We like to think that dogs have many attributes similar to our own; they’re quick to make friends, they enjoy a day of cuddling and they have unique personalities. But do they have a sense of self the way we do? Recent studies have taken a closer look at canine self-awareness. This is what they found…
To understand a dog’s concept of self, it’s important to consider how they perceive the world around them. For example, we understand the world visually, whereas dogs understand the world through smell. When it comes to self-awareness, we can look in a mirror and understand that we are looking at ourselves, whereas dogs might not make that connection.
Keeping this in mind, Alexandra Horowitz, author of ‘Inside of a Dog,’ was curious to see how she might be able to learn more about our furry friend’s self-awareness through smell. To do so, she devised a study in which 36 dogs were presented with two canisters; one with a drop of each dog’s urine, and the other with the drop of urine, plus an additional, foreign scent. Across the board, the dogs spent more time smelling the modified canister, suggesting that the dogs were more interested in the smell that they didn’t recognize as their own. Could this mean they have an understanding of themselves in the same way that we recognize ourselves in the mirror? When taking the study further and separating the altered urine with the foreign scent (in this case, anise oil), the dogs continued to sniff the modified urine longer than the anise oil on its own.
So, what does this mean in terms of dog’s awareness of self? It’s hard to know for sure. “I’d say that they have a rudimentary theory of mind,” says Horowitz, “One that’s not equivalent to a human adult, but that isn’t absence of thinking about one’s self and others.”
While we have yet to know exactly what goes on in our furry pal’s minds, we could spend hours contemplating. After all, they are fascinating animals, with a unique closeness and bond to humans. Sometimes, we’re convinced they’re even more like us than we realize.
What do you think? Do you think dogs have a sense of self? Let us know in the comments!