make a choice when given options should influence the learning style. Thinking of a dog as a partner instead of a mindless machine enriches everyone in the process.”

Are dogs conscious? Read more
 

Keats

Active member
It fascinates me - I've had five dogs and three of them didn't seem to recognize the reflections as themselves, they also didn't "watch" TV. The other two seemed to be self-aware in front of a mirror and they were both fascinated by the TV and would look behind it occasionally as though "looking" for the people on the screen. The dogs weren't copying each other as I had them all at different times.
 

Jade

Member
Since there are two different camps of belief on this subject, I wonder if it could possibly depend on the dog. Maybe some see themselves while others don't. As Vinny said, it could also come down to age and fearfulness. It's really an interesting topic as I think most of us observe our dogs from time to time and try to get inside their minds. I know I do.
 

Keats

Active member
I think you have a good point there @Jade - it could depend on the individual dog and its personality. Maybe it is breed-related also. Of the 5 dogs I've had, the 2 that seemed to be "self-aware" were both terriers (a westie and a cairn), the other 3 were a gun dog (labrador x), a hound (beagle) and a pastoral (sheepdog).
 

Constance

Member
Now how would the mirror test work for a blind dog? Well, it wouldn't really .... Constance was born without eyes and I couldn't say whether or not she is self-aware.
 

Woolsy

Active member
I believe it depends on how the dogs were brought up. There are people who are still living in secluded areas of the world that are not self-aware and they are fascinated when they see their faces in a video screen. If dogs are used to seeing themselves, then I believe they are aware of how they look like.
 
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