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BBSDTfamily's avatar

Why can't my dogs recognize themselves in a mirror?

Asked by BBSDTfamily (6824points) October 6th, 2009

Or can they? I’ve just always heard that they do not grasp that it is their reflection or recognize the image as a dog. I have 2 bullmastiffs and even when they are both standing in front of our large mirror seeing each other- a dog they recognize b/c they see them everyday- they are completely uninterested and never focus their eyes on the images in the mirror… just on me pointing at the mirror and they look at me like they are confused! Please explain why dogs cannot see themselves in the mirror, or if my dogs are just a little confused ;)

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15 Answers

Ivan's avatar

My dog recognizes her reflection.

DrBill's avatar

They probably wonder why you are so interested in their reflection, Most dogs do recognize themselves, if they are around mirrors.

DarkScribe's avatar

Recognition is a taught response. No humans who had never seen a reflection would recognise themselves either. How could you? You don’t know what you look like until your first experience of reflection.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

@DarkScribe Right, but they do know what each other looks like and they do not recognize that either.

DarkScribe's avatar

@BBSDTfamily Right, but they do know what each other looks like and they do not recognize that either.

Same thing – a learned response. We see a mirror image – i.e., reversed, we don’t see what others see. Try reversing a photograph. On some people it makes them look quite different, none of us are fully symmetrical. Dogs will see that difference and not understand it – just that it does not look like another dog that they are familiar with. If they know a dog with a white patch on his left ear, and see one with a white on his right ear (that has no smell – dog’s main way of recognising) they think that it is a different dog.

La_chica_gomela's avatar

It’s the smells! I know I said this before too, but some dogs more than others really rely on their nose more than their eyes! If they can’t smell it, it basically doesn’t exist to them.

BBSDTfamily's avatar

The smell thing makes more sense, thanks for explaining guys! I guess I am the one that looks crazy to my dogs for pointing at “nothing”! haha

SpatzieLover's avatar

Ha! Nope your dog will not recognize him/herself, but may bark at the dog in the mirror.

We were doing a project in our home when one of our dogs was young. I had a large mirror propped against a wall for a day or so. Every morning when Ruby came downstairs, she’d promptly run to see if the “dog” was still there. Then she’d run up and bark at it. She was only pleased if she “thought” the dog had run away (she’d of course be standing off to the side) ;)

It was a fun experiment while it lasted, but we did have to cover the mirror up with a sheet so she’d be able to eat & nap okay during the day.

SpatzieLover's avatar

@DarkScribe So true! If my husband puts on a cap & sunglasses to do yard work, this same dog, Ruby will go crazy and jump at a window trying to attack the stranger in our yard. Even if my husband comes in to settle her, he has to coax her over and speak sweetly, but once he’s outside her antics are right back to where they were.

SpatzieLover's avatar

BTW @BBSDTfamily, this is a completely different situation with our cats. One of our male cats loves himself and likes to admire himself in the mirror and our stove (stainless). He also likes to check out what family members are up to behind him by watching our reflections.

mattbrowne's avatar

Have a look at the reference list of the

article. Research is ongoing. The following book might be interesting: “The Face in the Mirror: The Search for the Origins of Consciousness”, see

The explanations have to do with

- the dominance of the right hemisphere in self-awareness
– the right frontal lobe is heavily involved

but as said in the article the question of where exactly self-awareness is located is complex.

Noel_S_Leitmotiv's avatar

Some can, some can’t

dpworkin's avatar

According to the studies done in the early 70s at Tulane by Gordon Gallup, Jr. and his group, “self awareness”, including mirror awareness, is limited to a few infra-human primate species, elephants, and marine mammals.

Dogs may respond to their image in the mirror, but have no awareness that they are looking at themselves. See Wikipedia for a brief description of the protocol. I have heard somewhat more about it because I currently take a class from Gallup, and took another last year.

ccrow's avatar

Most of the dogs I’ve had would ignore reflections. One dog (my avatar, actually) appeared to be weirded out by it; I had one who made a habit of lying facing the glass oven door so he could keep track of what was going on behind him. One of my present dogs will look from the reflection to the person, so something is obviously going on in his little doggy brain.

OpryLeigh's avatar

None of my dogs have ever been interested in their reflections. My cat, however, freaks out EVERY TIME He sees his reflection. Whoever said that cats are more intelligent than dogs obvioulsy hasn’t met my black and white moggy, Charlie!

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