Fess up pet owners. We can all admit to placing our dogs in front of a mirror with the hopes that Fido might recognize himself. Despite the many unbelievable actions our pooches can perform, recognizing themselves in the mirror isn’t one of them. Instead, researchers are finding that a dog’s keen sense of smell is how they know who they are.
According to research from the Department of Psychology of Barnard College and published in Behavioral Processes, dogs use the sense of smell for self-recognition. This new research supports previous studies debunking the idea that dogs can recognize themselves by looking at their reflection.
For the study, researchers used the sniff test of self-recognition on thirty-six domestic dogs. The test was previously proven successful by Roberto Cazzolla Gatti, a researcher at the Biological Institute of the Tomsk State University in Russia. In their original testing, Gatti and his team found that “dogs distinguish between the olfactory ‘image’ of themselves when it has been modified: They’ll sniff for much longer when their scent is doctored with another odor. Such behavior implies a recognition of the odor as being of or from ‘themselves’,” Science Daily explains.
The larger group of dogs in the current study confirmed this method of self ID—even when the researchers tested it on multiple dogs living in groups of different ages and genders; the researchers say the results ofer compelling evidence of self-awareness in dogs. They believe their findings can show “…that this capacity is not a specific feature of only great apes, humans and a few other animals, but it depends on the way in which researchers try to verify it.”
Other animals including ants, dolphins and elephants have all passed the mirror test in the past, identifying themselves based on their reflection. But these findings have researchers recommending that scientists go beyond the looking-glass when it comes to future testing of self-recognition in animals. Researchers say dogs and other animals’ inability to pass the mirror test has to do with “the sensory modality chosen by the investigator to test the self-awareness and this in not, necessarily, due to the absence of this cognitive ability in some animal species.”
While our dogs may unable to recognize themselves in the mirror, there are still plenty of cool secrets our animals are keeping from us.