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Do Dogs Know What They Look Like? The Surprising Answer

Written by: Jessica Rossetti

Last Updated on April 17, 2024 by Dogster Team

cute puppy looking at the mirror

Do Dogs Know What They Look Like? The Surprising Answer


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

Veterinarian, MVZ

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

Learn more »

If you’ve ever lifted your puppy up to a mirror to show them their reflection, you may be wondering if dogs actually know what they look like. Can they recognize their faces? Do they understand what a mirror is?

We mostly see dogs ignoring mirrors and not being too interested in their reflections. Young puppies may try to jump and play with their reflections, thinking that they are other dogs. They lose interest after a while. Older dogs don’t pay much attention to mirrors.

Dogs don’t recognize themselves the same way that humans do when we look in mirrors and instantly see our own faces. But while they may not know what they look like, they do know what they smell like. Let’s learn more about how dogs view themselves.

dogster face divider

The Mirror Test

In the mirror test, a dog’s body is marked, and then they are shown a mirror. If the dog sees the mark on their body in the mirror and turns to examine the mark on itself, researchers can conclude that the dog can recognize itself.

Elephants, dolphins, and apes have all passed the mirror test, as well as many other animals. Dogs routinely fail this test.

This isn’t that surprising, though, considering that dogs use their noses to recognize things rather than relying solely on sight.

a pug looking at the mirror
Image By: m20143407, Pixabay

Dog Noses

Dogs may not be interested in what’s in the mirror because it has no scent. Dogs use sight and smell to navigate the world. While people rely mostly on their vision rather than their sense of smell, dogs are the opposite. They can see themselves, people, and other dogs, but their noses determine the identity of these things.

Self-Awareness in Dogs

Dogs may not know what their reflections look like, but there is evidence to prove that they are self-aware. They can recognize themselves through smell.

Self-awareness in dogs means that they, like humans, recognize themselves as separate entities from the environment around them. They know where their bodies end and the rest of the world begins.

A test was conducted using 32 dogs. The dogs’ bodies were the obstacles in this test. The theory was that if the dogs understood that their bodies were limiting their task, they would move their bodies and prove that they were self-aware. They would understand how much space they took up and what had to be done to them to complete their task.

The task was simple. They had to pass a toy to their owner. Sometimes, this toy was attached to a mat that the dog was standing on. It meant the dog would have to leave the mat to be able to pick up the toy with the mat and hand it over.

When the dogs lifted the toy attached to the mat and felt the mat pulling under their paws, they understood what this meant and quickly left the mat to be able to lift the toy completely. This showed that dogs are capable of understanding the connection between their bodies and their environments.

playing with dog
Image By: Olena Yakobchuk, Shutterstock


Final Thoughts

Dogs may not recognize themselves in a mirror the way that people do, but they are aware of their bodies. They rely on scent rather than sight to identify themselves, humans, and other animals. They have self-awareness and understand how their bodies take up room in the world.

Featured Image Credit: Tomasz Wrzesien, Shutterstock

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