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Can Dogs Recognize Themselves in the Mirror? Interesting Vet-Approved Canine Facts

Written by: Nicole Cosgrove

Last Updated on June 7, 2024 by Dogster Team

bichon maltese mix dog looking in the mirror

Can Dogs Recognize Themselves in the Mirror? Interesting Vet-Approved Canine Facts


Dr. Luqman Javed Photo


Dr. Luqman Javed

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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We often think of dogs as being intelligent sidekicks to their human owners. They listen to commands, learn routines, and they can display empathy by recognizing when we’re down and taking steps to improve our mood.

However, when it comes to the mirror test, which is used by scientists to determine the cognitive awareness of animal species, dogs don’t fare well. Dogs don’t recognize that what they see in a mirror is their own reflection. Dogs typically display a strong reaction when they first see a reflection. This may be excitement at a potential playmate, fear of a perceived threat, or aggression with possible competition.

After a while, most dogs become desensitized to the movement in the mirror because it doesn’t react how they expect them to. However, they do not recognize the reflection as being themselves.

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The Mirror Test

Most of us have seen videos of dogs reacting when they approach mirrors. Some dogs get excited, presumably in the hope of finding a playmate. Some might raise their hackles, warding off what they perceive to be a threat from another canine. However, the reaction is not a sign that the dog recognizes themselves.

The mirror test is used by scientists and animal behaviorists to determine the level of self-awareness of an animal. The animal is shown a mirror and allowed to get used to the reflection. Then, a red dot or other mark is placed on the animal so they can see the dot in the reflection. Some animals, notably dolphins, European magpies, elephants, and some ape species have passed the test, suggesting that these species recognize what they see in mirrors as being reflections of themselves.

puppy licking its reflection on the mirror
Image Credit: Zuzule, Shutterstock

Do Dogs Use Tools?

Another common test to determine the intelligence of a species is whether that species uses tools to perform tasks or make some tasks easier. Humans use tools. So, too, do ape species. Magpies and some other species of birds also use tools, along with dolphins, octopuses, crocodiles, and otters.

Dogs don’t use tools in the strict sense of the word, but it could be argued that they use people like tools. If they see a problem they can’t resolve themselves, they will often turn to their humans for assistance. If they want food, they come and get our attention. If they want to go outdoors to use the toilet, they convince humans to open the door. While they might not pass the tool use test, they certainly know how to get the tasks done.

How Intelligent Are Dogs?

Some dogs are more intelligent or at least more responsive than other dogs. However, all dogs can learn routines and respond to commands and orders, although it can take a lot of repetition for dogs to grasp commands. According to behaviorists, dogs have roughly the same intelligence level as a 2 to 2.5-year-old child.

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The 5 of the Most Intelligent Dog Breeds

Measuring an individual dog’s intelligence is difficult. Does a dog learning a command make it intelligent, or is it more intuitively intelligent if a dog recognizes that a person is feeling down and offers them support? Below are five breeds that are anecdotally said to be among the most intelligent.

1. Border Collie

border collie dog standing on fallen leaves at the park
Image Credit: Eudyptula, Shutterstock

The Border Collie is widely recognized as being the most intelligent dog breed. These dogs often pick up new commands within a few repetitions and will follow those commands virtually every time they are given. They can also follow strings of commands, and if you have seen sheep-dog trials, you will have a good understanding of how responsive they are.

As pets, they need a lot of exercise and as much mental stimulation to ensure they don’t get bored or suffer behavioral problems.

2. German Shepherd

german shepherd dog in the forest
Image Credit: Osetrik, Shutterstock

The German Shepherd was also bred as a herding dog, but their strength, tenacity, intelligence, and bravery have seen it employed in a variety of settings. They are used by the police and armed forces around the world and are commonly used as guard dogs.

As a pet, the German Shepherd can be a handful and is prone to being vocal, but they form a close bond with their humans.

3. Golden Retriever

golden retriever dog lying on the floor
Image Credit: Standret, Shutterstock

The Golden Retriever is another breed that has found many different purposes. They are commonly seen as guide dogs, service dogs, search and rescue dogs, and as bomb detection dogs. They are a loving, sweet, and kind breed that will get along with just about everybody and will usually even get along well with other dogs and cats.

They are also intelligent and can be trained easily, making them a popular choice as a first breed for new dog owners.

4. Poodle

white standard poodle dog sitting by the lake
Image Credit: nieriss, Shutterstock

The Poodle has long been used as a police dog. They are intelligent and level-headed, which is an ideal combination to serve and protect. As pets, Poodles come in a range of sizes and because they shed a lot less than other breeds, they are considered “hypoallergenic” dogs that are less likely to cause reactions in dog allergy sufferers.

5. Doberman

Doberman Pincher
Image Credit: Laith Abushaar, Unsplay

When it comes to guard dogs, few breeds have been used as widely for the purpose as the Doberman. They were even bred as guard dogs, by a German tax collector, in the 19th Century. Today’s Doberman is a lot more loving and has had the more aggressive edges bred out of them. They make loving and loyal dogs that will anecdotally still protect your home and your family if called upon.

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Dogs and humans have coexisted for thousands of years, and there is evidence to suggest that dogs were the first animals that people kept as pets. They are loved for the bonds they form with people, but also for their intelligence and their empathy.

However, as intelligent as dogs seem, they do not recognize themselves in mirrors, which is a sign of intelligence only really displayed by a small selection of species including apes, dolphins, and magpies.

Featured Image Credit: TANYARICO, Shutterstock

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